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Condition triumphant. - 95%

hells_unicorn, October 13th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Century Media Records

Queensryche has always been one of the more enigmatic and ephemeral bands to ever come out of the early 80s American metal scene. In essence, the famous quote of the philosopher Heraclitus that one cannot step on the same part of the river twice has perfectly summed up their career up until now, though a caveat should be thrown in that not all parts of the river are equal, either qualitatively or stylistically. Even within their four seminal releases in the 1980s, there were rather sizable jolts in the evolution of their sound, despite maintaining a consistent line up and being recognizable as the same outfit. Some of this dovetails with their status as a more progressive outfit, which was present to some degree in their earliest LP The Warning, but didn't fully metastasize until the release of their 1990 commercial breakthrough Empire, which arguably saw the band abandoning much of their metal roots, which would subsequently not return until only recently. Following a massive succession of sub-par releases and finally the exodus of longtime lead vocalist Geoff Tate (arguably an irreplaceable element of their sound), the future seemed quite uncertain for this Seattle metal fold.

However, even the most disastrous of events can have a silver-lining, and in the case of newly recruited vocalist Todd La Torre, the silver actually covered the entire room and brought about a sudden and massive revitalization of a long dormant energy in the soul of the band. Following a respectable though short and safe return to form in their self-title 2013 effort Queensryche, the idea was fielded by said newly recruited front man to attempt a true return to form, and what came out after a couple years of plugging away is arguably the most substantial comeback in metal history, otherwise known as Condition Human. Naturally calling anything by this band a return to form isn't saying much since they've been all over the map stylistically since the early 1990s, and even in their more metallic days prior to that they were a bit difficult to fully nail down and were better defined by individual albums than by any respective era. As best as can be defined, this album is a move back to a transitional point between Operation: Mindcrime and Empire that never actually occurred, but one that would have surpassed the latter album while holding a similarly auspicious place in history with the former.

From start to finish, this album tows the line between modernity and nostalgia brilliantly, and likewise manages to hold a near perfect middle ground between the bands traditional heavy, power and progressive metal/rock stylistic influences while managing to be both gritty and smooth. It introduces itself on a very familiar note with a melodic speeder in "Arrow Of Time" that captures that faster end of the NWOBHM roots of the band's 80s material, particularly the more musically adventurous aspects of mid-80s Iron Maiden, and also rings a fair bit familiar to one of the faster Mindcrime songs "The Needle Lies". The comparable moments to the seminal 1988 Queensryche LP continue with a series of more mid-paced and heavy numbers in "Guardian" and "Hellfire", the latter showcasing the band's prowess in developing a haunting atmosphere with acoustic guitars before launching into a powerful rocking stride, not all that dissimilar to a number of radio hits such as "Revolution Calling" and "I Don't Believe In Love". Towards the middle of the album things take on a bit more of a modern character and slow down a bit, but the sense of power is not diminished as a series of modern reinterpretations of Queensryche's early 90s material emerge, with "Eye9" being particularly noteworthy for it's strong bass work and haunting melodic guitar interludes.

It can't be stressed enough that this album is a collective success on all fronts, from the fancy and rhythmically mixed drum work and rhythm section to the flashy guitar work and brilliant atmospheric quirks. However, it cannot be overstated how much of a boon the vocal work of Todd La Torre is to this band, fully recapturing the power and energy of Geoff Tate's younger days and providing an even more gritty edge at times that was never explored by the departed Tate at any point in his career. He proves equally capable of wailing away like a raging beast on the heavier material, but he likewise proves an exemplary force in providing a crooning voice to the more serene balladry of this album, be it the punch half-ballad "Bulletproof" or the full out acoustic nod to Empire's softer moments with a progressive twist in Just Us. Further still, his massive vocal range and expressive timbre makes the neurotic closing series of "Aftermath" and the closing epic title song "Condition Human" essentially what they are, namely a twisted and more generalized reinterpretation of the closing series of songs of Operation: Mindcrime. There aren't really any weak points to speak of with this entire album, save maybe for the fact that they slightly overdid it in the variety department and could have stood to write a few more outright rockers rather than multifaceted works, but it's hardly noticeable.

It's arguably a presumptive point to make, but it would appear that the ejection of Geoff Tate may well prove to be the best thing that could have happened to this band. They've gotten back the original spirit that made them such a massive force during the developmental days of metal music, and after a couple of extremely sub-par forays into plodding, quasi-grunge influenced progressive rock obscurity, it's becoming clear that Geoff Tate has all but lost his interest in metal and was holding the rest of the band back. This is literally the greatest thing to come out of Queensryche since the close of the 1980s, and also one of the best albums to come out this year. It's an essential listen for anybody that ever fell in love with any part of their classic period, it's fully faithful to the bands roots without totally living in the past, it's just an all out triumph from beginning to end. For all the lyrical cynicism and introspection that it may express, Condition Human may actually prove to be the catalyst in restoring the faiths of many persons in the power of the human will, at least as far as this veteran Seattle outfit is concerned.

Originally submitted to (The Metal Observer) on October 13, 2015.