QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media Japanese edition)
As if it was not abundantly clear on their last album (2013’s self-titled), Queensryche seem to have no intentions of abandoning their heavy metal roots again. Furthermore when you have a significant lineup change, such as a new lead singer, you can’t just stand still. You have to keep progressing forward. The ‘Ryche used their last album to re-ground their sound, but for a followup you need more than that. Condition Hüman pushes the boundaries out once more, but not without keeping the metal intact.
Indeed, “Arrow of Time” sounds as if the quintet had been ingesting nothing but classic Iron Maiden for breakfast. Swift and viscous, “Arrow of Time” gets the job done in the requisite four minutes but not without exploring the exotic side of metal riffing. Imagine an alternate reality where Queensryche did not go in the highly technological direction of 1986’s Rage for Order album. Envision instead a timeline in which they followed The Warning (1984) with an album that continued to progress, but also go heavier at the same time. That album would have been Condition Hüman. “Hellfire” demonstrates this as well; the song would have fit on a heavier version of Rage.
“Guardian” demonstrates this even more clearly. With the vintage-style screams and vocalizations (Todd La Torre for MVP), metal riffing, but also Mindcrime-like progressive rock, Queensryche have hit upon a satisfying balance. Songwriting credits are various combinations of all five band members; all but “Eye 9”, written solely by bassist Eddie Jackson (a first, I think). The album has a cohesive sound, like five guys all pulling in the same direction. The production, by Zeuss, is punchy. Queensryche have always employed elements such as sound effects and programming, and Condition Hüman has these fixtures as well.
Moving on, “Toxic Remedy” is Mindcrime-like, but denser and massive sounding. Pay attention to the way Todd La Torre layers his vocals on “Toxic Remedy”. He has arranged the vocals in his own way; this is not a carbon copy of something else. “Selfish Lives” is the same. Yes, there are hooks and melodies that sound very Queensryche, but Todd is showing off his own personality more than before. And he’s not taking the easy way out on any of it! Sounds like he is really pushing his own limits, especially on “Selfish Lives”. It’s quite remarkable how lucky Queensryche were to find a compatible guy like Todd, who is also able to stretch it out.
Another album highlight is the rhythmic “Eye 9”, the aforementioned Jackson composition. This Queensryche-meets-Queens of the Stone Age track blows the doors wide open in terms of direction by putting the rhythm first. It sounds like Queensryche, yet nothing like any prior Queensryche, simultaneously. “Bulletproof” puts a new slant on the Queensryche power ballad, keeping the emphasis on the power. La Torre makes it his own — listen to the last note he sings. Sends chills up the spine. Speaking of chills, crossing the acoustics with the heavy chunky riffing on “The Hourglass” did exactly that. There are Pink Floyd influences coming up to breathe from time to time on Condition Hüman. This is most obvious on “Just Us”, which is also very much like the slightly psychedelic acoustic side of Led Zeppelin. Queensryche have never done anything like “Just Us” before. “Silent Lucidity” this is not. The soulful singing at the close of the song is also unlike anything on a prior Queensryche song.
For fans of the technical, fast side of Queensryche, “All There Was” will scratch that itch. With that pulsing technological rhythm and “Needle Lies” tempo, you are in for a ride. Don’t forget the blazing guitar histrionics. The final album track is “Condition Hüman” itself, 7:48 of dramatic progressive metallic rock. Check out the “Astronomy Domine” section after the fifth minute, just before it goes into that deliberate Mindcrime riff. If I had to pigeonhole the sound of this album, it would be “progressive metallic rock”, but pigeonholes are lazy. Still, as Commander Pavel Chekov once said, “If shoe fits…”
Holding out for the Japanese edition of the album, the bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” is the bonus track worth waiting for. Going sludgy for 3:40, but topped with a soaring chorus, the bonus track is in the mold of the album but different just the same. It’s a long album though, and adding more material (even if good) can sometimes push a CD just a bit too far in terms of attention span. “Espiritu Muerto” is close to this line, but because it has enough personality of its own, it’s worth staying around for.
If any of these songs sound intriguing to you, check out Condition Hüman. Fans who wonder where Queensryche could have gone had they adhered to heavier roads will find much to enjoy. They have never taken the easy way with any of their albums, but it is hard to imagine a fan of early ‘Ryche who won’t find something here to love.