Queensrÿche, "Condition Human" Album Review
(Century Media Records, 2015) 12 tracks, Run time: 53:15
I don't think there's any need to re-hash Queensrÿche'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 movie and need to get up to speed on the saga, you can always check out my previous article on Queensrÿche. End shameless plug.) The important thing is that both sides have moved on and both are producing new music. Queensrÿche's second volume of new material since the split, titled Condition Human, 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 Queensrÿche). The self-titled album was a decent effort, considering the amount of turmoil going on in the band's camp during its creation. However, its muffled production and relatively short run time of 35 minutes felt like the band was rushing to beat Geoff Tate (who was working on his own separate "Queensrÿche" 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 the band sounding much more focused, relaxed, confident and yes, more "metal" than they have in more than 20 years. If you're an old school 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 Queensrÿche as they are supposed to sound—majestic and powerful, occasionally dark and moody, but above all, classy.
"Arrow of Time"
Condition Human kicks off with three of its strongest tracks: the barn-burning first single, "Arrow of Time" (which does a nice job setting the proper Rage For Order style mood), "Guardian" 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 on this album he has truly come into his own. On the previous album, I occasionally got the feeling that Todd was being handed a script and told, "Here ya go kid, just sing it like Geoff would've," but on Condition Human he's allowed to go for broke - and he delivers the performance of a 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 by 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.
Just to drive collectors like me crazy, the various "special editions" of Condition Human feature additional bonus tracks. "Espiritu Muerto" is on a "deluxe" version of the CD, while "46 Degrees North" and "Mercury Rising" are exclusive to a bonus 7-inch single included with the vinyl LP. Unfortunately I only have the plain ol' regular CD of the album, so I have yet to hear any of these bonus cuts. I hope that the band will make those three tracks available to the rest of us somewhere down the road!
Honestly, the only complaint I have about Condition Human involves the CD's artwork and packaging. The cover art (a girl in a party dress drawing the band's trademark "Tri-Ryche" symbol in the mist on an attic window) is so dreary and reproduced so dark that it's near impossible to make out what's going on without a magnifying glass. The track listing on the back cover is similarly obscured, printed in dark grey letters against a black sky looming 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 was overwhelmingly positive. The album sold nearly 13,500 copies during its initial week of release, which earned it a position of #27 on the Billboard album chart.
Hard Rock history is littered with bands who suffered after unsuccessful Lead Singer Transplants, but Queensrÿche 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.
Queensrÿche spent a few years lost in the wilderness as they followed the sometimes-bizarre musical whims of their dictatorial former front man, but with Condition Human, they've seized control of their destiny and are plotting a satisfying new course. It's great to have you back, guys!
© 2015 Keith Abt