Queensryche

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – The Verdict (2019 “Masterpiece Edition”)

QUEENSRŸCHE – The Verdict (2019 Century Media 2 CD “Masterpiece Edition”)

The Todd La Torre era of Queensryche is now three albums deep. There’s no more mucking around. When drummer Scott Rockenfield went on personal leave, they didn’t let that stop them from writing and recording The Verdict. La Torre, a capable drummer in his own right, took on the challenge quite seamlessly.

So what’s the verdict on The Verdict?

The first Todd album (2013’s Queensrÿche) was safe and too brief.  The second (2015’s Condition Hüman) was a lot to digest.  The Verdict may have struck a better balance.  They’re still exploring their own brand of metal, bringing in a few new sounds without departing from their core direction.  They sound more comfortable in their own shoes.  Don’t expect a progression into new musical territory.  That’s not what The Verdict is.  It’s a full-force metal album with nuance, complexity, and plenty of guitar harmonies.  That’s what Queensryche do now.  The writing is sharpened, and the songs sound assembled with care.

The album requires a few listens to sink in.  The immediate standout here is a track called “Light-Years”, a song written by bassist Eddie Jackson who seems to come up with amazing songs out of the blue.  Regal, riff-laden metal with bravery and hooks.  This song should surely go down as a future Ryche classic.  (Jackson also wrote “Propaganda Fashion” and co-wrote a bunch of others.)  Another impressive song is the ballady “Dark Reverie” contributed by Parker Lundgren.  Todd really kicks it in the ass with his outstanding vocals.  The longest track “Bent” is dark and epic.  The only real weakness on this album is a lack of diversity, which they seem to be trying to avoid lest they end up with another Dedicated to Chaos.

The balance is clear.  The complexity of Condition Hüman is tempered by sharper hooks and melodies on The Verdict.  They’ve cranked out a lot of music over the last six years and they’re sounding more confident today.  Speaking of “a lot of music”, the consumer has choose between the standard single 10 track CD or the double “Masterpiece Edition” with rarities and new recordings.

For many fans, this will be their first chance to own the songs “46° North”, “Mercury Rising”, and “Espiritu Muerto”.  To get those, you had to buy the (previously reviewed) vinyl box set version of Condition Hüman.  Fans will also be thrilled by the four live songs from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  One of them, “Eyes of a Stranger”, could only be found on the (previously reviewed) Japanese version.  These, of course, all feature Scott Rockenfield on drums, his only appearances in this set.

The percussion on the two new recordings is handled by touring drummer Casey Grillo.  If he ends up a permanent member one day, nobody can say, but these are his very first recordings with Queensryche.  They are acoustic versions of “I Dream in Infrared” (from Rage for Order) and “Open Road” from (Queensrÿche).  Both are quite excellent.  It would be cool to get more of these acoustic renderings.  (Geoff Tate did four on his Queensryche’s Frequency Unknown album.)

The “Masterpiece Edition” (9000 copies) comes packed in a nice big box similar to the one from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  Additional goodies inside include an iron-on patch, a Verdict fridge magnet, and bottle opener.  Now your kitchen can finally be complete.  Just extra fluff, really — buy it for the songs.

4/5 stars

VHS Archives #68: Geoff Tate of Queensryche (1986)

JD Roberts of MuchMusic’s Pepsi Power Hour talked to Geoff Tate (and a silent Chris DeGarmo) about Queensryche in 1986.  That means you get the rock-solid Rage for Order haircuts.  Not only that… but Geoff actually comments on the hair!

 

VHS Archives #32: Vintage Sam the Record Man TV ad (1988)

Possibly the only video on the internet with both Megadeth and Poison?

Specially priced! $8.99 for cassette or LP, $18.99 for CD!

For a great look at the Poison album, check out Deke at Arena Rock!

VHS Archives #12: Queensryche co-host the Power Hour (1990)

This is a great example of what made the Power Hour special. It was an hour of live television. That means when Dan Gallagher (always) refers to Anthrax as “Anthrash”, then it goes out live like that.

Queensryche were in Toronto promoting their then-new Empire CD. Geoff was sick, so Michael and Chris visited the MuchMusic studios. They co-hosted the hour with Dan and did a damn fine job of it. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton: Queensryche!

REVIEW: Queensryche – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 promo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 EMI America promo interview LP)

Here’s a nice little rarity for you, a full-length Queensryche interview disc from the Rage For Order era.  Promos are a funny thing for reviewing (and this is our second Queensryche promo review).  These records were never made for sale, therefore nobody reviews them.  Nobody…but us.  Is there any rock knowledge or collector’s value to be gleaned from this disc?  Let us find out.

It’s an attractive record, Geoff Tate’s digitally distorted face in black & white.  No Try-Ryche, but a neat digital Queensryche logo.  The interview is conducted by radio DJ Ralph Tortoro.  A very low-key Geoff Tate begins by answering general questions about the beginning of the band and their independent EP.  Chris DeGarmo is a bit more engaged and adds the details.  Shy Michael Wilton speaks up only on occasion.

You’ll also get bits and pieces of music:  Snippets of “Queen of the Reich”, “Warning”, and “Gonna Get Close to You”.  There are four full songs too:  a massive “Screaming in Digital” (so hot on vinyl!), “I Dream in Infrared”, “Chemical Youth” and “The Whisper”.

Interesting things I noted while listening:

  1. They hadn’t settled on the name Queensryche for the band until they had to print up the first EP, forced to make a decision.
  2. Maiden was one of their favourite bands to cover according to Chris.
  3. Tate clearly didn’t like being called “metal” even back in 1986.
  4. “NM 156” from The Warning is hailed as the track that showed the way of the future of Queensryche.
  5. Steve Harris loved The Warning and asked for Queensryche to open for Iron Maiden.
  6. Rage for Order is a “loose concept” album, examining order over three levels:  order in relationships, political order, and technological order.
  7. Other questions remain unasked.

The new digitally enhanced Queensryche of 1986 was destined to confuse people in the short term, gradually winning over fans as time went on and people “got” the album.  If you want to deepen your understanding of its themes, this record will help.  There’s more too; we won’t tell you everything.  As a fan, you should be able to decide if Speaking in Digital is the kind of thing you want in your rock and roll reference library.  The young, shy Queensryche interviewed on this LP are as cold as the machines that are striving for order in the lyrics.  It’s a dry but interesting listen.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 vinyl box set version)

As we gear up for this year’s release of the next Queensryche album The Verdict, let’s look back at a different edition of their last album Condition Hüman.  For our original 2015 review of Condition Hüman, click here!

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media 2 LP, + 7″ single coloured vinyl box set)

It is almost customary now.  When a band comes out with a new album, there has to be a crazy deluxe edition with vinyl and CD.  The best of these editions are the ones that include exclusive music.  In the end, all the posters and booklets in the world add up to only paper.  Exclusive music is the thing of real value.

Queensryche did well with their Condition Hüman deluxe.  It was available in a variety of colours.  This one is yellow, number 659/1000.  There’s a cool turntable mat inside, and a double sided poster.  For music, the album is split onto two coloured 180 gram vinyl records, including the Japanese bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” on Side D.   (The D-side is also etched with the Queensryche logo in the empty space.)  For your convenience, the entire album including Japanese bonus track is duplicated on the CD inside.  Then for the diehards comes the true exclusive:  two more songs on a 7″ single, not on any other version of the album.  This is the real reward for spending the extra money on the deluxe.

“Espiritu Muerto” chugs heavily along, punishing the skulls of unbelievers.   On the 7″ record, the two exclusive songs are fairly non-descript. “46° North” is B-side-ish, like a leftover written for Empire but dropped in favour of something more commercial.  “Mercury Rising” is on the other side, with a vaguely psychedelic metal vibe and science fiction lyrics.

Condition Hüman itself is a strong metallic album, though with hindsight perhaps too “metal” for its own good.  There was a time, not so long ago, when fans would have begged and pleaded with Queensryche to write just one new song in the vein of Condition Hüman.  Now that we have two albums solidly back in the metal genre, it would be nice to hear real diversity in Queensryche again.

That said, Condition Hüman is a damn fine album for what it is.  The Queensryche of today, fronted by Todd La Torre, has been determined to retain trademark elements from Queensryche’s 80s heyday.  That includes strong riffs, dual harmony solos, and screamin’ vocals.  These are all delivered with gravy on top.

The vinyl experience of Condition Hüman is actually superior to that of CD.  It was always a long album, with the standard edition being 53 minutes of pretty relentless stomping.  On vinyl, you’re forced to pause and flip the record three times before even getting to the single.  These brief respites allow you to breath and absorb.  What I’ve absorbed is that Condition Hüman is still a damn fine collection of songs, if a bit too single-minded.  One gets the impression from this album that, though good, Queensryche can still do better.

4/5 stars

LP-A1 Arrow Of Time
LP-A2 Guardian
LP-A3 Hellfire
LP-A4 Toxic Remedy

LP-B1 Selfish Lives
LP-B2 Eye 9
LP-B3 Bulletproof
LP-B4 Hourglass

LP-C1 Just Us
LP-C2 All There Was
LP-C3 The Aftermath
LP-C4 Condition Hüman

LP-D1 Espiritu Muerto

7″-A 46° North
7″-B Mercury Rising

REVIEW: Queensryche – Rage For Order (remastered)

QUEENSRYCHE – Rage For Order (originally 1986, 2003 EMI remastered edition)

Every fan has their favourite Queensryche album.  Whether it be The Warning, MindcrimePromised Land or Empire, there are plenty of great albums in their back catalogue.  I used to seek the warm high of Promised Land when looking to chill with my favourite Queensryche.  Now I look for refuge in the cold, technological sheen of their 1986 album Rage For Order.

Rage For Order was a challenging album in its time and today it is still complex.  In 1986, fans questioned the gothy makeup and hair, not to mention the excessive samples and synths.  Today you can look back and almost call Rage For Order the first progressive industrial metal album.  It certainly has qualities from all three of those genres.  Geoff Tate beat Trent Reznor to the punch by years.  Rage seems to have a vague futuristic concept about a world of technology, revolution, and disconnection.

Although Rage For Order is certainly not an immediate listen, certain key tracks are commercial enough to keep you coming back.  The first is “Walk in the Shadows”, one of the few songs to be played live fairly consistently over the years.  “Walk in the Shadows” could pass as a hard rocking hit.  For the first time Queensryche really proved they were more than a simple metal band.  The slick production was completely different from their first two records, with the edge taken off the guitars and instead given to the computers and sequencers.  They give the whole album a precise, punchy tech sound that is its own form of heavy.  No wonder:  Dave “Rave” Ogilvie was an engineer.

A dense ballad called “I Dream in Infrared” has sorrow, but flowing through the veins of a computer.  Geoff Tate blows minds with his incredible voice and singing ability, layered for maximum effect.  In 1991 it was remixed acoustically for a single B-side, and that version is a bonus track on the remastered edition.  The original was perfect for what it was, but the acoustic mix is more accessible to outsiders.  It ends suddenly and the metallic guitars of “The Whisper” enter, accompanied by clock-like percussion.  Rage For Order has many songs with layered, overlapping vocals and you can hear that on the chorus.  It is a cold, sterile but powerful track.

The strangest song was actually the lead single, “Gonna Get Close to You”.  It was the only cover Queensryche ever put on one of their studio albums, a track by Canadian songstress Lisa DalBello.  In the hands of Geoff Tate, it becomes a creepy song of a stalker with a strangely rousing pre-chorus.  “You think I’m a fool or maybe some kind of lunatic?  You say I’m wasting my time but I know what to do with it.  It’s as plain as black and white.  I’m gonna get close to you.”  Cree-hee-eepy!  Which is the point.  The bizarre samples and synths only deepen the macabre.  DalBello’s original is perhaps even creepier, but Tate’s pompous bravado adds its own slant.  “If you knew my infinite charm, there’d be no reason to be so alarmed…”

As an added bonus, a 12″ extended version of “Gonna Get Close to You” is included in the bonus tracks, but like most extended versions from the 1980s, it’s very choppy and awkward.

Along with the technology, there is a theme of loneliness on Rage For Order, and “Gonna Get Close to You” plays into that.  “The Killing Words” contains more heartbreak on the album’s second ballad (third if you count “Gonna Get Close to You”).  Tate’s voice is drenched in pain.  A 1994 acoustic version from the “Bridge” CD single is included as a bonus track.

“Surgical Strike” is a brilliant track, fast and heavy, and working with the technology.  The lyrics are brilliant and quite prescient.

It’s lonely in the field,
that we send our fighters to wander.
They leave with minds of steel,
It’s their training solution.
We’ve programmed the way,
It leads us to Order.
There’s no turning back.

A Surgical Strike.
We’ve taught them not to feel.
performance is their task,
A Surgical Strike,
Its time is arriving now for you.

The plan for the day,
will be swift as the lightning they harness.
The atom display,
It’s not mindless illusion,
At master control, assessment will not,
Be by humans.
There’s no turning back…

It feels like this future is not very far off.

One of the most techy tracks is “Neue Regel”.  Clockwork percussion, strangely computerized lead vocals, and intelligently used samples paint a scene of a future battlefield, complete with bomb-like drum sounds.  The multi-layered chorus is one of Queensryche’s most perfect.  Respect to Geoff Tate.  When the man was at his peak, nobody could touch him, both vocally and as a songwriter.  Of course one must also remember the other side of the equation, which was guitarist Chris DeGarmo.  He has more songwriting credits on this album than Geoff Tate, including two solo credits (“The Whisper” and “I Will Remember”).

The future continues to look cold and dark on “Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)”.  “Our religion is technology” is one line, and if only Tate knew how right he was!  There is a still a spark of hope and that is the young.  “Chemical Youth” is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, and sonically very interesting too.  The next ballad “London” fades in with a synthy bass line.  Loneliness returns.  “There’s some things in life I could never face.  The worst is being alone.”

The technology slant hits its peak on the brilliant “Screaming in Digital”.  Describing this song can do it no justice.  It is like listening to Queensryche within the gleaming sterile walls of the dystopian sci-fi classic THX-1138.  There is far too much going on underneath it all to absorb in just a few listens.  You will hear new sounds you never noticed before even 30 years later.  Artificial intelligence has never rocked so heavy.

I am the beat of your pulse,
The computer word made flesh,
We are one you and I,
We are versions of the same,
When you can see what I feel,
Don’t turn your back on me,
Or you might find that your dreams,
Are only program cards.

Fucking chilling!

“Screaming in Digital” must be counted on any list of Queensryche’s best music.  It is sheer genius, far beyond what their hard rock peers were peddling.  It was also years ahead of its time.  By crossing digital techniques with heavy metal in such an intelligent way, Queensryche truly were breaking new ground.

“I Will Remember” is the final song, a ballad that seems to tie it all together.  It has the feel of a lonely ballad, while lyrically tying up the technology concept.  “And we wonder how machines can steal each other’s dreams.”  Another Queensryche classic, including a genius DeGarmo acoustic guitar solo.  Shades of the future “Silent Lucidity” too (also written by DeGarmo).

There are four bonus tracks including the three discussed above.  The last one is a 1991 live version of “Walk in the Shadows”, which appears to be a mix of two different performances judging by the credits.  Whatever the case may be, it’s cool to get a live version of this incredible song as a coda to the album.

Queensryche took the conceptual approach to its logical apex next time out with Operation: Mindcrime.  They ditched the technology and went back to guitars and even added an orchestra.  For that reason, Rage For Order is very unique in the collection.  It was a sound they have never repeated.  Operation: Mindcrime had a sequel, but Rage For Order never will.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

Interview: EDDIE JACKSON of QUEENSRYCHE – Oct 30 2001 – AUDIO

This audio goes with the text of Eddie’s interview with me in October of 2001. Links to the complete text can be found below, but why read when you can listen?  The audio has remained in my dusty archives…until now.  This was a great in-depth chat about the band at the time, lineup changes, and the Live Evolution CD that they were currently promoting.  Give it a listen from the pre-digital age.  Cassette, baby!

Links

Audio

REVIEW: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane – Original Soundtrack (1990)

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK
Scan_20160604THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE – Original Soundtrack Recording (1990 Elektra)

This movie stunk.  Somebody had the idea:  “Hey, let’s get Andrew Dice Clay to headline a raunchy comedy movie, and get a hard rock soundtrack!  The kids will love it.”  The movie and soundtrack were loaded with famous names:  Wayne Newton, Sheila E., Vince Neil, Priscilla Presley, Robert England and so on.  It didn’t help; the movie tanked and its resultant soundtrack was a hodge-podge of music that no one listener would like all the way through.

There is plenty to dislike on this CD.

A past-his-prime Dion remade “Sea Cruise” with Don Was, rendering it limp like a stunted child of the 1980’s.  Skip the unbelievably terrible Sheila E. track.  The Teddy Pendergrass song is also pretty awful, in a nondescript 80’s fashion. Tone Lōc dropped a turd with “Can’t Get Enough”, despite a phat Hammond organ riff that must have been sampled from something much better. Finally, Andrew Dice Clay taints both the band Yello and the song “I Ain’t Got You” with his voice. The Yello track is just synth music with movie dialogue on top. Then “I Ain’t Got You” is less than two minutes long, so at least it’s relatively painless. I don’t know if somebody had the idea to launch Dice as a rock star next, but if they did, it failed miserably.

There are a few songs that could be considered keepers.

Billy Idol was experiencing a comeback at the time, with the classic-tinged “Cradle of Love”. It combined new wave production values with rock and roll stylings of the 1950’s. Striking while the iron Idol was hot, the song is included on this soundtrack as the opening number. It was Idol’s first single, post-Steve Stevens. It featured his new guitarist Mark Younger-Smith, and ex-Ozzy bassist Phil Soussan who briefly appeared in the movie as one of Vince Neil’s bandmates. (He later became one of Vince’s bandmates in real life.)

Speaking of Vince, Motley Crue contributed the Dr. Feelgood outtake “Rock ‘n Roll Junkie”, well before it was released on Decade of Decadence.  This mix is slightly different than the one commonly released on Motley albums.  Vince sings an audible “Uh!” sound at the 30 second mark on the usual versions.  That is absent on the Ford Fairlane mix.  There is also a stronger flanging effect on the bass during the intro of the common version.  So, for Motley diehards, this CD presents one mix that you don’t own elsewhere in your collection.

I have no idea how Queensryche got involved with this soundtrack; they were even on a different record label. “Last Time in Paris” was an accessible rock track; an outtake from the sessions for the forthcoming Empire.  It would not have been one of the best Empire tracks, but it’s good enough for fans of vintage ‘Ryche.  Chris DeGarmo employs a slide on his guitar solo, and Geoff Tate throws down a sassy lead vocal.

The final track was also an outtake from a forthcoming release:  Richie Sambora’s Stranger in this Town solo debut.  Sambora recorded a classy cover of Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary”.  Sambora was displaying previously unseen depth and blues chops.  “The Wind Cries Mary” was later included on a deluxe edition of Stranger in this Town, but by and large most Bon Jovi fans have not heard it.  With this track, Richie had the best tune on the soundtrack.

The verdict on this “rock and roll detective” movie sountrack?  It gets the dreaded Flaming Turd.

1.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Queensryche – American Soldier (2009)

Scan_20160511QUEENSRYCHE – American Soldier (2009 Rhino)

There is no doubt that a decade and a half of war has dramatically changed the United States.  In 2009, Queensryche decided to deal with their feelings by writing a concept album on the subject.  It’s something that they do very well, and American Soldier, the finished product, was another ambitious piece of work.  Although the album was mostly written by Geoff Tate and his friends Jason Slater and Kelly Gray, in reality it’s the last good album the band made with Tate.

The band interviewed soldiers for this album, and their words are a huge part of the record.  The track “Unafraid” opens like this, creating a hauntingly serious atmosphere.  At times, the music is toned down, allowing the dialogue to speak.  It’s an interesting effect and certainly it works in creating the mood that the band were going for.  I think it is also a token of appreciation to the soldiers who defended the country.  They had a chance to speak their minds, and be immortalized in music.  That’s pretty cool.

The end result is a good album that is not necessarily easy to listen to.   There is no “fun” in this music, it is dead serious the whole way through.  The intensity burns and you can hear that Tate was focused like a laser on this project.   The songs are fine; not Mindcrime quality but I don’t think that anthemic progressive rock would have fit American Soldier.  The single misstep is the vocal by Tate’s daughter Emily on “Home Again”.  What was meant to be a dramatic, emotional focal point is instead distracting.

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Among the best tracks are “Sliver”, a cool opener featuring an actual soldier (A.J. Fratto, a 14 year vet) barking orders with the music.  Fratto ended up touring with the band in support of this album.  Well done, sir!  “Hundred Mile Stare” is slow and intense.  The hundred mile stare in the song is a variation of the thousand yard stare — a distant look in the eyes a soldier gets after they’ve been in the field too long.  “A Dead Man’s Words” is another complex highlight, middle-eastern in style and clearly about conflict in that region.  This one is perhaps the most “Queensryche” of the songs, in the sense that you can hear their classic sound at play.  This includes a Tate sax solo, something I wished he did more of with the band.  Then, for choruses, I have to go with “The Killer”.  For sheer intensity, it’s the soldier’s story on “If I Were King”.  If you want heavy ‘Ryche, then “Man Down!” is the track for you.

One disappointing factor in American Soldier only hits you when you open the booklet.  Great artwork aside, it’s really too bad that Tate relied so heavily on his buddies to make this album rather than his band.  Drummer Scott Rockenfield has two co-writes, and that’s it.  Damon Johnson from Brother Cane has just as many co-writes.  The rest of the credits are variations of Tate, and producers Jason Slater and Kelly Gray.  Queensryche were down to four members at this point, so Johnson and Gray subbed on guitars.

Although Promised Land was probably the most deeply personal Queensryche album, American Soldier is likely the runner up.  At least for Tate and his collaborators, there is obviously a lot of their hearts and souls invested in this.  Unsurprisingly, it is not an immediate album.  It requires time, but it also requires space between listens.  There’s no glory here, just stark reality, so take your time.

3.5/5 stars

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