Queensrÿche, "The Verdict" Album Review
Century Media Records, 2019
10 Tracks/Run Time: 44:18
We are now three albums into the Todd LaTorre era of Queensrÿche (or "Queensrÿche 2.0," if you prefer), and from the very first spin of 2019's The Verdict, it's clear that the veteran band is still gaining strength. LaTorre's recording debut with QR (2013's self-titled album) hinted at the major league potential of the new lineup, but the disc was ultimately hampered by its muffled, cheap sounding production job. Fortunately, 2015's follow up Condition Human totally blew away its predecessor, with LaTorre's powerhouse vocals leading a band that sounded more fired up than they had in years. The Verdict picks up where Condition Human left off, and though it doesn't quite surpass that album, it definitely stands as its equal. Not bad for a bunch of guys who were expected to fall flat on their faces after firing their founding vocalist, lyricist, and (alleged) tyrannical overlord, Geoff Tate, in 2012.
Of course, there will always be naysayers who will complain that it isn't "really" Rÿche without Tate, but their voices are getting fewer and farther between with each new Queensrÿche release. Face front, true believers—there's a new sheriff in town!
"Blood of the Levant"
Queensrÿche is down to just two of its original members on The Verdict - guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson. Founding drummer Scott Rockenfield has been on a voluntary hiatus since the birth of his son in early 2017. Former Kamelot drummer Casey Grillo has been filling in for Scott when the band goes on tour, the drummer during the Verdict recording sessions was none other than Todd LaTorre himself, who happens to be an experienced skinsman as well as an immensely talented vocalist. Honestly, if the fact that Todd was also drumming on this album hadn't gotten so much press, I might not have even noticed that there was a different player behind the kit. Mad respect to Mr. LaTorre, the metal Renaissance man!
The Verdict was produced by Chris "Zeuss" Harris, who also worked on Condition Human, and he gives the new material a suitably slick, yet also punchy and crunchy sound. The new disc kicks off nicely with the leadoff epic "Blood of the Levant," a hard-and-fast metal cut that should get fans' air guitars going and pulse levels raised. For those of you wondering what a "Levant" is, my good friend, Dr. Wik. E. Pedia tells me that it refers to a large portion of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean, a region which is significant in the histories of both Islam and Christianity. All I can say to that is "Ummm, okay, if you say so."
The speedy "Man and Machine" is next, with the guitar team of Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren going for broke as LaTorre wails for all he's worth over the top. "Light Years" and "Inside Out" bounce along at a pleasantly heavy yet melodic pace, then "Propaganda Fashion" slams the pedal to the metal again with the most aggressive riffing and drumming on the album.
The somber, edgy "Dark Reverie" wouldn't have sounded out of place in the quieter moments of the Operation: Mindcrime era, and features another show stopping vocal performance by LaTorre. "Bent" and "Inner Unrest" are a pair of middling, straightforward rockers that may not jump out at the listener but they keep the energy level high, leading into the soaring, oddly titled "Launder the Conscience" (there's some great guitar shredding on this one) before the disc closes with the moody, mid paced prog-ballad "Portrait," a highlight that feels like a throwback to the hallowed Promised Land era. Musically this song has a bit of a Rush vibe (to my ears, anyway), and Todd's vocal delivery eerily channels his predecessor Geoff Tate more on this song than anywhere else on the album, especially during the choruses. It's a very nice blend of the band's experimental past and its harder-edged present, and it ends the album on a satisfactory note.
"Man The Machine"
Summing It Up
There's probably not much more I can say that would convince the "No Tate, no Queensrÿche" crowd, but for my money, The Verdict is a damn solid effort that still finds its way into my playing rotation months after its release, and continues to grow on me with every listen. I've been a Queensrÿche fan since 1984 and it does my heart good to hear these old favorites are still sounding so youthful and vital after all these years. My verdict is "buy the album!"
© 2019 Keith Abt