Review by Rick Ossian
Ever since the Queensrÿche bust-up in April 2012 (following a backstage altercation before a show in Sao Paulo), there has been a LOT of internet hate for former Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate (he of Operation: Mindcrime). He was replaced with former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd LaTorre. A temporary court injunction allowed both parties to use the name of the band, but in 2014 a settlement was reached with members Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson winning the rights to use the name. In the interim, of course, the Tate camp released their universally panned Frequency Unknown (2013), and the others released an eponymous debut, if you will, two months later. Both outfits toured, and both survived. Having recently listened to and reviewed the Tate camp’s latest (Operation: Mindcrime’s debut, The Key), I have to say I’m inclined to agree with the judge. These bands are two separate entities, granted – but only one has the right to say that they are actually Queensrÿche. In this case, the majority ruled. In my humble opinion, the release that we are currently dealing with is the better of the two.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Chris DeGarmo left in 1997. His most current replacement is one Parker Lundgren, who is, along with Michael Wilton, a guitarist in the band. Bass man Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield, of course, remain in the engine room, and the aforementioned Mr. LaTorre is the man with the pipes. One devastatingly accurate pair of pipes, it should be noted, particularly if he was making an attempt to sound like Geoff Tate. He is a dead ringer vocally for their former singer, and more power to him if he is able to pull that off, because of course there will be many punters who have no idea that the singer is another bloke.
Arrow of Time, the lead-off track, is a hard-charging rocker in the vein of just about any other Queensrÿche album that you may care to mention. Critics will probably immediately note the similarity between the voices. Anyone who can’t hear it may as well hang it up. If we were doing a comparison/contrast study (which DOES sometimes happen), I think we would find that they compare favourably. As with most of the tracks herein, there are at least a pair or so of lead guitar bits on this salvo. Save for the ballad Just Us and the title track, all or most of the tunes are also radio-friendly in length. The way FM programming is going nowadays, if you’re not pop or country or classic rock, there are few formats willing to take a risk on new material, but with such vocal/guitar heavy treats, who knows? A bit of airplay may indeed be in order…
Guardian finds Mr. La Torre once again emulating the man he ousted from the fold, but that may not be entirely to his disadvantage. As I mentioned before, when one does a festival, it DOES somewhat behoove you to sound like the band that you’re in! Guardian is another feet-first rocker with plenty of guitar work and engine room pyrotechnics. Punters may also note that there are the occasional vocal FX inserted, reminding us once again of our heroes of old. The phrase ‘revolution calling‘ is repeated at key points of this track – what’s THAT about?
Hellfire reminds us that Messrs. Wilton and Lundgren are NOT just background fodder. Their work comes to the fore with astonishing regularity throughout this recording. Plus, if you listen closely, you can hear LaTorre doing his skybound vocal impressions consistently. The guitar figure at the end of this track is also interesteing, as is the guitar work as a whole on this entire recording.
Toxic Remedy also features some very pretty guitar work, and some chugging riffs to boot. The vocals are positively haunting, and the rhythms are absolutely infectious. There is more energy here as well, and the potential to be actual heavy metal and/or hard rock, depending on which term(s) you prefer. I submit to you that the two CAN be interchangeable, but with HM you are more likely to hear screaming, pounding, hammering and more extreme musical moments overall.
Selfish Lives contains a ghostly guitar intro, vocal FX and some fairly standard riffing. Again, the main vocal is a dead ringer for the voice of the original pipe-master, but as mentioned before, you kind of NEED to do that to a certain extent to retain any kind of credibility. After all, without a killer set of pipes, how would you perform Queen of the Reich? Let alone a veritable slew of others. I submit to you that is can be a good thing to emulate your forebears. There are times on this recording where one would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Eye9 features a beautiful bass intro, compliments of Mr. Jackson. Nice job, Eddie! There are more vocal FX on board here, as well as some nice riffing on the main refrain. Lyrically, “lost in the labyrinth of life/stuck in the middle of the two” struck me as somewhat prophetic, and it stood out. Good writing and phrasing seem to be the order of the day with most of the tracks.
Bulletproof contains a faint keyboard intro, and more cool lyrics; “the cleanse of surrender has freed me/no longer a victim of change”. I also really dug the instrumental cacophony at the close, and the lead guitar work was remarkable.
Hourglass is bluesy but still very good, and sounds great, sonically speaking, overall. There is some beautiful acoustic strumming at the ending. There is also some serious riffing and some nice lead guitar work.
The six-minute ballad-style piece, Just Us, actually sort of shimmers a bit, which we can stand if it doesn’t occur too often, right? The vocals are top-notch, and there is some excellent acoustic strumming. There are also several brilliant guitar bits electrically. At the 3-minute mark, one can hear both players integrating lead (solos). Instrumental breakdowns abound, which is par for the course.
All There Was is another interesting piece with some sweet riffing and some excellent guitar work at the intro. The engine room is on board with this bit, as well. I particularly enjoy a good tune when the bass guitar and the drums come to the fore. This is another high-energy tune with an excellent fading out of sorts at the end.
The Aftermath is apparently an interlude of sorts that sets up the title track, which is also, appropriately, our closer. Condition Human is an absolute behemoth, and at 7:45, is the longest track by far on this set. The intro is a bit shimmery and strumming acoustics again, but if you can get past that, you can hear the majesty of this track for yourself. Another haunting tune, and just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, too! This is a very powerful piece, and actually enters Riff City mode (2:25). There is a chugging, energetic tempo here, and we are headed somewhere, even lyrically; “Shake the species overtime/moralities collapse”, hollers LaTorre, and once again we also hear some vocal FX, which we should probably come to expect now, at least with this particular band. Whenever we hear echo or whispering in conjunction with vocals, many of us think Queensrÿche almost immediately! An excellent track, and a very good recording overall.