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Down on Me - 80%

Twisted_Psychology, March 24th, 2019

Queensryche will (hopefully) never have drama on such a cataclysmic scale as their infamous 2012 schism, but things look rather precarious on their fourteenth full-length album. Drummer Scott Rockenfield is MIA, leaving guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson as the group’s sole original members, and setting the stage for vocalist Todd La Torre to assume timekeeping duties in his absence. Thankfully, The Verdict seems largely unaffected by these circumstances.

On the contrary, this album seems to pick where 2015’s Condition Human left off. It utilizes a similar blend of prog, metal, and alternative with an even more noticeable focus on mid-tempo pacing, grungy rhythms, and experimental vocal interplay. Comparisons could easily be made to the band’s mid-era ventures like Q2K or Tribe, but The Verdict’s more metallic edge keeps it from going into complete retread territory. At the very least, they’re far more certain than they were twenty years ago.

It helps that the songwriting is also pretty solid, featuring their most political themes in some time and benefitting from an easygoing forty-two-minute runtime. Like Condition Human before it, the first songs are the heaviest, though “Blood of the Levant” and “Man the Machine” have a meaner mid-tempo slant compared to past anthems. “Dark Reverie” has also proven to be a grower, serving as a somber pseudo-ballad in the Empire tradition. “Portrait” makes for the album’s most intriguing curveball, closing the album in a spacy fashion that recalls “Chasing Blue Sky” or “The Right Side of My Mind.”

But while everything comes together well on The Verdict, it really would’ve benefitted from some extra oomph. La Torre’s voice continues to be Queensryche’s most valuable asset, and his drum proficiency further reinforces how integral he’s become to the band’s success at this point. The other guys put in solid performances and I sure wouldn’t accuse them of slouching, but just as we saw with Chris DeGarmo and Geoff Tate before, they’re really only as good as whoever is leading them.

Overall, The Verdict is an enjoyable effort that comes close to being “just another” Queensryche album. It packs in plenty of strong tracks and solid performances that are worlds away from the band’s worst efforts yet still shy of their best. As much as I’d love to see the metal tour de force that was promised, the grungy elements work better here than they did in the late 90s. It’ll be interesting to see how the band’s next album pans out considering the situation with Rockenfield but for now, this is still the Queensryche we’ve come to expect.

Highlights:
“Blood of the Levant”
“Man the Machine”
“Dark Reverie”
“Portrait”

Originally published on http://indymetalvault.com

Hail to Deathmocracy - 69%

hardalbumreview, March 16th, 2019

To most metalheads, Queensrÿche equals Operation: Mind Crime (1988) and Empire (1990). And they have got a point. The band released these two albums three decades ago and since then, have endeavored to keep up with their established reputation and follow the same footsteps; but they have mostly failed in doing so, even their 2006 album Operation: Mindcrime II couldn’t repeat its predecessor’s success. But is their latest offering, The Verdict, which is the 15th in their long repertoire, up to par, or is it just another hopeless effort to dart them back up to the top tier?

First off, what I would recommend is that, when facing such a case of faded glory, just strip yourself of every expectation and cast aside all thoughts of analogy, listen to the work at hand as it is, and if the temptation of comparison is really throttling you, weigh the new one against their more recent albums, as the band has long shed its old skin, be it shining bright or despairingly shameful. Countless bands have risen out of absolute gutter to the tallest steel pinnacles of metal (maybe a best example could be Pantera) and similarly, so many others have taken a nose dive from the iron sky to the wasteland of wretchedness (would anyone care if I just mentioned Metallica as an instance of this category?). So let’s consider The Verdict in its totality, regardless of what the band had been years ago.

During the past decade (in 2010s) the band have released four studio albums, from the disgraceful act of Dedicated to Chaos in 2011 to their favorable one, Condition Hüman, in 2015. They have taken a ride on a gentle upward spiral and with The Verdict they have tried to take a step further up this way. To a mild extent, they have succeeded, so thumbs up to them. (And for those of you who cannot hold back the thought of comparison, let me be straight: no its not O:MC. Period.)

The first thing that lets you down is the generic, dull title of the album: The Verdict. These minds have been able to think of some astonishing phrases like “Hail to Deathmocracy,” but they have opted for the lackluster one. (Please tell me the reason!) Then comes the artwork; another dreary aspect of the album. Had I not read the name of the band and had I not recognized their familiar logo, I definitely would have skipped this album without a second glance. The only thing that made my hand reach for the album was the fact that it was Queensryche and nothing else.

Music-wise, the album kicks off hard. The first few tracks are heavy and diverse. From the anti-war Blood of the Levant to the mildly space-themed Light-Years. Man the Machine is also a redeeming track with its NWOBHM nature. But then quality drops with Inside Out. This electronic arabesque song about… wait… what is it exactly about? Light? Consciousness? Maybe, who knows? And then the first half of the album ends with Propaganda Fashion, another acceptable track, mostly because of a tint of progressiveness and its punitive blade towards the world’s craze for mindless fashion and social assimilation.

The second side starts with what I consider the best track of the album, Dark Reverie, a dark expression of emotional hurt which has just enough pathos to touch the heart without drowning in whining. We could skip the next track to reach the other worthy track of the second side, Inner Unrest, with its strong drumming and heavy riff. The next song is there to offer to the listener the bare minimum of a heavy metal album, a piano-driven break and a standard solo on Launder the Conscience, and then a drag track as the album closure and then that’s it; the journey’s over.

On the whole, the afterthought left on my mind having gone through the album was that it lacked soul. True that it had the bands blade of social and political criticism, but it was far from being razor-sharp. The lyrics too don’t add much to the concept and image of the album and fall somewhere mediocre. The musicians also deliver typical skills on their instruments and not more. It’s not that this album is not worth your time, it’s is; the point is that it stays down and it doesn’t have the force, nor the keenness of tearing its way up to your playlist for a second listen. The band have recognized their potential to return to the top, but they still have miles to go.

Rating:
Lyrics: 7.0
Artwork: 6.0
Musicianship: 7.0
Vocals: 7.5
Overall: 7.0

Queensryche's Momentum Continues - 82%

KanisMaximus, March 14th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Century Media Records

For a band that’s been around as long as Queensryche, a steady decline in quality is to be expected with each new release (especially when there was nothing but drama and bullshit in the late 90s/00s, when former frontman Geoff Tate was still part of the show). However, Queensryche’s comeback in 2013 with their self titled album was mighty, mainly due to new vocalist Todd La Torre. Fortunately, The Verdict continues the momentum that began with Queensryche and through Condition Human, leaving us with a solid piece of metal that earns its place among Queensryche’s classics.

The band is tight and the songs are, in a word, dynamic. Each track is an adventure all on its own because it’s impossible to know where it’ll take you. The keyboards are only sprinkled throughout, usually to highlight instrumentals or back up transitional sections: an attribute that makes the entire album seamless and enthusiastic. Less is definitely more in this regard.

La Torre proves himself as quite the force; with regular drummer Scott Rockenfield on hiatus, La Torre also mans the drums and does a damn good job, to say the least. He lays down tasty groove after tasty groove (especially in the choruses of ‘Light-Years’, where the pattering is nonstop) and rarely carries a monotonous beat.

In addition to dynamic songs and impressive musicianship, this album offers plenty of variety. ‘Dark Reverie’ is relatively light but still carries a steady energy. Going a step further, the closer, ‘Portrait’, is very laid back and atmospheric. There’s also ‘Launder the Conscience’, which has so many ups and downs that it’ll keep you on your toes, and the steady beating of ‘Man the Machine’ is lively and features some awesome shredding.

The Verdict proves once again that cohesion is far stronger than any amount of skill or experience. For a progressive/heavy album, while not exceptionally technical, it flows incredibly smoothly, with each song transitioning into the next with an ease that’s akin to a concept album. It’s blindingly evident that Queensryche’s current lineup is a match made in Hell that will likely only get better with time.

Originally written for PowerThorn.com

Twelve jurors can't be wrong. - 90%

hells_unicorn, March 12th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Century Media Records

Being a trailblazer means never remaining in the same place for more than just a passing glance to take in one's surroundings, often throwing caution to the wind and potentially getting lost in uncharted lands. While metal would indeed wither and die without innovation, there is something to be said for the multiplicity of iconic bands that had an impressive early run, only to frantically embark upon further stylistic development until they were all but unrecognizable to their early following. Such was the state that the Seattle-based power/prog pioneer outfit Queensryche fell into following the close of the 80s, continually trying to adapt to an ephemeral rock radio mainstream to the point that hardly a soul recognized them when 1997's Hear In The Now Frontier came out in all of its post-grunge glory, to speak nothing for the confused mess that defined their material after principle songwriter and co-founder Chris DeGarmo opted for retirement. To say that a shakeup was the only thing that could resurrect this once mighty powerhouse was an understatement, and things began to look up immediately following the ejection of Geoff Tate and the introduction of current singer and sound-alike Todd La Torre, culminating in a new masterpiece of an offering in 2015's second outing with him at the helm Condition Human.

It would be an understatement to suggest that the long awaited follow up The Verdict had some high expectations to overcome, and while the road taken here is a bit different, it comes fairly close to recapturing that same revitalized spirit. In contrast to the brilliant yet overt throwback to the late 80s sound of its predecessor, this time around the approach has a decidedly modern flavor that is a bit more reminiscent of the dense atmospheric character of Promised Land with maybe a few blatant nods to Empire thrown in to add a stronger familiarity to things for those still hungry for more of this band's glory days. Consequently the songs tend to be more compact and almost uniformly mid-paced, though also rhythmically elaborate and possessing enough moving parts to avoid the monotony that sadly plagued much of this band's early 90s output. This time around Scott Rockenfield opted out of involvement in the recording process, which gave vocalist La Torre the rare honor of also handling drum duties in addition to embodying all of the strong points of Geoff Tate's younger years vocally, and his kit work is more than adequate in shaping that same classic sound that graced Empire. Truth be told, the whole band makes a strong showing in spite of the more simplified format, with Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren putting on a guitar display worthy of the former's longtime partnership with DeGarmo.

If there is a singular sentiment that ties this collection of melancholy anthems and brooding protests, it would be that of cynicism. It doesn't quite reach the same sort of fatalistic woe that painted the Orwellian nightmare that was Operation: Mindcrime's plot, but there is definitely a similar vibe of a lone protester flying the flags of discontent before an uncaring power structure. Sometimes the objection takes the form of a specific political issue, as underscored in the punchy grooves and infectious hooks of the opening protest against the ongoing chaos in Syria that is "Blood Of The Levant", which almost listens like a darker, heavier reflection of the catchy air that hanged over "Resistance". Still at others, the harder fringe of this album's generally nuanced sound takes on a more generalized objection is raised against the entire political system, as embodied in "Man The Machine" and the almost thrashing "Propaganda Fashion". When things move away from impact-based progressive metallic force into more ballad-based territory, the optimistic philosophical pursuits of past hits like "Silent Lucidity" are foregone for bleaker territory in the occasionally subdued, occasionally thudding ode to personal struggle "Dark Reverie" and it's somewhat more subdued and consistently atmospheric cousin "Portrait".

The greatest selling point of this album, and to an extent the entire La Torre-fronted incarnation of this band, is that it doesn't dwell upon the past as much as it seeks to learn from it. Though the commonalities that this album shares with Queensryche's early 90s era are about as overt as Condition Human's were with their late 80s sound, this album also shares the aforementioned album's approach of showcasing where that sound could have led on a followup rather that being just a full on throwback. The heavy-ended guitar sound and general degree of crispness and clarity in the whole arrangement has a very present-centered character, being maybe just a tad lighter than where bands like Ghost Ship Octavius and Witherfall have been going of late, but nevertheless capable of occupying the same modern paradigm. To put it a bit bluntly, it goes the opposite road that this band's former front man Geoff Tate has been going of late by remembering to keep the metal part of the equation front and center rather than sacrifice it in the name of experimentation. It may not quite reach the same level of sheer glory that was all over the early classics from the 80s, but it definitely presents a scenario where those albums were followed with a worthy successor, all but erasing the past mistakes that hounded this band for the better part of two decades while still moving the ball forward.

Originally written for The Metal Observer (www.metal-observer.com) on March 12th, 2019.

It's in. But it isn't. - 65%

autothrall, March 9th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Century Media Records

I suppose after the triumphant Condition Hüman three years ago, my favorite Queensrÿche record in the 27 years leading up to it, I was bound to feel some level of disappointment for its inevitable successor. After all, to aim in the other direction, they'd have to come up with a masterpiece unheard of since the 80s. With The Verdict now in my hands, I have to say that even my tempered expectations for the third Todd La Torre-fronted album would turn out to be too high, because this one partially returns to the relative mediocrity of the eponymous 2013 effort, an album that was very well intentioned but just didn't have the hooks or vocal lines to really impress me. That's not to say this one is bad, and in truth it's stylistically in line with its excellent predecessor, but I kept waiting for those sky high hooks and melodies to engrave themselves into my memory like a "Guardian" or "Bulletproof" did, and it just wasn't meant to be...these just pop right out the opposite ear and life goes on as if I'd never even listened to the thing.

I'd like this to an update of 1994's Promised Land, with that same concoction of progressive and groove metal, driving a little harder than the commercially colossal Empire, but just lacking the great hooks they could come up with back then, or the overall atmosphere and majesty of that album. This one feels as fat and modernly produced as their last album, only that clarity isn't being used to push their best material. Lots of those Eastern-flavored, Tate-like vocal lines populate tunes like "Light Years" or "Propaganda Fashion", driven by La Torre's loud drums (he's on double duty this time), but I feel a lot of the groovier rhythm guitar riffs on this album are entirely too bland and predictable, not as thoughtful as what this band has been capable of in the past. The ballads are likewise forgettable, with glimmering acoustics that hearken back to "Silent Lucidity" but no potential at all to be that radio ready. "Dark Reverie" was one of the more solid tunes here, starting off soft and picking up into something enormous, but this too is plagued by a lack of strong ear-worm vocal lines. There are in truth a few choppy metal riffs throughout, but the guitars just don't pan out into interesting progressions except maybe on the track "Launder the Conscience" with its perky melody. Too many are banal, and the leads, while fittingly placed and appreciably emotional and gleaming, aren't enough to elevate the total tracks.

I feel that too much of this disc is left upon the shoulders of La Torre, and while the guy still sounds like the perfect replacement for his infamous predecessor, he's just not working alongside good enough riffs on this one to sell it. The production is massive, but too modernized and polished to feel natural at all, which is not the first time, but harder to overlook when you're not having fun with the tracks. Don't get me wrong, it's slightly better than the self-titled, and far superior to later Tate-era albums like Dedicated to Chaos, Operation: Mindcrime II or Q2K, but with so many other prog metal bands out there exploring such wide swaths of their styles and instruments, elder statesmen like these heavily depend on writing those enduring songs. While lightning struck for me unexpectedly in 2015, this one barely gets beyond a slight, static discharge. I'd honestly go a lot more towards the mid 80s metal direction, which dates you in a positive way, and ditch all the tidy 90s alt-rock groove licks that date you to your detriment, as they have almost all the Queensrÿche albums that so tediously employed them. They hit the target once in awhile, but too often fire off like blanks.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com