First, Queensrÿche endured guitarist Chris DeGarmo's 1997 departure. Then came last year's firing of singer Geoff Tate, whose assertion that he holds 81% of the act's songwriting credits sparked rampant commentary about exactly what each member has contributed to the band. Drummer Scott Rockenfield, guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson responded that they've played a major role in shaping Queensrÿche's sound, setting the stage for a "Will they or won't they bring it?" debate regarding their new self-titled album, arriving June 25 on Century Media Records.
Queensrÿche has indeed survived without DeGarmo — and this determined album shows the band will survive again. From the moment Rockenfield's drums and Wilton and Parker Lundgren's guitars go on the attack in "Where Dreams Go to Die," the traditional Queensrÿche sound is back. The hooks are arresting, and the rhythm section packs unmitigated fire power. Doubly impressive is that Queensrÿche navigated the high-risk change of hiring new singer Todd La Torre by having him contribute material alongside everyone else, increasing his comfort level as the new kid stepping into Tate's sizable shoes. La Torre occasionally shares the same phrasing as his predecessor, but he blends into the fold with his own powerhouse style.
Lyrically, the group puts its foot down, declares that reaction follows action, and forges onward, but there's no sense of jeering or arrogance. The only major criticism is the album's brief running time -- its 11 tracks fall short of 40 minutes, although listeners are left wanting more in the best way. The journey of its latest change has been bumpy, but by blending its storied past with the musical present, Queensrÿche's members prove the band as a whole is indeed greater than any one person.
Which tracks on Queensrÿche's latest are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown below.
1-2. X2/Where Dreams Go to Die: Rockenfield brings the scoring work he's done for film and video games to the futuristic intro "X2." Bells toll, metal clangs and a disembodied voice gurgles as the tension builds before launching into the masterful "Where Dreams Go to Die." The song is the album's prototype: a battle cry that nods to classic albums like "Rage for Order" and "The Warning," while embracing a modern, metal-leaning sound.
3. Spore: A zigzagging guitar leads the way through this hook-filled rocker that's nailed in place by the complex rhythmic work of Rockenfield and Jackson. Producer James "Jimbo" Barton's deft touch lets each piece of the song shine at the right time.
4. In This Light: The album's most accessible song is an inspiring mid-tempo track influenced by European symphonic metal and contains one of the best melodies on "Queensrÿche." As the calmer verses alternate between rousing choruses, La Torre shows he's as much of a singer as he is a belter, warming the lyrics with his pleasant rasp.
Fans got their first taste of "Queensrÿche" in February when "Redemption" was premiered on "Eddie Trunk Rocks." La Torre lets his voice unfurl on the Iron Maiden-esque song as it goes on a controlled rampage full of unexpected time changes.
6. Vindication: Frenetic drum beats, heart-thudding bass and racing guitars propel this song about facing the consequences of one's actions. Lyrically, it's a companion piece to "Where Dreams Go to Die," which declares, "Karma made its move/The bad that you've done will be coming back for you." It's not a stretch to suggest these two tracks air the group's feelings about Tate's departure.
7-8. Midnight Lullaby/A World Without: "Midnight Lullaby" is an eerie prelude to "A World Without," a morose ballad that recalls Queensrÿche's 1993 hit "Real World" with its Michael Kamen-esque orchestration and soaring guitar solo that's (dare we say it?) rather DeGarmo-esque. Pamela Moore, who performed the role of Sister Mary on both of Queensrÿche's "Operation: Mindcrime" albums, makes a welcome return as a backing vocalist.
9. Don't Look Back: The band jumps back into a rapid-fire tempo with an all-out jam session, only slowing by a half-step for a sweeping solo during the bridge. "Don't Look Back" regains momentum as it plunges onward, with La Torre's voice building and sprawling into a frantic wail at the end.
Without pausing for breath, "Fallout" further lets off the steam in the same vein as "Don't Look Back." The track could almost fit into 1990's "Empire," Queensrÿche's multiplatinum album that blended the group's commercial instincts with its first-class performance capabilities.
11. Open Road: "Queensrÿche" wraps with a finale full of drifting guitars, lush atmospherics and introspective lyrics. Whereas the album bears the feeling of strength and progress, "Open Road" is reflective and melancholy, with La Torre singing of "searching for a brighter shade of grey." It's an appropriate ending for "Queensrÿche" that leaves the door ajar for the band's next chapter.