Album review: Queensrÿche, self-titled

Queensrÿche was definitely in uncharted waters after June of last year, forging on without either their iconic lead singer (Geoff Tate, who of course was fired from the band) or main songwriter (Chris DeGarmo, who departed the band in 1997). Between then and now, with new singer Todd La Torre, they’ve been impressing live audiences nationwide with the classic material.

However, since his termination, Tate has attempted to sow the seeds of doubt in countless interviews, saying among other things that he was the “creative energy” in the band and that the other guys never contributed to the songwriting process. So the question hung in the air: Could the band members write a real, compelling Queensrÿche record on their own, without DeGarmo or Tate — new music that stands with the band’s classic music, as opposed to being just a nostalgia act, living off past glory?

Well, the result of their efforts — the self-titled album that hit the stores today — answers that question with a loud and emphatic yes. Every one of the band members has at least one writing credit on the record; in fact, with the exception of guitarist Parker Lundgren — the latest (and, let’s hope, the last) DeGarmo replacement — all the band members have several writing credits.

However, Lundgren’s lone writing credit, “Where Dreams Go To Die,” is arguably the best song on the album, with its militaristic drumbeat, subtly burning vocals and perhaps the most biting lyrics to make it to a Queensryche record:

You thought you’d get away, but karma made its move;

The bad things that you’ve done will be coming back for you.

Reportedly Lundgren wrote the tune about his experiences with the Tate family, although it could just as well have been a shot across the bow to Tate from the entire band; Lundgren took it to his bandmates, and they were reportedly so impressed with it they made it the opening track to the record, with Scott Rockenfield writing a piece of musique concrete titled “X2” that sets off the song’s vicious m0od quite nicely. “Vindication,” penned by Michael Wilton, Todd La Torre, and Scott Rockenfield, is another one of those songs that could be interpreted as a message to the former lead singer:

The tables have turned on life’s little game

No longer the pawns you’re feeling the strain

There’s also another musique concrete-anchored piece on the album, the dark, moody “Midnight Lullaby/A World Without,” the wrenching tale of a man whose wife died in childbirth, featuring guest vocals from none other than Pamela Moore herself. This one, while somewhat evocative of “Silent Lucidity” with its orchestration, has much more in common with previous epic compositions like “Promised Land” and “Roads to Madness.” There’s even a stab at radio play here with “In This Light,” which is reminiscent of Empire hits “Another Rainy Night” and to a lesser extent “Jet City Woman.”

Of course, it wouldn’t quite be a real Ryche album without some fast-paced rockers and those sweet guitar solos and harmonies Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo made a trademark of the QR sound, and they are here too, in spades. We got a taste of them in “Redemption” and “Where Dreams Go to Die” before the record was released, but you’ll find ’em in other places too; the solo on “Don’t Look Back” (which, incidentally, was penned by Parker Lundgren) is particularly great. Not to leave out the rhythm section, though; on the latter tune, and the Rage for Order-reminiscent “Spore” in particular, Scott Rockenfield is pounding the drums like a man possessed, and Eddie Jackson lays down a killer bass groove on “Don’t Look Back.”

And Todd La Torre should definitely not be minimized here. After all, the other four can play — that much as been established — but La Torre brings a lot of those great live performances to the studio as well, as he soars to heights former singer Tate hasn’t seen in some time and sounds great doing it. Prime examples of this include “Redemption,” “Don’t Look Back,” and epic album closer “Open Road,” which evokes memories of “Anybody Listening?” and “Someone Else?”

(Speaking of those live performances, three of them are found on the deluxe edition of the disc — “Queen of the Reich,” “En Force,” and “Prophecy” — all putting an exclamation point on this stunning return to form.)

If you’re getting the idea that the album is good, you’re right. It’s hands-down the best thing the band has done since 1990’s Empire, if not 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime. And this is coming from someone who actually liked and appreciated Promised Land, the controversial follow-up to Empire. The album is self-titled, and such fits as a statement of what the band is in 2013, but it would have been just as well titled Redemption or Vindication. Why? Because that’s exactly what it is.

Welcome back, Queensrÿche. You have been so, so very badly missed.

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