Many believed the end was nigh for Washington act Queensrÿche when the legendary Power/Prog Metallers fired their iconic vocalist Geoff Tate back in 2012. However, more than happy to prove those people wrong, the recruitment of former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre has seen the band release some of their strongest material for quite some time.
For his third full-length release with the band, La Torre finds himself working a double shift as he also acts as sticksman while original drummer Scott Rockenfield remains on long-term hiatus. Not that you’d know it, as La Torre – a drummer himself for the past thirty years – manages to replicate the band’s sound virtually seamlessly.
With only two original members remaining – guitarist Michael Wilton and bass player Eddie Jackson playing alongside ten-year veteran of the band, guitarist Parker Lundgren – there’s a tendency to view this latest incarnation of Queensrÿche as somewhat of a tribute act but on the basis of new album The Verdict (Century Media) that would be doing the band a considerable disservice and couldn’t be further from the truth.
Opening strongly with a song about the history of the Syrian war, ‘Blood Of The Levant’ is followed by the driving rhythm of ‘Man The Machine’. ‘Light-years’ and ‘Inside Out’ are slower, more downbeat numbers, both dramatic in their approach but featuring uplifting and uptempo choruses. ‘Propaganda Fashion’ is fast-paced and relatively straight forward while the magnificent ‘Dark Reverie’ opens with moody acoustic arpeggios, building slowly until it reaches another irresistible chorus, aided by a superb vocal performance by La Torre, understated orchestration, and a wonderful guitar melody.
‘Bent’ is a powerful, ecologically and socio-politically charged song concerning the poor treatment of native American tribes, oil pipelines and bad water, and ‘Inner Unrest’ and ‘Launder the Conscience’ continue the dark themes with more serious and dramatic riffs. Things come to a finish with ‘Portrait’, a slow-burning closer with a great performance from La Torre as he channels the spirit of Tate while putting his own individual stamp on it, something he does equally well over the course of the entire album.
With the band covering many of their go-to topics regarding government, socio-economics, and geo-politics – in a more literal way than usual this time – for the most part, The Verdict is not really a happy sounding record. Not for the first time in their history, oppressive atmosphere envelopes many of the songs, at some points even sounding similar to alternative/grunge veterans Alice in Chains. But for all of their inherent seriousness, there’s also a sense of optimism prevalent in some of the choruses and lively and melodic guitar solos.
7 / 10