Review of Queensryche: “Queensryche” (9 out of 10)

A comeback and then-some 

BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

Rockenfield, Wilton, LaTorre, Jackson and Lundgren
Rockenfield, Wilton, LaTorre, Jackson and Lundgren

Wow, what a ride. The inaugural effort of the new Queensryche lineup, appropriately titled “Queensrcyche,” is a wunderkind. The team must be proud.

With three original band members unshackled from an oppressive situation, a lot of creative juice built up from the past 19 years has been unleashed in this album. Not since 1994’s “Promised Land” has the band been so focused and not since 1990’s “Empire” have they released such an overall enjoyable piece of work.

The new version of Queensryche features original members guitarist (and for the first time in years a major songwriter) Michael Wilton, drummer Scott Rockenfield and bass player Eddie Jackson, along with new lead singer Todd La Torre and quasi-official band-member 27-year-old guitarist Parker Lundgren.

The chemistry between the group is totally there in this release. The songwriting and execution is good enough that this album could have scored a 10 out of 10 if not for two factors: 1) at 35 minutes–including two minutes of interlude filer–it’s irritatingly short, making it difficult to put on repeat, and 2) there is something slightly off with the sound quality of the recording, although the production is still far superior to recent Queensryche offerings.

Now back to the good news: wow! Who expected the new Queensryche effort to stand right there with the band’s classics? It’s the same band, but in a different light, a brighter shade of grey.

The band’s original members have made wise choices in hiring the two new members, while also experiencing a bit of luck finding La Torre.

Mr. La Torre clearly had the singing chops to replace longtime lead-man Geoff Tate, but there was no guarantee he’d fit into the band’s chemistry and creative vision. Well, let’s put those questions to rest. He’s not only fit in, he’s proven to be the perfect man for the job, offering leadership and songwriting abilities to equal his voice. This album represents La Torre’s big career-moment and he fully seizes the opportunity.

Though they’ve been somewhat unheralded through the band’s history, Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson prove they have been a large part of the Ryche’s sound, as well as an integral chunk of the band’s heart and soul, all these years. It’s worth remembering that along with DeGarmo, they are the founding members who hired Geoff Tate for the band’s inaugural EP. In this album they lay clear claim to the Queensryche name.

The album feels like a team effort all the way through. Lundgren’s song “Where Dreams Go to Die” is one of the albums highlights, and as the lead track, sets the appropriate fighting spirit and pace. Let’s hope Lundgren takes his success on this track to heart and advances his songwriting ambitions on future Queensryche releases.

Every song on “Queensrcyhe” packs a punch and the album opens with an awesome trifecta. The aforementioned “WDGTD” is followed by the rough guitar edge and frontal vocal assault of “Spore,” which features dark lyrics that possibly refer to the Biblical apocalypse or some other such calamity. Then comes “In this Light,” which leads-in with classic Wilton guitar symphonics sorely missing from recent Queensryche releases and circles around to beautiful melodies from La Torre. If anything, the chorus on this song is too catchy, but it works.

Then comes “Redemption,” which fans are familiar with as the band’s first online single a few months back. Following “Redemption” is “Vindication,” which stars Rockenfield and Wilton as a sledgehammer duo and La Torre’s vocals and lyrics as support. The haunting lyric, possibly aimed at Geoff Tate, “as you look to the heavens wondering where you went wrong,” will be seared into fan’s collective unconscious.

It is impossible to know just how many of the lyrics on the album refer directly to the band’s situation and former singer Geoff Tate, but many of them can fit into that theme if you wish.

Following “Vindication,” Queensryche lays it on even deeper with the epic “A World Without,” which takes the listener to a sorrowful place without inducing depression and features yet more impressive vocal ability from LaTorre. He is able to draw listeners into each song’s emotions and inspire good ol’ fashion rock n’ roll enthusiasm, something true lead-men can do but pretenders cannot.

In the last three tracks “Fallout” stands out as a short and sweet, straightforward guitar-based Queensryche classic similar to where “Speak” on “Operation Mindcrime” might fit in your inner-Ryche catalogue, while “Don’t Look Back” features an impressive onslaught by Rockenfield, and “Open Road” is an appropriate closing track that refers to rebirth and a limitless future.

This version of Queensryche has also managed to do something the band arguably has not achieved since 1983: put together a group of songs that are instantaneously accessible. Though some fans might disagree, the classic Queensryche style usually took a few listens to “get.” There are musical connoisseurs who consider this something to brag about, but it’s not necessarily a good thing. This version of the band has a different quality, which makes it easier to listen to and has led to more positive reviews than Queensryche typically received even back in their heyday.

La Torre shows an ability to create melodies within lines that most singers would throw away. He puts together these melodies within melodies effortlessly, a quality which, combined with his alernately growling and howling voice, immediately puts him into an elite demographic of vocalists.

There are several references to God, heaven and karma in the album, which is an improvement over Tate’s mocking comparison of Jesus Christ to Santa Claus in the 2011 release “Dedicated to Chaos.” God is definitely on the new Ryche’s side, and La Torre seems to personally ensure the cleansing of the band’s bad karma, which had been ensued through Tate’s wrong path. Overall, La Torre’s lyrics provide the substance fans look for in a Queensryche release, dealing with darkness vs. light and matters of societal consciousness.

It always has struck Queensryche fans strange that Wilton, who wrote much of the band’s signature album “Operation Mindcrime,” has had little to no role in the songwriting and creative process since that album’s follow-up effort “Empire.” Well, it’s taken umpteen years, but finally Wilton is able to put his stamp on this album. Welcome back, Whip.

Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson have proven that Ryche lives within this core of the band more-so than departed lead-man Tate, who has moved on to sing adult contemporary rock n’ roll that, for the most part, only his friends and family retain an interest in.

Anybody can perform merely for an audience of one or two, but a popular artist performs for an audience of multitudes, bringing as much of himself as possible into the work. The fans of Queensryche expect and deserve a creative vision that continues the Queensryche legacy and “Queensrcyhe” accomplishes this task quite well.

Even if by some lark Tate wins the ongoing lawsuit with his three longtime bandmates and keeps the bandname, this version of the band is one worth following, and most fans will agree, this band is indeed Queensryche.