Saturday, 21 November 2015

Queensrÿche's 'Condition Hüman' - Album Review

Queensrÿche are one of my all-time favourite bands, and the first that I got into that really showed me how great progressive metal could be. After owning one of their compilations for some time, I borrowed the masterpiece concept album Operation: Mindcrime from a friend, and my permanent love affair with the band truly began. If I was forced to pick my favourite album of all time, then Operation: Mindcrime would probably be it. The first album of theirs that I bought new was 2009's American Solider, and album that I still love, but it was around this time that I found out how unpopular the band's then-recent material was with many fans. It appears I am more tolerant than many Queensrÿche fans, as there it a lot of their later discography that I like, as many had given up on Queensrÿche as a creative force. 2012 however saw a big line-up change as original singer Geoff Tate was fired after the rest of the band finally got tired of his overarching control of the band's new material, setlists, and management. Former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre and touring guitarist Parker Lundgren joined the band, and the self-titled album Queensrÿche (which I reviewed here) was released the following year. Queensrÿche was a real return to the band's glory days in both songwriting style and overall sound. While I enjoyed some of the material produced in the 'Tateryche' years (the informal name now given to the majority of the 2000s up until Tate's firing), the band's new line-up was producing music that sounded like the Queensrÿche I really loved! Queensrÿche is probably my most played album since it's 2013 release, as I marvelled at how one of my favourite bands could sound so fresh again. While it is by no means a perfect record - the production leaves a lot to be desired - it remains a favourite of mine. Fast forward two years and we now have the current Queensrÿche's second album: Condition Hüman, their fifteenth overall. Condition Hüman is everything Queensrÿche was and more. The production, courtesy of famed producer Chris 'Zeuss' Harris who has worked with Rob Zombie and Sanctuary among others, is huge and miles better than the over-compressed job done on Queensrÿche; and the songwriting is more adventurous and progressive. The short length of the previous album never bothered me, but this album shows what the band can really do, and have probably been itching to do for years. Founding members guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfield have been given new leases of life by La Torre and Lundgren, and have produced their best album since 1990's Empire.

Foregoing the usual obligatory orchestral/atmospheric intro, the album's opening number Arrow of Time goes straight for the jugular with the twin-lead guitar riff, that is more Iron Maiden than classic Queensrÿche. Since the formation of the band's current line-up, Queensrÿche have been placing a greater emphasis on the metal side of their sound. One thing that is instantly clear is that La Torre's commanding performance on Queensrÿche was no fluke. If anything, his delivery throughout this album is much more diverse and convincing than before, and shows that the band has done well finding him. Arrow of Time is a simple song that races past in a flurry of guitar leads. The decent chorus is the album's first real hook, and a rousing gang vocal section near the end raises the energy somewhat. While Arrow of Time starts things off nicely, it is the next song Guardian that really gets things going. It has a much more classic Queensrÿche feel to it, with a tricky guitar riff backed up by some sombre leads. La Torre's vocals soar here, and little sections of discordant riffing add that progressive edge the band is known for. The chorus here is fantastic, with the rest of the band helping out La Torre in a 'call and response' type arrangement, which is very singable and pays tribute to the band's glory days in the lyrics. Both Lundgren and Wilton have a chance to solo, which shows that both have plenty of tricks up their sleeves; before a slower section shows the lower end of La Torre's register. A false ending leads to a heavy, almost industrial, outro with pounding drums and atmospherics. Hellfire also channels the band's classic sound, with a strange acoustic intro that gradually builds up with a melodic guitar lead. This is a mid-paced song with a driving riff, that is really enhanced by Rockenfield's playful drum beat that does a few things you might not expect. La Torre bellows the lyrics with a slight robotic, staccato quality that really fits in with the groove of the song's main riff. He hits some really great high notes here too, which shows his impressive range. The choruses are more low key, with a subtle backing of keyboards and delicate harmony vocals to back La Torre up. Toxic Remedy is one of my favourite songs on the album, and is probably the most instantly memorable on first listen. It has that AOR sheen that made Empire so successful, and uses simple melodies and riffs to carry the tune. Despite the really powerful chorus, the song has quite a sombre feel to it. Queensrÿche have usually had this feeling in their music, and still managed to make their songs catchy, which is no mean feat. The wall of vocals in the chorus is one of the things I have always loved about the band, and I am glad it is back. Selfish Lives is a very vocally driven song, as big chords serve as a backing for La Torre's varying vocal melodies, without ever really employing a main riff as such. The guitars come into their own however with some slow leads after the choruses that are set to a slow drum beat that creates a slightly uneasy feeling. This is a song that has grown on me over repeated listens, as I was not so keen on it at first. The eerie, ethereal mid-section is fantastic though as La Torre's wails lead into a melodic, old-school slow guitar solo. Eye9 is another favourite of mine, and opens with a bass lead from Jackson, and sets the groove throughout the song. Harmony guitars swirl around the song, and the punchiest, most infectious chorus of the album is to be found here. While not exactly following the classic Queensrÿche blueprint, this sort of song is the perfect modern sound for the band. I love the abrupt ending too, great stuff!

After the heavy Eye9, Bulletproof opens with some dark clean guitars that really bring back memories of the band's early album. While not quite a ballad, this song has a real emotion punch with a dramatic chorus with Rockenfield's excellent orchestrations. This song has a real 1980s feel to it, with a guitar solo that uses a little wah effects here and there to give it that emotional, slightly cracked edge. The symphonic edge to this song is great to get you in the mood for the second half of the album. While the first half was more straight-ahead heavy metal anthems, this second half shines the light a little more on their progressive side. Next song Hourglass is a good example of this, as a heavy riff soon gives way to a paired-back verse that has a lot going on musically. Rockenfield's drum beat has a slightly off-kilter feel to it, as a clean guitar arpeggio and tortured leads scream gently over the top of it. All of this is topped by a diverse performance from La Torre, but he really owns the chorus which is heavy, epic, and full of that wall of vocals that I love so much. The song changes up near the end, as a building chord progressive takes over as La Torre repeats a lyric over the top of it, in something that sounds different from what the band usually do. It works well though, and has a very modern feel without it sounding forced. Just Us is a jangly, acoustic-dominated piece that has shades of 1994's Promised Land or even 1997's Hear in the Now Frontier. It comes slightly out of the left field, and is certainly the most laid back song on the album. La Torre gets to show us a few different sides of his voice here: from the strange falsetto used at the beginning of the song; to the almost baritone croon that is used elsewhere. He really is a diverse and extremely talented singer, and it is clear just how he has helped to rejuvenate the band since joining in 2012. Despite this song not being a favourite of mine, I am glad the band have decided to include it on the album. It is fair to say that the post Promised Land albums are not the most popular ones in the band's discography, and Just Us owes a lot to the sound the band were attempting to court during that period. This would have sat happily on 2003's Tribe; and each listen to it only improves my opinion of it, and of the band for doing this and not falling intro the trap of just writing metal songs. All There Was is a proper metal tune however, and is easily the most straight forward of the album's second half songs. A pacey riff and shredded solo herald it's arrival, and the energy never lets up throughout. Sometimes you just want to rock out, and this song shows that Queensrÿche can do that as well as anyone. There are lead breaks aplenty here, and the guitar work throughout is stellar. This is one of Lundgren's writing contributions to the album, and shows what he brings to the table musically. It is great that he has become a greater part of the creative process on Condition Hüman, and his youthful energy is indispensable to Queensrÿche's regeneration. After a moody interlude piece called The Aftermath, the album's closing number Condition Hüman gets underway. The title track is the most ambitious song the band has penned in a while, with distinct sections that meld together seamlessly. The opening section reminds me of classic Pink Floyd actually, with a odd clean guitar riff and soaring slow guitar leads. It slowly builds around a epic chorus, that has all the hallmarks of classic Queensrÿche. It gets heavier after each one, until the song drops out Suite Sister Mary-style midway through as La Torre's low vocals are showcased. The song then builds up again to a melodic, soaring solo; before a furious ending with big guitars and thrashy drums sees the song to a heroic climax. Overall Condition Hüman is a truly fantastic album that I am sure I will be listening to for a long time to come. The resurgence of Queensrÿche since 2012 is nothing short of astonishing really, and I am sure with this album we are still near the beginning of a new and exciting journey.

The album was released on 2nd October 2015 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Guardian.

1 comment:

  1. I bought the album on the back of your glowing review and I was not disappointed. Thanks.