Album: Condition Hüman
Label: Century Media
Queensrÿche first got my attention when their ugly split with original vocalist Geoff Tate made headlines in 2012. I followed the lawsuit between the two parties with curiosity, but it wasn’t until last year that I started listening to the band. Rage for Order (1986) through Promised Land (1994) quickly became one of my all-time favorite 4-album runs, but I have to agree with the fans who believe the band lost its way after those classics. Some of the post-1994 albums have their moments, but none of them can hold a candle to the early releases.
Queensrÿche’s self-titled album from 2013 was the first to feature vocal powerhouse Todd La Torre instead of Tate. As many others, I like the songs on the album, but I think the overly compressed mastering and the extremely short running time make it feel a little rushed and unfinished. Now that the new line-up has been together for three years and the lawsuit over the band name is over, Condition Hüman is a make-it-or-break-it moment for Queensrÿche. Has the band been able to create a truly great album and prove itself to be relevant again?
Album available now here:
The first three tracks are also the first that were released in advance of the album. “Arrow of Time” is a smart pick for lead single and opener, as it channels classic Rÿche with its guitar harmonies, anthem-like chorus, and proggy middle section. Personally I prefer the darker sound of “Hellfire”, which includes dissonant arpeggios, vocal acrobatics by La Torre, and a blistering solo by Parker Lundgren. The “hellfire!” chants bring to mind the title-track of Empire (1990) – perhaps it’s no coincidence that the titles of these two songs rhyme with each other?
One of my favorites is the poppy “Selfish Lives,” which reminds me a little bit of “The Killing Words.” “Eye9” – penned by bassist Eddie Jackson – ends a little abruptly, but the Tool-esque riffs and the great bassline make it a standout track. The absolute top, however, is the 8-minute title-track, which is by far the greatest Queensrÿche song in 21 years and stands comfortably alongside epics like “Roads to Madness.” This song is packed with great guitar work, and Michael Wilton has revived the classic clean tone of the early days.
The two mellowest songs are quite different from each other: “Bulletproof” is a catchy power ballad that could’ve been a hit in the 80s or early 90s, while “Just Us” is a semi-acoustic piece that displays the gentle side of La Torre’s voice and his lower register. Some of the heaviest songs, on the other hand, are a little similar in tone, which eats away some of the album’s diversity. “Hourglass” includes interesting key changes and chords, but “All There Was” has a generic riff and an anticlimactic chorus, which make it a filler in my eyes.
Chris “Zeuss” Harris’ production is easy on the ears compared to the last record, but the drum sound is a little too clinical – I’m used to hearing Scott Rockenfield play with a more organic and powerful sound. Todd La Torre’s vocals are more diverse this time around, but I’d like to hear more of his soft and low-pitched singing in the future, because he’s so good at it. You can still hear some Tate-isms, but La Torre’s high notes are raspier and he’s clearly been influenced by the likes of Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Ray Alder (Fates Warning) as well. Parker Lundgren again proves himself to be a great pair for Michael Wilton – in fact, only a few questionable melody choices in some songs make me truly miss the presence of original guitarist Chris DeGarmo as part of the writing team.
Condition Hüman is a grower: it may seem lackluster at first, but after multiple listens you’ll find yourself humming the choruses. A couple of filler tracks prevent the album from being a modern-day classic, but it makes the self-titled record feel like a mere warm-up and easily defeats everything released in the Geoff Tate-led era of outside writers and mediocrity. Queensrÿche has managed to craft an album that nods to their roots yet looks forward – “evolution calling,” indeed!
Rating: 8/10, 4 stars
1. Arrow of Time
4. Toxic Remedy
5. Selfish Lives
9. Just Us
10. All There Was
11. The Aftermath
12. Condition Hüman