Released on March 1, 2019 (Century Media)
I was introduced to the music of Queensrÿche between Operation Mindcrime (1988) and Empire (1990). By the time Empire came out, I had tracked down their earlier records. When their next album Promised Land (1994) came out, many fans had high expectations. Depending on your point of view, Promised Land marks either the end of their classic period or the beginning of a long and steady descent until then-vocalist Geoff Tate exited the band. Promised Land just didn’t resonate with me like the previous albums. I kept an eye on them, listened to bits and pieces of each new release, and even bought and listened to Operation: Mindcrime II (2006), but Queensrÿche just didn’t look like they were going to return to that earlier sound that made me love them so much. I saw them perform all of Operation Mindcrime and a greatest hits set with Tate in 2005 that was stellar, but Queensrÿche were becoming one of those bands whose music you love and listen to, but only up to a certain point. In essence, they were beginning to track as a nostalgia act.
And then a great thing happened — the band completely fell apart. Around the time of Promised Land, internal tensions mounted over finances, setlists, musical direction, and just about every major point a band must collectively figure out. Guitarist and primary songwriter Chris DeGarmo left the band amidst all the drama. Dysfunction increased and finally all the disagreements reached a boiling point in 2012. To briefly summarize a two-year conflict, the remaining original members of Queensrÿche (guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfield) believed that Tate was controlling the band, limiting their input and information, and making too many group decisions by himself that they disagreed with. In 2012, they ended up firing Tate‘s stepdaughter Miranda Tate, who ran the fan club, and they fired Susan Tate, his wife, who was their manager. Tate and the other members of Queensrÿche eventually exchanged insults, spit, fists, and lawsuits as Tate sought an injunction to block them from using the name after they fired him.
In 2014, both sides reached a formal agreement in which the remaining members of Queensrÿche would buy out Tate’s interest in band, which in effect legally severed him. After a two-year period, he could no longer even advertise himself as formally of Queensrÿche or the original lead singer of Queensrÿche, and he could not use the triryche logo. They agreed that only he can play Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II in their entirety and that he can use images associated with the Mindcrime works. Queensrÿche retained their right to play songs from these albums, and they have the rights to more or less everything else associated with that name. It was, we might say, a clean sweep.
For a brief period, the court allowed both sides to perform and record as Queensrÿche while a resolution was in process. Tate got a record out first in April of 2013 with Frequency Unknown. Queensrÿche released their self-titled album just a couple of months later in June. They had already been working with vocalist Todd La Torre on a side project called Rising West in which they planned to perform early Queensrÿche material up through Empire while Tate worked on his second solo album. Clocking in at barely over 35 minutes, one might speculate that it was designed to quickly get something current onto the market to compete with Tate’s vision of Queensrÿche and introduce with as little delay as possible the new recording version of Queensrÿche with La Torre. Despite its brevity, Queensrÿche shows the band reaching back to the sound of its earlier albums and demonstrating that Queensrÿche could not just survive but thrive without Tate. It wasn’t quite a classic album, but it was solid and the best material they had written in years. Displaying a sense of energy, heaviness, and purpose that hadn’t been heard in a long time, Queensrÿche was a positive sign of things to come.
Condition Hüman appeared in the fall of 2015. With the stress and distraction of court proceedings behind them, more time to make an album, and more experience with La Torre, Condition Hüman became the album fans of the earlier material longed for. Songs like “Arrow of Time,” “Guardian,” and “Hellfire” are just crushing and tracks such as the soaring “Bulletproof” showcase their slower side.
2019’s The Verdict continues in the same direction. The heavy guitar lines, fast solos, vocal vibrato, shrieks, and wails are all present in opening track “Blood of the Levant.” Queensrÿche explain that “This song is based on real events that sparked the onset of the Syrian War.” “Dark Reverie” is the first opportunity the band and the listener both have to catch their breath. Although Queensrÿche’s harder songs are excellent, songs like “Dark Reverie” remind us that they continue to write great songs that rely more on atmosphere than riffs and fast beats and show us current examples of Queensrÿche’s versatility and emotionally heavy side. “Bent” picks the tempo back up. La Torre explains that “’Bent’ is a lyrical conglomerate of social injustices and societal struggles infused with progressive musicality.”
Thus, we also realize that Queensrÿche haven’t abandoned their political and social commentary. It’s not too difficult to interpret The Verdict as a reading of America’s current political turmoil. Queensrÿche have — probably wisely — left the lyrics open and abstract enough that one can argue that The Verdict is about any number of people, situations, eras, and places. My interpretation is that The Verdict calls into question America’s current administration, but the ambiguity of the lyrics — we don’t hear any mention of particular names, for example — allows Queensrÿche to speak about serious topics without alienating or offending any particular segment of their fan base. Queensrÿche provoke thought without controlling it. Closing track “Portrait” is the moodiest song on the record and feels like it could have been an Empire track. In fact, The Verdict sounds like either a natural progression from Empire or to it.
If you need more Queensrÿche and/or are into physical product and collector’s items, the two-CD limited edition (9,000 copies) will give you more music along with a cool box that doesn’t seem like it will fall apart the first time you open it, patch, magnet, and bottle opener. While the first CD is the regular version of The Verdict, the second CD is a collection of bonus tracks. The first two are 2018 studio acoustic recordings of “I Dream In Infrared” and “Open Road.” Besides giving us additional music and different arrangements of preexisting tunes, these tracks feature the percussion of Casey Grillo who has been filling in live for Rockenfield who has taken a break — perhaps permanently — from the band after his son’s birth. La Torre played drums on The Verdict, so these tunes give us the first recorded taste of Grillo. I don’t know if I want Queensrÿche’s next big release to be all-acoustic, but if they decide to keep tagging these versions onto the studio albums, make an EP along these lines, or include a bonus disc of acoustic versions of earlier songs on the next new record, I’m into it.
The next three tracks collect the bonus tracks from Condition Hüman — “46° North,” “Mercury Rising” and “Espirito Muerto.” These mid-tempo numbers don’t sound like demos; they sound like finished, polished studio tracks intended for formal release and the liner notes identify them as “studio rarities.” This is ideal bonus material because all three are perfectly listenable and enjoyable to hear, yet none of them seem like they should have replaced a song from Condition Hüman.
The final four tracks are 2012 live recordings with La Torre that originally appeared as extras on special editions of Queensrÿche. We are treated to “Queen of The Reich,” “En Force,” “Prophecy” and “Eyes of A Stranger.” I saw Queensrÿche again in 2017 and they absolutely hammer it live. While these 2012 live recordings are great, they don’t quite compare to what I heard in 2017 (“The Killing Words” totally blew me away). However, they were also recorded just a few months after La Torre’s live debut with the band.
No, the second CD is not as essential as the regular studio album, but I would definitely buy something like this again from Queensrÿche, and I like the variety of the tracks (i.e., acoustic versions, studio extras, and live work). Please give us one more studio release on par with the previous three, and then how about a double live album?
01. Blood of The Levant
02. Man The Machine
04. Inside Out
05. Propaganda Fashion
06. Dark Reverie
08. Inner Unrest
09. Launder The Conscience
Limited Edition CD2:
01. I Dream In Infrared
02. Open Road
03. 46° North
04. Mercury Rising
05. Espirito Muerto
06. Queen of The Reich
07. En Force
09. Eyes of A Stranger
Todd La Torre – lead vocals, drums
Michael Wilton – lead guitar
Parker Lundgren – rhythm guitar
Eddie Jackson – bass, backing vocals
Produced, engineered, and mixed by Zeuss
Reviewed by William Nesbitt for Sleaze Roxx, August 2019
Queensrÿche‘s “Blood of The Levant” video:
QUEENSRYCHE – Blood Of The Levant (Official Video). Order now! https://Queensryche.lnk.to/TheVerdict’The Verdict’ out March 1, 2019. Director: David BrodskyP…
Queensrÿche‘s “Man The Machine” lyric video:
QUEENSRYCHE – Man The Machine (Lyric Video). Taken from the album “The Verdict”, out March 1, 2019! Order it now: https://Queensryche.lnk.to/TheVerdictID // …
Queensrÿche‘s “Light-years” video:
QUEENSRYCHE – Light-years (OFFICIAL VIDEO). Buy the new album ‘The Verdict’ now! https://Queensryche.lnk.to/TheVerdictIDCREDITS: Director: David Brodsky for …
Queensrÿche‘s “Dark Reverie” lyric video:
QUEENSRYCHE – Dark Reverie (Lyric Video). Pre-Order now: https://Queensryche.lnk.to/TheVerdictIDTaken from the album, ‘The Verdict’, Century Media Records, 2…
Queensrÿche‘s “Bent” lyric video:
QUEENSRŸCHE – Bent (Lyric Video). Taken from the album “The Verdict”, out March 1st, 2019. Order now: https://Queensryche.lnk.to/TheVerdictID