Its been a strange old year, but there’s been a lot of good music.
01. Gojira – Fortitude – The album that got me into Gojira at long last, the album I’ve listened to most out of anything this year, the album I knew would be my number one from the very first listen, and yet has still grown on me more with each listen. A straight up masterpiece in my eyes that will go down as an eternal classic album in my head-cannon. Beautifully melodic, deliciously groovy, and still some great heavy moments and masterful musicianship at times. I can’t recommend it enough.
02. Helloween – Self Titled – Well, I was never not going to like this. I love Helloween with Kai, I love Helloween with Kiske, and I love Helloween with Deris. The idea of all three coming together on one super-group-esque album bringing all the eras together (sometimes even within one song) with artwork evoking the band’s peak, but song-writing not too far away from the band’s modern style and not just a rehash of the past but also acknowledging all the progress they’ve made over the years, with tasteful tribute paid to late drummer Ingo, self-referential lyrics and yet the whole thing feeling like a proper album and not just a gimmicky cash-grab. Excellent.
03. Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon – Trivium have been on such a hot streak in the last half-decade, and this current line-up have released arguably their three best ever albums (or at a minimum, three of the best even if you disagree on the exact placement of the best) and ‘Dragon continues that fine formula of the last two albums while also leaning into the more expansive and technical direction of their Shogun record (one of their all time best records so a very good decision) and even reworking an old Shogun-era demo into an amazing album closer for this one. Great work.
04. Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind – A deliberate course-correct from the slightly disappointing over-polished, overly-commercial previous album. This album leans back into the band’s heavier (in relative terms, its still catchy radio music, its not exactly Alter Of Plagues or something) side, with some deliberate Sabbath tribute, a sneaky death metal riff once hidden in there, a lot more up tempo moments and a lot less bland American-sounding radio rock. They also took some lessons in diversity and stole the best parts from the previous record, making it a sort of best-of-both-worlds situation.
05. Rob Zombie – The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy – Probably his second or third best album to date, this record is fun, diverse, energised, eclectic, interesting and deeply memorable. They never lose the core sound, but there’s all sorts of fun diversion. Alright, there may be slightly too many interludes, but that’s always been a part of Rob Zombie, especially on the first two albums, and there’s still 11 real songs to sink your teeth into, from the catchy singles ‘King Freak & ‘Howling Man to the dance-able “Shake Your Ass, Smoke your Grass” and the unexpected country-tinged ‘Ghost Train.
06. Powerwolf – Call Of The Wild – Speaking of fun, Powerful are back, and don’t disappoint. This album is such a big-smiles good time barrel of fun. Imagine Sabaton covering Helloween’s Latin-language “Lavadete Dominum” & Type O Negative’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” at the same time and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. Now imagine they’re dressed up as monks and singing about Warewolves.
In terms of stacking up against the rest of their discography, the band are so fiercely consistent that this is as good as any album you care to name in the whole catalogue.
07. Todd La Torre – Rejoice In The Suffering – Current Queensrÿche frontman (and sometimes drummer) releases a solo album with a childhood best friend on guitar, and the results are phenomenal. There’s a mixture of songs that could fit on recent ‘ryche albums, with branching out into more traditional metal territory, as well as branching out the other direction into heavier harsher realms. A brilliant debut from this act, and while I hope he never leaves, if ever Todd were to leave the ‘ryche I would dearly love him to continue releasing albums like this.
08. Exodus – Persona Non Grata – A very strong album, I confess I may not have listened to this album enough to really honestly select the appropriate position on this list, but if its anything like the last three Exodus albums, the fine first impressions it has created in me will stay forever, and only grow more over time. Already the pre-released songs like “Clickbait” and “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” are constantly stuck in my head and raise a huge smile in me whenever they come on, and “Lunatic Liar Lord” is so good it could have been on Tempo Of The Dammed. Last month I called this album “as good as, if not better than” any measure of expectation, and I’m sticking by that!
09. Angelus Apatrida – Self Titled – A new band to me, but this is actually the Spanish Thrash-revivalist’s 7th release. Bludgeoning, pummelling, furious… these are just some of the words to describe this beast of an album. There is also some serious groove on the album to break up the speed, but its thrash through and through. If you like bands like Evile, Dust Bolt or Power Trip, then you really need to get on board. Check out the opener “Indoctrinate” from this album for a Vulgar-Display’ album-cover style punch to the face (in musical form).
10. Accept – Too Mean To Die – Much like Trivium, Accept are on a hot-streak right now (for about a decade this time, since their reformation and the introduction of Mark Tornillo on vocals… that’s Kreator-levels of hot streak!). They have a definite identifiable style and formula, which some people might feel is beginning to get a bit samey by now, but when the formula is this good, I can live with quite a few albums in that style. Alright, its not as good as my favourite, Stalingrad or its very strong follow-up Blind Rage, but I’ve listened to it a lot this year, and have enjoyed it every time.
Salem – Salem II EP – Wasn’t included because it is an EP, not an album, but probably would have been number 2 or 3 on the list if it did count. Really great fun, super catchy, super memorable, and my go-to car record this year.
Weezer – Van Weezer – I’ve only owned this a few days, so can’t objectively rate it against things I’ve had almost a whole year (eg. Todd La Torre and Accept), but I feel very positively towards it and just want to give it a little appreciative nod. Imagine if The Green Album had even better guitar solos and paid deliberate homage to some classic tracks like “Crazy Train,” “Girls Girls Girls” and “Panama.”
Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.
Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.
01. Operation: Mindcrime (1988) – An album so good they have released a live album of it in its entirety not once, but twice, with an additional third version as a bonus live album with the anniversary edition. This is the one you see in all the magazines, all the best metal albums lists, all the website countdowns, and with good reason. Not overrated, this one actually lives up to the reputation. Man do I love this record. I keep a framed vinyl copy on my wall as decoration. A concept album that doesn’t sacrifice good structure, and brilliant music just for the story, while also not going too far the other way and just sounding like a disconnected bunch of random tunes that you can only tell is a story because you’re told so. No, this is concept album perfection. Musically, it is also perfection, a brilliant melding of Hard ‘80s Rock, Metal, little touches of Prog without getting overblown, staggering lead guitar work, memorable drumming, utterly world class singing from one of the world’s best Metal singers back in his prime, and an expansive production job too. Masterpiece. I have such fond memories of discovering this. I can still remember in vivid detail the bus ride into Oxford to get it, in the basement part of the HMV where the Metal, Prog and other non-pop music was kept, and the staff who always had the music up waaaay to high.
Standout tunes include: “The Needle Lies,” “Revolution Calling,” “Spreading The Disease” & “Suite Sister Mary.”
02. The Warning + Self-Titled EP (1984 + 1983) – Although Mindcrime is the better record, when I think of Queensryche, the thing that comes into my mind, is the first 30 seconds of the title track to Warning, that vocal on its own ringing out, which then crashes into a metallic but rocky riff, and those brilliant, awkward, impressive drums. Mindcrime impressed me and I knew it was a great record, but Warning and the EP were what made me really fall in love with them. There was a period in my life when I was getting really physically fit and I used to always go for long walks, and my go to record at the time was Warning, (or both Warning and The EP together). When I went to see the band live, songs from this were some of the ones that made me smile the most and sing along the hardest. On their Live Evolution DVD, the songs from this era are my favourite section of that DVD’s era-by-era style setlist. As the music here is earlier, there is a bit more influence on the sleeve, it is a bit more of its time (and as such, it is incredibly charming and makes the fuzzy metalhead spot in my heart buzz every time I hear it). The EP is great because it is a short, sharp, filler free blast that covers a range of styles and gives a brilliant first impression, and the album is great because it takes everything the EP did and expands it, fleshes it out and gives you more. They’re both so perfect in their own way that I find it hard to rank one above the other, hence the joint number 2 slot. Standout tracks include: “Warning,” “En Force,” “NM 156,” “Roads To Madness” and “The Lady Wore Black.”
03. Rage For Order (1986) – This one took me a while to get into. I mean, I loved “Walk In The Shadows” the first time I heard it, I’m not a savage, but with the moody atmospheric tracks and semi-ballads, not to mention the weird cover song, and all the stuff in the CD’s linear notes about how the fans were turned off by their make up and fashion choices in this era, I don’t know, it just wasn’t as instant love at first listen as the other records. However, once I got into it, I really enjoy what they did here, it is a very clever sequel to the debut album, and shows that the band are no one trick pony. It really highlights their adventurous side, and is probably a bit more progressive than even Mindcrime although Queensryche always do it in a subtle way, it isn’t just writing 20 minute songs with lots of keyboard solos and ‘70s worship, they actually progress their metal by taking distinct and new approaches to it, (rather than actually regress to the golden age of Prog). Of the first five Queensryche albums, this is probably the most diverse, and the weird robotic production sound also makes it have this perfect oppressive atmosphere that suits the lyrical content. I’ve read a lot that this is a very “textured” album, and I think that is as good an explanation as any.
Standout tracks include: “Surgical Strike,” “Neue Regel,” “Screaming In Digital” & “Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion).”
04. Empire (1990) – The band’s biggest selling and most successful record, Empire is perhaps most famous for the big hit single “Silent Lucidity” which feels like the second coming of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (in a good way, not a derivative way). That song was so good, but also so easy on the ear, that I had it playing at my wedding while we cut the cake, and none of the relatives realised they were listening to a metal band. I know its not a love ballad lyrically, but it has that sort of sound musically at times, its not exactly “Queen Of The Reich” and so won’t scare off the elderly grandmas, aunts and uncles at the party. Mega hit aside; there is a lot more to the album, from the commercial Hard Rock bangers, to the moody emotional moments, to dark metallic tracks with political or socially conscious themes. There is a smattering of keyboards and an even bigger production than Mindcrime. Everything here is dialled up, the vocals, the guitar solos, the drum fills. It all just has so much “umph.” This album deserves its success.
05. Self-Titled Album (2013) – After a year or two of nasty mudslinging in the media, the infamous spitting and knife-threat incidents, long time singer Geoff Tate was out, and after a brief period of being called Rising West, Queensryche were back, this time with new singer Todd La Torre at the microphone. After a few of their least well received albums in a row, where Tate had allegedly been in control and stifled contributions from the other members, the rest of the band were ready to show off. This is a revitalised, refocused, reenergised album from a band re-evaluating their legacy and direction, and remembering what made them so good in the first place. Honestly, I almost had this album even higher in the list, but I’d fear being lynched if it was in front of any of the first four albums (being above the fifth album is still heresy enough!). Not unlike the EP, this album is short, sweet, succinct and shows off everything the new line-up would go on to do on the next albums here in one near-perfect little package. Take away the two intro tracks “X2” and “Midnight Lullabye” and it is just nine songs clocking in at just over half an hour. Every song has a unique flavour, every performance is noteworthy, there’s basically no fat on the bones. Next to the aforementioned Warning/EP era tracks, the parts of the live show I loved the most when I got to see them were tracks from this. When Todd sang “As Goooooood as my witness” both live and hearing it on record for the first time, it was straight up chills-in-the-spine stuff! When I make Queensryche playlists now, most of this record finds its way on there. When I fantasise about seeing them live again, it is always songs from this that I picture. I can still see Todd’s gesturing and facial expressions from that show in my mind’s eye every time I listen to the album.
Standout tracks include: “Where Dreams Go To Die,” “Redemption,” “Fallout” & “Vindication.”
06. Promised Land (1994) – Less metallic than the previous albums, and more of a slow burn, Promised Land is one of the band’s proggier, more experimental records. I guess the financial success of Empire allowed the band a bit more creative freedom and confidence to just do what felt right at the time. There is a sense of freedom and exploration here, a sort of “anything goes” atmosphere. A lot of the things that characterise the band’s later work make their first appearance here, like touches of alternative, saxophone, a greater focus on hypnotic moods than in the face power, lower pitched vocals. In short, nobody is going to mistake any song on here for Judas Priest, I’ll tell you that much! However; While this album may have introduced some of the things that lead to Metal fans not liking their mid-late-90s/00s material, the delivery and songwriting is just so good here that it will really win you over if you give it the chance. What makes this album stylistically different from any of the albums that preceded it, is exactly what makes it such a rewarding and captivating listen, especially if you are in the right mood/headspace. Catch me on the right day and this may even be anywhere from one to three places higher in my rankings. Yes, it has some of the style that turns Metal fans off their post-’80s output, but the song writing is better, the mood is more interesting, the guitar work is more impressive, the emotion is more genuine, the saxophone is less intrusive and the Alternative feel is more natural than on any of the subsequent late-Tate-era albums that would follow. This is how it could and should be done.
Standout tracks include: “My Global Mind,” “Real World,” “I Am I” & “Bridge.”
07. The Verdict (2019) – At the time of writing, this is the Rycher’s newest record, and boy is it a strong one. Ok, it isn’t as much of a revelation as the self-titled, and it doesn’t have all the media hype swirling around it, nor did I get to see them live on this cycle so don’t have all the personalised memories about it, and it is about 15 minutes longer so it is less succinct too, but I’d still say it is near as good. The main talking point about this record at the time was that long time drummer Scott Rockenfield was on paternity leave, so drums were handled by singer Todd La Torre instead. He does a good job making it feel like Queensryche (although I am an utter mark for Scott so I’d also say there is no real chance of being exactly right). Apart from Scott being on leave; the new line up was relatively stable, the new formula was established, the band had toured enough together to figure out what works and what could change, and turned in another superb set of songs. I feel like maybe this album doesn’t get as much praise as it deserves as it is kind of another version of the last two records, whereas Queensryche fans are used to massive leaps and changes all the time. This one was more like business as usual. But it’s a hell of business, and I’m glad they’re sticking with it and perfecting it rather than abandoning it too quickly without writing this set of songs.
Standout tracks include: “Launder The Conscience,” “Man The Machine,” “Bent” & “Propaganda Fashion.”
08. Condition Human (2015) – I guess the band might have got a bit of criticism from reviewers about the self-titled being a bit short (I personally liked that about it; I’d call a succinct but great set of songs better value for money that a long album with some lesser tracks tacked on for padding) because this album is about 20 minutes longer than the previous one. Apart from the brilliant lead single “Arrow Of Time” which is just an all out rager and clearly meant to evoke feelings of being the modern day equivalent of “Queen Of The Reich” as their short fast bruiser, this album sees the band try and solidify and define their sound. The previous album was a no-two-songs-alike kind of affair and this record sees the band try and take all those ingredients and combine them together in various ways to make a more cohesive whole. What it lacks in impact, it makes up for in craft. Easily half this album would make it into any ‘Ryche playlist or fantasy live set of mine, and just because I like the other Todd albums a bit more, doesn’t mean it isn’t one heck of a record.
09. Tribe (2003) – Now we get to the more controversial period of the band’s history. This album came out when the band’s fanbase was shrinking, when Geoff was taking a bigger part in the song-writing, when Chris was out of the band (save guest appearances) and when the media cared less about the band in general. Some people dismiss this whole period entirely. Nowadays the band don’t play anything from this period live at all, and many amazon reviewers may urge you to steer away from this period altogether. Not me though, apart from Chris (and on this album he still makes an appearance) the rest of the band are still the same great musicians/singer as on all the classic albums, and if you are the kind of person who listens to Nu Metal, Grunge or Alternative Rock anyway, the flavours won’t be too off-putting. Queenryche were never exactly Possessed or Morbid Saint anyway, and you can’t expect them to be all metal, all the time. Of all the late-Tate period record, Tribe is my favourite. Whereas the two records before this were a bit too samey and lacking in the song writing department, Tribe really feels like the true sequel to Promised Land (hey even then album art is a bit similar). This album still has a lot of the energy, inspiration and passion that the best albums had and the least favourable albums lacked. If you keep an open mind, there are simply some very strong songs here. The drumming is particularly impactful at times, and Tate’s vocals are explorative and diverse. Don’t miss out on this one just because the common consensus dismisses everything between 1997-2013.
Standout tracks include: “The Art Of Life,” “Rhythm Of Hope,” “Great Divide” & “Tribe.”
10. Operation: Mindcrime 2 (2006) – Well, how many late career concept album sequels do you know that people like better than the original? Are King Diamond fans more inclined to listen to Abigail 2 than Abigail? Do most Jethro Tull fans prefer Tick As A Brick 2 to the original? No, creating a sequel to a beloved album from your early days is almost never met with universal acclaim, it is an almost guaranteed instant backlash-generator that draws unfavourable comparison with your best work and creative halcyon days, rather than where you are up to lately, and it can almost never stand on its own without the built in criticism that it fails to live up to its predecessor (and also draws out a very vocal minority of haters who claim you are making a cash grab and spitting on your legacy). Mindcrime 2 is no exception. Go online, have a few cursory searches, and you will most likely be met with a pretty red hot stream of hate for this record. I don’t think its that bad, I quite like a lot of it actually. Now, as you can tell by my rankings, it is not close to the original… but it is also not in the bottom third either. There’s a lot of good things going for this album, the production is strong, the concept helps inject some interesting drama into the lyrics, there’s a guest vocal from the late great Ronnie James Dio, and the bass gets to be the star a lot of the time. There are certainly some positives going for the record to be sure.
Now for the negatives; first of all, it is just too long, 17 songs is just too many to hold the listener’s interest when you aren’t in your prime anymore. Secondly, it is pretty front loaded, and all of the best material is over by track 11 and 12, which makes the conclusion to the story hard to follow for me as my mind tunes out over the final six songs. Thirdly, and perhaps worst of all the record sacrifices structure, cohesion and a band-feel in favour of serving the concept (the opposite of what made the first Mindcrime so great), in places this feels a bit more like a musical than a killer album, and much of it works as a whole, but little of it stands up on its own. Of all the albums in the list so far, while I do still like it and respect the attempt, this one is the one I would want to see the least from live, or expect to see the least from on a compilation, or that I put the least from (percentage wise and just straight up numerically) into any playlist. If you are not a devoted fan, you would probably be better off skipping this one unfortunately. It is not as bad as everyone says, not even close, but it is missing something, in need of an editor and definitely not the first Queensryche album you should try out if you are a new fan.
Standout tracks include: “I’m American,” “Murderer?,” “Hostage” & “The Change.”
11. Hear In The Now Frontier (1997) – Now we are really getting to the material I like the least. I find myself listening to the following albums the least. I hesitate to call them bad, but when your other material is as good as Queenryche’s best material, this does sort of pale in comparison. As I’ve shown in my Tribe and Promised Land comments, I still like when the band do less metallic and more alternative music, the issue with this album is not the stylistic direction, and Chris DeGarmo is still here, so it isn’t the lack of Chris (which people tend to attribute the cause of band’s later work not being as good to), its just that it is a bit samey, forgettable and basically not captivating. There is no single song I can single out and go “This is bad” about, I just don’t remember most of it later. Since Queensryche have written some of the most memorable songs I’ve ever heard on my whole life on other albums, “Not actually bad, but just forgettable” may be a pretty damning form of faint praise even if I am trying to be nice about it.
Standout tracks include: “Spool,” “Hit The Black,” & “Sign Of The Times.” (The bonus track “Chasing Blue Sky” is arguably better than anything on the record though).
12. American Soldier (2009) – This album deserves an A for the idea, A for effort, but maybe something lower for the execution. It is very well designed with an elaborate concept about how being a soldier can effect someone (and their family) mentally, physically, emotionally and socially. It was designed by visiting veterans and hearing their stories. A whole lot of care and attention went into the planning, concept and lyrics. I really respect what Tate was trying to do here. Just a shame about the music. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s no “yuck, what a disaster” moment (well, some people say Geoff doing a duet with his daughter is that moment, but I liked the spirit of that), but again, most of it is totally forgettable, samey and interchangeable. I think this is one of the controversial ones where Tate and management allegedly stifled the rest of the band from being energetic, proggy, metallic or in any way impressive, in favour of safe, bland, beige radio rock. If that is indeed the case, you can really tell. If not, the music certainly gives creedance to the rumor.
Its all as my dad would say, “much of a muchness,” but just to finish out my formula, the closest thing to standout tracks include: “Hundred Mile State,” “Middle Of Hell,” & “Man Down!”
13. Frequency Unknown (2013) – At the time of this album, Geoff Tate released an album under the name Queensryche, but it was a bit of a Chinese Democracy situation with most of the key members missing, several line up changes around the release, different members on record to live, and the other key members in a different band with a new singer (Velvet Revolver in this weak analogy). Unlike Chinese Democracy though, it was infamously rushed out quickly. Some people, due to the ugly things said in the media got very divisive and chose one side or the other. I was a bit too impartial and gave them both a fair shake, but lets be honest, one of the two Queenrcyhe albums from 2013 is near the top of my list, and one is near the bottom. A lot of people complain about the production, to the point it was rereleased later with better production, but to be honest it isn’t all that egregious. A lot of people hate the stylistic direction, but other bands have done this kind of thing fine. Some people say it is utterly unlistenable but I think that is a bit harsh; it is better than some things the band or Geoff solo have released. The only real flaw here, is that a lot of the songs could be better. I mean, you’d really think an album with Chris Poland, Paul Bostaph, KK Downing and Rudy Sarso on it would be much better. It just isn’t good enough.
Standout tracks include: “The Weight Of The World,” “Running Backwards,” & “Cold.”
14. Q2K (1999) – Sometimes I feel a bit defensive about this album. “Hey, its not that bad” I always seem to find myself thinking. However, when it comes down to it, when I go listen to a Queensryche album, it is not this one. I think everything I said about Hear In The Now Frontier also applies here too, except the material is even blander and even more forgettable. I guess it doesn’t help that for the first time, I don’t particularly dig this musical direction, it is a bit too U2 for my own personal tastes, but usually I can get into any stylistic change if the songs are good enough. I guess barring a few standouts, they just perhaps weren’t good enough this time. I want to like it more than I actually seem to.
Standout tracks include: “Liquid Sky,” “The Right Side Of My Mind,” & “Breakdown.”
15. Dedicated To Chaos (2011) – I like to try and say that Queensryche have no bad albums. I try to say that even when I like one album better that just means the one is better not that the other one is worse. I try to say that when they try a new style, that its all valid and that they are good to try new things, and that it is impressive they don’t just repeat themselves. I try to defend thier less popular work and I try to tell people to keep an open mind, that they always make something worth listening to in the end. The one album where this all falls apart though is Dedicated To Chaos, I just do not like it. I just can’t think of anything nice to say about it. As my mother always said, when you can’t think of something nice to say, its probably best to blog another few paragraphs about it to explain yourself…
I think it may simply be a genuinely bad album, and I almost never say that. I remember being in a band, and how much work it is to write, record, and play material live on even an amateur level, and can extrapolate how much harder that must be for the professionals. I don’t like to make light of people’s hard work and effort but this is just a bad album, plain and simple, no getting around it. I remember reviews at the time comparing this to Rage For Order, but all I can think of is that they must have been listening to a different record, this sounds and feels about as much like Rage For Order as Lulu feels like Ride The Lightning.
I don’t want to drag this out any more than I have to, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter. I won’t do multiple standout tracks for this, because there’s none I’d want to see live, add to a greatest hits compilation, or even discuss enthusiastically on a blog. I recon the only song I really like is “At The Edge” but even then, they’ve done variations on that kind of thing better already on American Soldier, Operation Mindcrime 2, and even Frequency Unknown.
If you were to use this list as a buyer’s guide, 1-6 are utter must haves, 7-9 are next up once you’ve got into the band, 10-14 are optional if you are obsessed with the band and have already bought all the best stuff, and 15 is really only for the most ardent collectors.
Queensrÿche have been on a hell of a hot streak since they got former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in and started a band called Rising West, playing material from Queensrÿche’s first EP and first 4 albums, following the departure of their long time legendary singer Geoff Tate.
When they changed their name from Rising West back to Queensrÿche, and released their self-titled album in 2013, (with great tracks like ‘Where Dreams Go To Die,’ ‘Redemption’ and ‘Vindication’), it was an utterly excellent batch of material and the ensuing live shows saw the band energised and revitalised in one of the best late-career renaissances in the history of Metal (up there with the likes of Kreator and Accept for later-year triumphs). The following album Condition Human was a strong follow-up that kept up the quality.
As you can imagine, their third album since this revitalisation, 2019’s The Verdict, is my most anticipated album of this year. When they dropped the pre-release tracks, such as ‘Man The Machine,’ ‘Dark Revierie’ and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ it was every bit as good, if not better, than Condition Human’s pre-release tracks like the excellent ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Hellfire.’
With all these expectations I had built up in my head, I was
fearful I had built it up too much and set myself up for disappointment.
After having listened to it both via streaming while I waited for the postman, and on CD repeatedly after delivery, I am happy to inform you that not only is it not a disappointment, but rather it is the best Toddryche album to date. Arguably the band’s best album in a very long time at all, Todd or no Todd.
Even from myself, who doesn’t dislike any Queensrÿche album, (even the controversial ones), this ranks easily in the top half of their discography, top quarter even! I hate statements like “it’s the band’s best album since…’’ but in this case, it really feels true.
The production, (once again by ‘Zeuss’) is brilliant. All instruments are clear and distinct, you can hear the bass at all times, you can separate each guitar from each-other and the drums sound fat and powerful. Speaking of drums; Now that singer Todd La Torre is also playing drums this time around as well as his singing duties while classic drummer Scott Rockenfield is on paternity leave, you also get some drum styles you don’t usually hear on a Queensrÿche album. (Have a quick listen to ‘Launder The Conscience’ and ‘Light Years’ and listen to the beats to see what I mean).
The press prior to this saw Whip telling everyone that this was their heaviest and most progressive album in a while. Usually statements like that are always wrong. Strangely though, again, in this case, it really feels true.
There are some nice heavy moments on here; such as the aforementioned pre-released tracks, ‘Man The Machine and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ as well the very crunchy ‘Inner Unrest’ amonst others, and furthermore, there are some great proggy moments; such as ‘Bent,’ ‘Portrait’ and ‘Inside Out.’ There’s moments that recall the middle-eastern vibes of their American Soldier and Tribe albums, there’s some of the bass-driven textured stuff like their underrated Operation Mindcrime 2 album, and there’s some of the trippy expansive stuff reminiscent of their Promised Land album.
As well as the heavy and proggy stuff, there is just loads of great, catchy, accessible Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal material that has been the core thing tying all of the band’s albums together to date. You can hear bits that sound like the last two albums, like calssic material such as Rage For Order and all sorts of new things as well.
There’s so much great bass guitar parts and lots of space for Todd to show off his impressive vocal range. Album upon album he pushes it further, showing off more and more styles and becoming more of his own thing and moving away from the Geoff Tate style, but still staying close enough that it always sounds quintessentially Queensrÿche. (Take that vocal style and mix it with those really distinctive guitar leads, and you’ve got Queensrÿche in a bottle.)
Overall; its yet another strong Queensrÿche album, but more
than that, it is an interesting album, with a strong production, a great range of
material, and some of their honestly best material in years, even if they have
already been on a very strong run.
With their previous album, the self-titled one, American Progressive Metal band Queensrÿche had the eyes of the world on them due to the much publicized split with Geoff Tate and the existence of two competing Queensrÿches. There was the intrigue of a new singer, and the “they’ve gone back to their Metal roots” tagline to get everyone’s attention. Luckily, It was a brilliant album, but people would’ve been paying attention anyway. In 2015, with all the dust settled, and no more special taglines, the band have to sink or swim solely on the merits of the music.
Like their previous self-titled effort, Condition Hüman was crowdfunded, and if like me you pledged I’m sure you’ll already be very familiar with the first three tracks which the band let you download while you waited for the full album to be released. As it turns out, these three tracks are actually a pretty fair cross-section of the album proper and display the different moods explored on the record quite adequately. Opening with ‘Arrow Of Time’ which is now firmly in the band’s live setlists, the band show off their Heavy Metal roots, going for a “remember, we wrote ‘Queen Of The Ryche’ and ‘The Needle Lies’ too you know!” sort of feel. Promotional single ‘Guardian’ is next which I would say is the average sound of the album overall, so go out and listen to the song and watch the video because I think it is a pretty clear indication of what you can expect from the band nowadays. Then comes the slower, darker, less conventional ‘Hellfire’ which explores the progressive side of the band – never going so far as to have a 7-minute keyboard solo or songs about flowers developing split personalities in space, but certainly finds the Seattle group putting more thought into structuring, dynamics and unusual ideas than your average bread and butter Heavy Metal bands would. It wouldn’t feel too out of place on Promised Land beside ‘Damaged’ or even Hear In The Now Frontier beside ‘Hit The Black’ at a push but there’s a more modern feel too it… making it feel more like a logical successor to the type of music the band were writing on Operation Mindcrime II (an underrated album in my opinion).
The band do explore more of their overall discography on this one, which feels fair to me. It was unquestionably good to go back to the EP-Empire days, but it would also be a shame to outright ignore the best parts of what came afterwards and keep an artificial boundary in place forever. This album seems to be a reconciling of the previous Todd-fronted album with the post-Empire material to excellent effect; ‘Selfish Lies’ for example sounds at first like a bit the Tribe album, then goes a bit Empire-esque towards the end once the delicious album-highlight guitar solo comes in. ‘Eye9’ opens with a nice Tool-esque bassline and heavily processed vocals that reminds me of a mixture between ‘I Am I’ and ‘The Hostage’ from previous releases, but the song takes so many twists and turns in its duration it crosses all sorts of territory from American Soldier to Rage For Order, and when the (also album highlight) guitar solo came on for the first time it made my already high estimation of the song double or even triple (the lead guitar on this album is simply joyous!). Most surprising of all, ‘Just Us’ is an acoustic-flavoured, jangly Alternative Rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on either Hear In The Now Frontier or Q2K and even though the thought of that is off-putting to a lot of the fanbase, well, the rejuvenated band show us how good it can be, (and hey, when you’ve not got a full album of it, it works as a nice contrast) injecting an almost Houses Of The Holy feel into the proceedings and elevating it to something special.
The album lasts twelve tracks long, (with one of those just being an intro for the final song), and clocks in at 54 minutes, which is a lot more substantial than the trim and cheerful album which the Todd-lineup debuted with. Not only is it in the addition of more tracks that this extra length manifests itself, but the individual tracks themselves are all a little longer…the previous record’s tracks all lasted between two-and-a-half to four minutes in length and this album sees that average shift to something like between four and five, with the final track lasting almost eight. What you get for your extra invested time isn’t simple repetition or wasted time or filler… you get extra guitar solos, more thoughtful and sophisticated song writing and the ability to work in slower tempos alongside the fist-pumping Metal. You could make an argument that it isn’t as lean and focused, but you could also make the argument that there’s more depth.
Yes… my two favourite songs are predictably ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘All There Was,’ (which just happen to be the two most traditional songs on the record and the closest that the album comes to Speed Metal because I’m dreadfully predictable) but the band’s experimentation here is a profound success… with the record’s most progressive moment, the album-closing Title Track being not only one of the best songs on the album but one of the best songs the band have written in years and years, ending on an almost Voivod note and showing the guys still aren’t afraid to try new things.
All the background history and discography comparisons certainly get you to adjust your expectations, to guess what type of music might be here and get you interested in talking about it… but its all for nothing unfortunately, if the actual music is cack. Well, to put your mind at ease, it isn’t cack. Not by a long shot… stick on ‘Hourglass’ and just drink in those vocals, stick on one of the aforementioned guitar solos and bathe in the whip’s distinctive playing, pay close attention to the drum fills and hi-hat teasing from the unique and enjoyable Scott Rockenfield (in my opinion, one of the most important things in separating Queensrÿche from their peers). Yes, the musicianship is out of this world, with the same renewed passion and energy as the last album but more time to show off in! On top of that, the production job is better, with a more satisfying, less harsh sound and a clearer more balanced mix.
Overall; Condition Hüman was a surprise to me, but a really welcome one. I love the Todd line-up and I’ve loved their previous album so much that I still can’t stop listening to it ahead of numerous other classic releases, so when this record abandoned the formula slightly it could’ve been a bad move for this particular listener… but hey, the whole point of Queensrÿche was that they evolve between every album, never sounding the same twice. This album is not only another evolution, but a reaffirmation of everything that worked with every era of the band’s prestigious history, and its an album I’ll be listening to for a long time to come. Get yourself a copy without delay!
Rishloo, my favourite band in the world, (suitable for fans of Tool, Mars Volta, Porcupine Tree, Coheed & Cambria, Cog, Amplifier, The Dear Hunter, The Mayan Factor, Soen etc.), have released a new song from their long awaited reunion album Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth. I am a keen kickstarter contributor to this album, I have a Vinyl of their previous album Feathergun up on my wall as decoration, and I advise all my readers to give them a listen.
I haven’t been as excited about new material since Queensryche got together with Todd La Torre, that’s how big a deal this is.
Official KCP recommendations: Listen to this, encourage it, give it lots of views, get into the band, buy all their albums, go see them live.