Throughout its career, Queensryche has explored the human condition in its lyrics. The 1988 album Operation: Mindcrime told the fictional story of a junkie who becomes a political assassin in hopes of saving America, only to be betrayed by the revolutionary who promised him redemption. 1994’s deeply introspective Promised Land was fueled by the band’s disillusionment and confusion stemming from feeling unsatisfied after achieving commercial success. 2009’s American Soldier weighed the emotional difficulties experienced by personnel in the armed forces, like isolation, post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt.
With such a history behind it, it’s not too surprising that Queensryche’s new album, Condition Human (due Oct. 2 on Century Media), examines gritty aspects of the human experience, like enduring love, heartbreak, fury and bewilderment.
“Each song individually is its own story, which does not have to directly relate to the next song,” explains singer Todd La Torre. “However, each song is harmonious to a larger picture, which is the human experience, mortality and how each of us perceives the world around us based on our own observations and experiences, thus shaping human behavior.”
The songs are “all about experiences that we had had recently in our travels around the world doing shows for the last few years,” adds drummer Scott Rockenfield. “Some songs there’s personal aspects to ’em, and some are observations that we have seen with people and events, so we started to realize that a lot of this is about the human condition … [But] we’re not trying to sell anything here by any means. It was more observation.”
For instance, the track “Guardian” “touches on the empowering qualities of strength in numbers, and how people can rise up to create real change,” says La Torre. “Movements are evident across the globe in varying degrees, ranging from ideological perspectives and how they relate to cultures, socioeconomic differences and its effects, human rights, etc. It is an anthem that supports people standing up for rights and values that may be infringed upon on the micro and macro level. It’s a single thread that surrounds a multifaceted topic of being human, human relationships relating to others and the world that surrounds us. Good, bad or indifferent, change is possible, but is only as strong as its relativity to perception, which perhaps is the very foundation and basis for the initiation of change.”
Billboard is exclusively premiering the official video for “Guardian.” Watch it below:
Condition Human’s album cover — a little girl in a cluttered attic wipes grime from a window to get a clearer picture of the view outside — is also a play on personal perspectives. “She’s looking out the window and seeing this beautiful world, but we all know the world is not always beautiful. The artwork is a representation of a lot of that,” says Rockenfield, who notes that the objects surrounding her symbolize “different clips of every tune” on the record.
Speaking of the world not always being beautiful: The atmosphere surrounding the making of Condition Human was very different from when Queensryche created the self-titled album it released in 2013. The project was a make-or-break chapter in the group’s 30-plus-year history, having been recorded amid a lawsuit with former singer Geoff Tate, who was fired after years of personal and creative tension and replaced by La Torre. Tate sued for the rights to the band’s name and accused fellow original members Rockenfield, guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson of barely contributing to Queensryche’s music, claiming he and former member Chris DeGarmo were behind its ever-evolving sound.
“We just wanted to get Queensryche back to making the music that we felt we were good at. Michael, Eddie and I always wanted to do that,” says Rockenfield of that time. “That record was a great point for us to finally be able to do it, and do it with Todd, who came in and really did the perfect thing with having a chemistry with us and wanting to put [the band] back to a place that fans could enjoy the music they should be enjoying.”
With the lawsuit long since settled, on this outing Queensryche was less concerned about proving itself to its audience and more focused on the music itself.
“This album has more spacious qualities, more breathing room for the songs to do what they do. There are elements of the album that opened the door for different vocal expressions and musicality,” says La Torre. “We all had a great time writing and recording this new album, and it definitely is its own animal. I feel this is a record that grows on you with each listen, and the layers within the music become more evident upon further examination.”
“This record [is], ‘Wow, OK, now we know what we can do together.’ We know we have chemistry with Todd, and we wanted to take the band even one step further, which was really dig into everything that we know that we’re doing and that we have fun doing, and pull out all the stops, I guess, in a way of things we didn’t really visit on the first record [with La Torre],” says Rockenfield. “We wanted to dig deeper more into the elements of Queensryche.”
Rockenfield is referring to hallmarks like the multi-dynamic saga “Roads to Madness” from Queensryche’s first full-length LP, 1984’s The Warning. The title track of Condition Human —a seven-plus-minute song that both meanders and gallops as the lyrics ruminate on life in the world today — is a quasi-modern reboot of “Roads to Madness” that’s interwoven with parts of “Suite Sister Mary,” the midway climax from Operation: Mindcrime. Another track from the new album, “Bulletproof,” is an epic ballad about finally pulling the plug on a hopeless relationship; it’s driven by soaring guitars, a choir’s whispery voice and La Torre’s lofty delivery.
Condition Human also retains Queensryche’s dual guitar interplay, which encapsulates inventive riffs and precise, fiery solos; the subtle but intricate rhythm section of Rockenfield and Jackson; and vocals that run on full bore. Thanks to working with producer Chris “Zeuss” Harris (Rob Zombie, Suicide Silence), as well as the band desiring a change of pace, at times those elements are turbo-charged, pushing Queensryche into more aggressive — that is, metal — territory. The union resulted in the Iron Maiden-esque “Arrow of Time,” the Tool-flavored “Eye9” and sure-fire headbanger “Hellfire.”
“Our fans love metal, and we’ve been pretty good at doing metal in our past, so [we thought], ‘Let’s have fun with some of that again. Let’s do it and see what it means for us,’ ” says Rockenfield. “We definitely had conscious discussions about it, and now that we have Todd, Todd loves metal, so it was easy to have that conversation about pushing the band in a little bit of that direction.
“I think we wanted to show our fans that we can be a metal band and a rock band, and that we can also write songs that have writer dynamics,” concludes Rockenfield. “I still think we’re doing everything within all the realms of what Queensryche is known to be doing. This record is just another extension of that for us.”