I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Todd La Torre - "Rejoice in the Suffering"
Rat Pak Records, 2021
13 Tracks, run time: 58:26
It's been interesting to watch Todd La Torre's rise to heavy metal prominence over the past decade. After years of paying dues with local hard rock bands in his native Florida, La Torre was suddenly plucked from obscurity in 2009 when the cult progressive-metal act Crimson Glory needed a new singer. Todd fronted C.G. for several years, but plans for a new studio album with him on vocals stalled and led to his exit from that band.
La Torre's visibility increased in a major way in 2012 when the veteran metal band Queensrÿche came knocking, seeking a replacement for their iconic singer Geoff Tate. Needless to say, Todd had some very big shoes to fill, and it took some time to silence the doubters, but now after three studio albums with Queensrÿche, I think it's safe to say the band's fans have accepted La Torre as the new sheriff in town.
Queensrÿche's touring plans were put on hold in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but La Torre put the unexpected down time to good use by recording his first ever solo album. Rejoice in the Suffering, which was released in February 2021 via Rat Pak Records, was essentially a two-man project, with La Torre on lead vocals and drums and Craig Blackwell (an old friend and band mate of Todd's from the Florida scene) performing all guitars, bass, and keyboards. Together this duo has unleashed a surprisingly heavy, yet still quite melodic, slab of metal that stretches Todd's considerable vocal abilities in some startling new directions. Obviously there's more to this guy than his work with Queensrÿche would have you believe!
The songs on Rejoice in the Suffering reveal a heavier, more aggressive side to Todd's voice and personality. Some Queensrÿche fans may be surprised at the ferocity of songs like the slamming opener "Dogmata" or "Darkened Majesty," which sound a lot like Rob Halford's aggro-tinged solo material (ala Fight's War of Words or Halford's Crucible). The jagged, twisty guitar work of "Critical Cynic" and Todd's snarling, venom-filled vocals on the title track bring a bit of Nevermore's crushing power/thrash sound into the mix. (I think I even hear Todd pulling a few death growls in the background of "Rejoice!")
"Vexed" starts off on a mellow note before transforming into a pissed-off power-metal monster that could've worked as a slightly-edgier Queensrÿche track, and then Todd and Chris slam the pedal to the floor, hitting thrash velocity with the full-bore "Vanguards of the Dawn Wall," the fastest, most furious track on the album thus far. Todd roars like Testament's Chuck Billy on this one before winding things down with the slow-burning, down-tuned crunch of "Apology," which has a hint of melodic death metal (!) during the choruses.
"Apology" closes the album proper, but my copy of the CD features three bonus tracks, all of which uphold the high standard set by the preceding ten songs. "Fractured" is a straight-ahead metal cut ala modern-day Judas Priest, followed by "Set it Off," which chunks along with a sweet Pantera-esque groove/thud. The final track, "One By One," is the most "extreme" song on the disc; the intro has some atmospheric black metal (!) vibes before it turns into a full on melodic death/thrash fest, with Todd sporting a legit demonic howl ala Anders Fridén of In Flames. If you've ever dismissed Todd in the past as a mere Geoff Tate clone, check this track out and prepare to get taken to school!
"Crossroads to Insanity"
Summing It Up
Rejoice in the Suffering knocked me completely on my ass on the very first spin and has been spending a lot of time in my player ever since. Don't get me wrong, I knew the album would be good, but I had no idea it would be THIS good!
I was already a fan of Todd's thanks to his work with Queensrÿche, but after multiple listens to Rejoice in the Suffering, I have to admit that I'm seeing him in an entirely new light. Todd's not just a bad-ass singer, he's a multi-talented instrumentalist and composer who's capable of working in pretty much any metal genre he chooses. Clearly, Queensrÿche has not been taking full advantage of this guy's considerable abilities!
It's only the end of February as I write this, so it's way too early to make a call for an "Album of the Year." However, between Rejoice in the Suffering and the new Accept album (Too Mean to Die), I can definitely say that Heavy Metal in 2021 is off to a great start!
There's really nothing more to say (except "BUY THIS ALBUM!") so I will end this review by quoting some sage advice from Mr. La Torre himself, from the dedication page of the CD booklet: "Now crank it up, and stay metal, motherf**kers!" Nuff said!
"Vanguards of the Dawn Wall"
© 2021 Keith Abt