Review Summary: Even the most fervent QR supporters have learned to approach new albums with much trepidation, but those who have faithfully remained will be rewarded generously.
Queensryche reminded us in 2013 why long time fans are long time fans with their first album since the split with Geoff Tate. Queensryche
was a glorious throwback to the most commercial parts of Empire
and Rage for Order
with a bit of contemporary flair thrown in, and Todd La Torre's performance excited even the most grizzled of Tate-ers. But now the honeymoon is over. What can the new Queensryche really do, artistically liberated and motivated once again? And should they succeed, will they be able to attract new fans?
The band wastes no time setting the mood with openers " Arrow of Time" and "Guardian", the former being a "Revolution Calling" style opener, with the latter being a major contender for best track on the album. The song (and better part of the album) features La Torre exploring the upper registers even more than his QR debut, often soaring into Rob Halford-like upper-register shrieks. This track is also notable for what can only be described as a bonafide breakdown to bring it to a close. It works, but one has to wonder who they are trying to appeal to, having never utilized one before.
It is at this point that the album takes a very surprising turn, drawing heavily from the often-overlooked and underrated album Promised Land
. A sprawling, dark, dreary and dreamy endeavor, especially when compared to the commercial breakthrough Empire
, Promised Land
tends to be regarded as the beginning of the end for the classic Queensryche rather than an adventurous and unsettling alt-rock departure. The bulk of Condition Human
would have fit wonderfully on that album, bridging the gap between Empire
and Promised Land
that might have satisfied long-time fans a bit more than it did originally. "Hellfire", "Toxic Remedy" and "Eye9" (written entirely by bassist Eddie Jackson) are flawless in their execution, as brooding mid-tempo rockers with big choruses. Each track here, and largely so throughout the album, feels strangely individual yet fits perfectly in the larger picture of the album. "Hellfire" seems to build entirely around an outstanding bridge showcasing the fastest solo founding member Michael Wilton has ever recorded, while "Toxic Remedy" may have secretly been written for the masterpiece album Rage for Order
. "Eye9" is another standout - the track begins with a trudging bass groove and swirling vocal effects that lead into a subdued yet building verse, the chorus following being a personal favorite.
"Hourglass" may initially turn listeners away with it's nu-metal romping opening riffs, but persistent listeners will be pulled right back in, and rewarded in the closing moments with powerful drumming from the ever-reliable Scott Rockenfield and a mantra of "spiraling the hourglass" to bring it to a close. "All There Was" serves as this album's "The Needle Lies" (harmonized shredding and all) while closer "Condition Human" draws attention for its substantial length when compared to the rest of the album (7:46). The song begins as a throwback to the criminally ignored "Della Brown" from Empire
before transforming into a riff-fest reminiscent of even their earliest album The Warning
. They aren't finished taking us on a crash course through the QR catalog, though. The bridge is a clear-cut "Suite Sister Mary" ripoff before regaining pace and closing out the album on a very weak dissonant passage. While intended to be adventurous and progressive the song comes off as derivative, though admittedly pleasantly nostalgic and generally enjoyable.
The ballads "Bulletproof" and "Just Us" end up being weak points, though "Bulletproof" comes off much better as it is carried by a powerful chorus and yet another gorgeous solo from Whip. A tragic figure, in this reviewer's opinion, Michael Wilton finally claims his opportunity to prove that Chris DeGarmo didn't carry him in their glory years, especially on tracks like "Hellfire" and "Guardian". For twenty years this man has had to listen to the fans who support him constantly lamenting the long-departed Chris DeGarmo, chief songwriter of the classic QR era, and the severely degraded quality of their output since. As we've learned over the past five or so years Geoff Tate may have had a larger hand than suspected in subjugating the band's output, and Michael, Eddie, Parker (Lundgren) and Scott have seized the opportunity and will likely reclaim any long-time QR fan who might be on the fence about any new offerings.
Even the most fervent QR supporters have learned to approach new albums with much trepidation, but those who have faithfully remained will be rewarded generously. Condition Human
is an immensely pleasurable listen for fans of Queensryche. The question remains though - will new (young) metal fans care? Queensryche is largely regarded a pioneer of progressive metal, and even having put out two masterpiece albums (Rage for Order and Empire) and one legitimate contender for greatest metal album of all time (Operation: Mindcrime), the band never garnered much more than a niche audience save for the commercial crossover Empire
. That probably won't change with this album. What it has done, however, is make them relevant again, and it will prove to excite fans for further releases. In fact, there is a fair bit of faith that subsequent releases will also be enjoyable.....and it has been a LONG time since I could say that for the 'Ryche.