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Queensryche, "Condition Human" (2015) album review
Queensryche - CONDITION HUMAN
(Century Media Records, 2015) 12 tracks, Run time: 53:15
I don't think there's any need to re-hash Queensryche's acrimonious 2012 split with vocalist Geoff Tate, and their subsequent re-birth with new singer Todd LaTorre, anymore. The gory details of that ugly musical divorce were well-documented across the internet over the past several years. (If, however, you've walked in during the middle of the Tate/LaTorre movie and need to get up to speed on the saga, you can always check out my previous article on Queensryche here. End shameless plug.) The important thing is that both sides have moved on and both are producing new music. Geoff Tate's new band, who are now known as "Operation: Mindcrime," released their debut, The Key, via Frontiers Records in 2015 - the first in what is expected to be a trilogy (!) of concept albums. Meanwhile, Queensryche returned with their second volume of new material since the split, titled Condition Human, which was released in October 2015 through Century Media Records.
After just a few listens, I can say without a doubt that Condition Human is a major step up from Todd LaTorre's recording debut with the band (2013's Queensryche). The self-titled album was a decent effort, especially when you consider the amount of turmoil that was going on in the band's camp during its creation. However, its muffled production and relatively short run time of 35 minutes felt like they were rushing through the process in an attempt to beat Geoff Tate (who was working on his own separate "Queensryche" album at the same time) to the marketplace. Condition Human's robust run time of nearly an hour provides the band with plenty of breathing room and the production work by Chris "Zeuss" Harris - a veteran knob spinner who's worked with Rob Zombie, Sanctuary, Earth Crisis and Hatebreed - finds Queensryche sounding much more focused, confident and yes, more "metal" than they have in more than 20 years. If you're an old school Ryche fan who's been hoping for a return to that classic sound heard on their debut EP, The Warning, or Rage For Order, your ship has finally come in! This is Queensryche as they are supposed to sound - majestic and powerful, occasionally dark and moody, but above all, classy.
"Arrow of Time"
Queensryche wisely kicks off Condition Human with three of its strongest tracks: the barn-burning first single, "Arrow of Time" (which does a nice job of setting the proper Rage For Order style mood), "Guardian" (which makes several lyrical references to "Evolution Calling" - an obvious nod to the 1988 track "Revolution Calling") and the crunchy "Hellfire." Some fans have dismissed Todd LaTorre as a mere "Geoff Tate clone" in the past but I disagree. Obviously he sounds enough like Tate to fit the band's sound, but he has truly come into his own on this album. I will admit that on the previous disc I occasionally got the feeling that Todd was merely being handed a script and told, "Here ya go kid, now just sing it like Geoff would've," but on Condition Human he's allowed to go for broke - and he delivers the performance of his lifetime. The chorus of the excellent "Bulletproof" shows Todd's range as he effortlessly switches from highs to lows. The entire band sounds re-energized thanks to the new blood, from Scott Rockenfield's excellent drumming to the guitar interplay between Michael "Whip" Wilton and Parker Lundgren and Eddie Jackson's nimble bass work. These guys haven't sounded this good in years. The mellow, semi-acoustic "Just Us" has just a hint of the old "Silent Lucidity" vibe, while the heavier numbers like "Eye9" and "All There Was" should satisfy the band's longtime head banger contingent. The album closes with the lengthy title cut, which sounds like it would've fit comfortably on 1990's Empire album. The "Deluxe Edition" of Condition Human - which comes in a cool, ultra-limited box containing the CD and a vinyl LP - has three additional bonus tracks. "Espiritu Muerto" is on the deluxe CD, while "46 Degrees North" and "Mercury Rising" are exclusive to a bonus 7-inch single that's included with the vinyl. Unfortunately I only have the plain ol' regular retail version of the album, so I have yet to hear any of the bonus cuts. The "deluxe" box was limited to a mere 100 copies, so I hope that the band will make those three tracks available to the rest of us somewhere down the road!
The only complaint I have about Condition Human involves the artwork and packaging of the CD. The cover art of a girl in a party dress drawing the band's trademark "Tri-Ryche" symbol in the mist on a attic window, is so dreary - and reproduced so dark, at least on my copy - that it's damn near impossible to make out what's going on without a magnifying glass. The track listing on the back cover is similarly obscured, as it's printed in dark grey letters against a black sky which looms over a haunted-looking house. I'm one of those guys who likes to read the liner notes and lyric sheet while a CD is playing, but trying to do that with Condition Human's booklet damn near gave me a migraine. It doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the music contained within the album, obviously, but it's still kind of irritating.
Reception to Condition Human has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. The album sold approximately 13,500 copies during its initial week in stores, which earned it a position of #27 on the Billboard album chart. By way of comparison, Operation Mindcrime's The Key moved a mere 2,475 units during its first week of release in early September, according to Nielsen SoundScan. They've already played a number of live dates in support of the disc, and a full scale Condition Human U.S. tour is slated to begin in early 2016.
Hard Rock history is littered with bands who suffered from unsuccessful Lead Singer Transplants, but Queensryche fans have obviously welcomed Todd LaTorre with open arms. Therefore I think it's safe to say that they have chalked up a rare "win" in that column. If they can keep cranking out fresh material of this caliber, then the sky is the limit.
The members of Queensryche have spent far too many years lost in the wilderness, following the sometimes-bizarre musical whims of their dictatorial former frontman, but they've seized control and are plotting a satisfying new course with Condition Human - a most welcome return to form. It's great to have you back, guys!