By Carl Begai
Twenty years is a long time to wait for a band to get its collective shit together. Funny how one ugly line-up change and nine new songs can wash away two decades’ worth of mind-numbing WTF frustration.
Gone is original vocalist Geoff Tate, and with him the fetters that seemingly/supposedly steered the band into realms they were better off not exploring if you grew up/into Queensrÿche’s debut EP and the four albums that followed (The Warning, Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime and Empire). Recharged with the entrance of ex-Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre, the band was able to get back to doing what they do best, and the surprising end result is a record that falls nicely in line with the aforementioned 4.5 ‘Ryche classics. Call it Rage For Order meets Empire; an obnoxious claim to be sure, feel free to disagree, but it’s pretty damn hard to refute.
This self-titled slab of faith-restoring metal boasts the return of the almighty riff, twin guitar leads, and brazen in-your-face melodies. If you remember being ear-wormed by ‘The Whisper’, ‘Empire’, ‘Walk In The Shadows’, ‘Best I Can’ and ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’ way back when… it’s like that. Scratch the short ‘X2’ and ‘Midnight Lullaby’ interludes as unnecessary filler and what you’re left with is a record with truckloads of potential to be as big of a deal as Empire was when the title track exploded all over civilization in the ‘90s. ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ eases folks in rather than kicking things off with a chest-beating “We’re back!” and sets the stage for the clattering Rage For Order-ish ‘Spore’ (welcome back, Mr. Rockenfield), the nostalgia-flavoured and altogether gorgeous ‘In This Light’ (the album’s ‘Another Rainy Night’), and the middle-fingering melodic stomp of ‘Redemption’. Three songs in and really, you have to wonder where the hell Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield have been hiding all these years. Hell knows their performances (and that of guitarist Parker Lundgren) scream “old school!” complete with shit-eating grin. ‘Vindication’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’ sign in as the heaviest tracks on the record, with ‘Fallout’ as the resident 4/4 rocker, while Sister Mary herself – vocalist Pamela Moore – makes a return to the ranks on the ballad ‘A World Without’. ‘Open Road’ closing the proceedings with a similar vibe to the Rage album’s ‘I Will Remember’, and if you’re a yesteryear Queensryche fan it’s hard not to appreciate the weight and worth of what you’ve just heard.
As for Todd La Torre, who has taken a huge amount of flak for stepping in where he was needed, he sounds like a young and vibrant Geoff Tate. The vocal resemblance in uncanny and it’s going to take at least one more album before the naysayers drop the “clone” tag. Listen carefully, though, and you’ll hear an aggression in his delivery that Tate never had.
The battle over the Queensrÿche name should end here with this album. It isn’t Tate Hate talking, just a mile high stack of road signs pointing to the victors’ path in a ridiculous war over who got it right. Tate screwed himself and the life of a halfway decent solo album (Kings & Thieves) by slapping together Frequency Unknown, leaving his former bandmates more than enough room to walk all over him and reclaim a legacy.
‘Where Dreams Go To Die’
‘In This Light’
‘A World Without’
‘Don’t Look Back’