Album Review: QUEENSRYCHE – The Verdict

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As progressive metal titan, Queensryche closes out its fourth decade, the band has issued a statement effort with its fourteenth full-length original studio album, The Verdict. The new record marks the third studio release for the band’s current line-up, which features founding members Michael “Whip” Wilton (guitars) and Eddie Jackson (bass), alongside Parker Lundgren (guitars) and Todd La Torre (vocals).

Since the arrival of La Torre on the band’s eponymous 2013 album, Queensryche has experienced a renaissance which continues to grow stronger with each record. That first release showcased a return of the classic Queensryche sound, and while fans were initially skeptical about a new frontman, the music and La Torre’s impressive vocal abilities quickly put most of that concern to rest. With 2015’s Condition Human, the quintet, which also included founding drummer Scott Rockenfield, began to expand it’s sound a bit with La Torre in the mix. Now with the release of The Verdict, Queensryche have eclipsed all expectations to deliver its boldest album in decades. Producer Chris “Zuess” Harris (Rob Zombie, Iced Earth, Hatebreed) returned to handle the mixing and mastering duties here as he did on Condition Human.

For a band hailed as progressive metal pioneers, some of the group’s later-era music seemed to drift from the mold. With The Verdict, not only has Queensryche reinvigorated the depth of its progressive creativity, but it has also released its heaviest album to date. That heaviness can be heard from the opening rhythms of “Blood of the Levant,” a track which immediately finds that classic Queensryche groove with chugging riffs and mesmerizing accent guitars. The dual fretwork chemistry between Wilton and Lundgren flows seamlessly. La Torre’s vocals are at once familiar to the Queensryche sound, yet he continues to utilize different phrasing and delivery, and grow beyond those expectations to showcase more of his overall abilities. Jackson’s deft bass work rumbles nicely alongside the percussive foundation laid by La Torre’s drum work. Yes, Todd pulls double duty on The Verdict. With Rockenfield on indefinite hiatus, La Torre jumped at the chance to get back behind the kit, and  he delivered in worthy fashion.

“Man the Machine” keeps the moment moving with it’s driving opening riffs. There’s just the slightest hint of a Schenker-esque “Lights Out” nod here. The energetic rhythms belie the dark lyrical subtext of the song. While La Torre limits his high notes on this record, he throws a few up here which instantly trigger that old school Queensryche love affair.

Without surrendering the weightiness of the opening tracks, Queensryche downshift the tempo for the undulating cadence of “Light-years.” The song has a Middle Eastern sense to its underlying currents. This, alongside “Inside Out” resonate with the feel of the band’s Promised Land era. That slithering feel continues, except on the chorus which blooms with surprising melody and hook. “Inner Unrest” settles within these sonic walls as well, although not quite as dynamic as the two aforementioned tracks.

The aggressive propulsion returns on “Propaganda Fashion” which opens in a wave of vocals. This may be the most archetypal Queensryche tune on the record. It swells and races with crisp riffs and big vocals crests. Conversely, the band dips into its broodier grove for the aptly titled, “Dark Reverie.” The track’s slow rolling odyssey bathes in poignant melancholy, delivering emotive intensity while still providing an ear candy chorus. Once again, Lundgren and Whip serve up some fantastic dual guitar moments here.

One of the album’s heaviest moments comes in the form of the ominous aura on “Bent.” Despite the track’s dark density, there is plenty of melody and an elemental sense of hope in the chorus. Meanwhile, the band grooves with keen introspection on the adrenaline infused rocker, “Launder the Conscience.” The song has something of an epic feel to it, with a nice breakdown.

The album’s closer, “Portrait” serves as the most dramatic and atmospheric track on the record. It rises and falls in graceful and stirring swells. Rich vocal harmonies and rich  sonorous textures resonate throughout. Jackson’s bass truly shines here.

In all, Queensryche have crafted a magnificent and timeless album with The Verdict, balancing the band’s iconic past with its evolving modern sound. From top to bottom, everything a Queensryche fan could ask for is here; deft performances, fantastic progressive moments, and intelligent lyrics. La Torre’s vocal and drum work balance perfectly against the inspired fretwork of Jackson, Wilton and Lundgren. The production and mix work by Harris is stellar. The Verdict is Queensryche‘s most impressive and cohesive effort in years, and given the strength of their previous two records with La Torre, that’s no small feat. As most of the best Queensryche albums do, The Verdict grows stronger and reveals more intriguing layers with each pass through.

The Verdict–All is Ryche with the world again!

 

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