Long-running Heavy Metal legends Queensrÿche recently released their excellent new album The Verdict on Century Media Records. We caught up with founding member Michael “Whip” Wilton at their sold-out show at Irving Plaza in New York City and talked about the new album, the loyalty of their fans, working with Chris “Zeuss” Harris, the bands’ approach to music videos, their tour plans for the rest of 2019, some key upcoming milestone album anniversaries in their career, and much more. Interview by Keefy and videography by Omar Cordy of OJC Photography. Continue reading
Operation: Mindcrime, in support of their début album took to the legendary venue of The Chance to showcase material from The Key (Frontiers Records) album and as well as Queensryche classics in 90 minute set full of musicianship. With openers Mike Campesa, Christian Gisondi and Parallel Universe the crowd was well primed for a night of stories through songs.
Opening with a string of ‘Rchye songs starting with ‘Neue Regal’ and ‘Screaming in Digital’, the show was one big sing-a-long. Along for the ride again with Geoff Tate are drummer Simon Wright, the masterful time-keeper who just handled everything with such ease. Keyboardist wizard Randy Gane and guitar maestro Kelly Gray (who looks more like a frontiersman sheriff nowadays) bring their A game and some solid harmonies. New to the fold is second guitarist Scott Moughton and bassist Tim Fernley who both fit in smoothly with the bunch. They gel so well you forget they’re the rookies of the group.
Keeping the crowd guessing, the band went into an acoustic set of ‘Jet City Woman’, ‘Take Hold of the Flame’, ‘Silent Lucidity’ and ‘The Weight of the World’. After another story intro from Geoff, they preformed a slew of songs from The Key. From opener ‘Burn’ and ‘Re-Inventing the Future’ you get a glimpse at what this band has in store for this first act of a massively planned trilogy. With saxophone in hand they went into ‘The Fall’ which is one of my favorite songs off the album. Ending the night with ‘Breaking the Silence’ and ‘Empire’, everyone in attendance seemed well satisfied with the song choices of the evening.
From opener to headliner, this was a great night for progressive music fans. The year’s early, but this is easily one of my favorite shows of 2016. Operation: Mindcrime is a must see live act.
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Elephants in the room exposed, monkeys off their backs with legal issues cast aside and now sole owners of the rights to the name and catalogue of Queensrÿche, the band who produced the greatest album to originate from Seattle can now leave their manure-filled zoo of shite behind. With Todd La Torre firmly ensconced in their ranks, and contributing fully to the writing of the bands fifteenth album, Condition Hüman (Century Media), the opportunity is there for the real Queensrÿche to stand back up.
Having promised a return to their more progressive metal-tinged leanings, an introductory dual guitar lick references their early traditional metal outputs before we embark on album that displays every element of trademark Queensrÿche that you could wish for. Condition Hüman is a mature album, at times reminiscent of Parallels (Metal Blade) from former tour buddies Fates Warning, happy to reference the foibles and distinctive nodes of yesteryear while still firmly holding its place in where the band is now. There are the expected gallops, ‘All There Was’ and ‘Guardian’ could be out-takes from the Operation Mindcrime (EMI) sessions, but in the main, here lies a series of intelligent rock/metal songs proudly reflecting a band that is once again able to produce the music that people expect from them and are more than happy to oblige.
That’s not to say this is an album without heaviness – ‘Hourglass’ builds from a dark, stabbed beginning to a spiralling (reference intended) epic, while ‘Eye9’ could be the rÿche polish applied to a long-lost jam session for the new Tool album – but it’s used sparingly, intelligently, with progressive and cerebral rock the order of the day. La Torre is the ideal frontman, sounding effortlessly like the ousted Geoff Tate, with hints of Michael Kiske, a flawless voice that is indisputably Queensrÿche, adopting some of the idiosyncrasies of his predecessor for that added touch.
Condition Hüman fits seamlessly into the Queensrÿche canon, a natural evolution from, and improvement on, its’ self-titled predecessor, almost as if their discography actually runs Empire (EMI) to Queensrÿche to Condition Hüman and the intervening twenty-three years be damned. Ignore side-show circuses, ignore the flaccid projects of “formerly of…” members, and ignore the memory of experiments and failures; Condition Hüman is a confident and telling step forward in restoring the legacy of a once great band.
The Queen of the Rÿche has seen off the usurper, and now proudly surveys her domain once more.
In their fifteen year existence, Raleigh, North Carolina quintet Between the Buried and Me has resisted all attempts at categorisation largely by the ever-changing nature of their music. Breakthrough record Alaska in 2005 saw them being lumped in with the ascendant metalcore scene largely by virtue of their choice of record label and haircuts, despite that critically acclaimed release being very different in content to anything post-Killswitch.
Further records such as Colors in 2007 and The Great Misdirect two years later (all Victory) saw the band flirting with death metal and grind yet the overarching theme was that of fully-fledged progressive metal, something that has now come to fruition on Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade) a bona-fide rock opera that was always in the works, yet few thought would ever be quite so glorious.
With a concept detailing a coma patient’s self-induced exploration of his past lives, facing the choice to either stay or move on to parts unknown and the strange, arcane machine which enables him to do this, none could accuse Between the Buried and Me of lacking a sense of the grandiose. However it is the music that matters and on this record the band has wandered further into the lands of bewildering, arcane prog than ever before, while thankfully still in touch with their metal safety ground. Bands such as Genesis, Queen and Pink Floyd are notable reference points here, with BTBAM seeking to emulate the sense of wonder and freedom those noted acts managed to achieve with their seminal records back in the 70s.
The guitars on Coma Ecliptic are more interested in swirling leads and deft licks than common-or-garden heads down riffing, with rhythm largely left over to the solid, yet often playful bass guitar. This is apparent from the first time the axes make an appearance; with a brief yet histrionic solo which closes the soulful, piano-led opening track ‘Node’. Of course, this is still a metal album at heart and most tracks feature basic one/two chugs during the verses, although the attention will mostly be focused on the ever-present spiralling leadwork. A prime example of this is ‘The Coma Machine’, which develops the themes of the opening track into a surreal yet wholly engaging journey of bewildering prog rhythms, fluid guitar acrobatics and soaring, mysterious keyboards. It’s one hell of an impressive start to a record and things only get better from there.
Whether it’s the Zombi style 80s synth of ‘Dim Ignition’ complete with buzzing vocal effects which pitches the listener straight into a John Carpenter action film, the absurdly fun Vaudevillian stomp of ‘The Ectopic Stroll’ which Faith No More would have killed to have included on their recent comeback album or the emotionally devastating ‘King Redeem – Queen Serene’ which flits between soulful acoustic introspection to searing melodic death metal with a few maniacal prog flourishes thrown in for good measure, it’s utterly impossible to get bored. This is a record that you could listen to over twenty times and still find surprises waiting for you at every turn.
Each member of the band has come on leaps and bounds since the early days with Paul Waggoner surely staking a claim for one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation and the man Dream Theater should be keeping a close eye on when they next suffer a crisis in the ranks. But it is mainman Tommy Rogers who deserves most of the plaudits. His soulful croon will tug at your heartstrings on ‘Rapid Calm’ during the wondrous guitar solo-used-as-verse, but will instantly switch to feral death growl without breaking sweat, and crucially without ever sounding contrived.
The record that they were always promising to make but you weren’t sure was possible, on Coma Ecliptic Between the Buried and Me have exceeded all expectations and delivered not only the album of their careers but one of the most monumental ambitious rock concept pieces this side of Operation Mindcrime (EMI).
How they will ever top this remains the only sticking point.
With a debut album that flew under the radar, twisted progressive extreme metal outfit Voices made the ultimate statement with their incredible, expansive, complex and warped second album, the must-hear fucked up concept of London. Guitarist Sam Loynes took time out to give Ghost Cult an open top tour…
The difference between your debut, From The Human Forest Create A Fugue Of Imaginary Rain and your second opus London (both Candlelight) is monumental, both in terms of scope and quality. How do you account for this improvement?
We were still finding our feet on the first record and came up with the songs within a couple of months through improvisation, which is how we write. Moving into London, the songs, again while relying on improvisation a lot in their construction, are far more considered.
We wrote London in a visual mode that became the narrative that runs through it, and we had this idea of trying to write a really ambitious piece. We wanted it to be big, meaty, with a lot of information for people to get into; to go full on with it. We didn’t want to do just another standard album, you know, seven songs, and it’s OK. Fuck that. This needed to be a serious, complete record that people can really get their teeth into.
Ambition was the main difference, really. We aimed for the stars with this one.
That’s a good word, because the album is ambitious, with no half measures taken, especially as it has a fully developed narrative and concept running through it. Which came first, the chocolate or the colour?
85% of what you hear on the record comes from improvisation. A great example is a song like ‘Fuck Trance’ that was composed completely in the moment. There was no preconception of riffs, or ideas, or anything like that, we just got into the rehearsal room after a long fucking day at work and fucking horrible journey down to the studio which is way out West London. We looked at each other, and we had it. I looked at Pete (Benjamin – guitars/vocals) and Dave (Gray – drums) and we had it. And the song came out.
The way the narrative came about was within that improvisation. When we were playing and creating it, we’d have these almost like visions, visions steeped in our non-musical influences at the time, things like Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and the character Maurice Bendrix, who is an anti-hero that is obsessive and anxiety ridden over, of course, a woman. These reference points helped us visualize this new anti-hero as he moved through the streets of London being accosted by these various distorting events, and he’s reaching out trying to find this Megan figure that’s the object of his affection, even though she turns out to be less than agreeable.
It’s quite an abstract thing, but it was such a powerful mode of writing. When we got to the end of, say, ‘Hourglass’, when he was washed up by the River Thames after being poisoned, in our brains we desperately wanted to know where he’s going to go next! And the only way for is to find out is let’s fucking do the next song!
So, the narrative was spawned out of the visual style of writing (and) it was an amazing way to write. I don’t know, but it might even be a once in a lifetime only way of writing, because it was also very specific to where we all were in time and in our lives.
How auto-biographical is it?
Dave was very much at the forefront of encapsulating the specifics of what the narrative became. He then actually wrote the passages that you hear link the songs. It’s most personal to him, but the reason we chime as musicians and as people together is that we all have this disposition within us, this Maurice Bendrix syndrome – steeped within anxiety, very much onlookers, particularly living in London, and not feeling part of it, or feeling not quite right being within London.
I’d say that Dave was the one who related most to the anti-hero character and he brought him to life on paper but we all have over the top, vivid imaginations.
Did you reference other concept albums, perhaps something like Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime which tells a story?
We were very aware of wanting to live up to the effect that concept records can have and the Zappa one is the one we looked at (Editor’s Note: Sam couldn’t remember the title at the time, I think he’s referring to Freak Out). Dave was keen it was a key reference point. With the theme of detachment, did you look at something like The Wall? To be honest, our influences in terms of the concept were very detached from music. JG Ballard and extending to things like Bladerunner, even Lolita to a certain degree.
So works with those feelings of being outside, or different… that detachment again? There’s a vicarious element to them. It’s very difficult to hone in on what we’ve done here, but it’s those ideas of vicarious obsessions, anxieties and distortions, all captured in an abstract narrative.
As one of the creators of such an ambitious and successful dark work of art, how are you feeling about it now?
Creatively it was daunting, but more so now we’ve done it, because I listen to London and I think “where do we go from here”? What kind of planet are we going to have to be on to live up to, or surpass this!? So for me, I do think we’re going to have to seriously consider what direction we go in next.
I think it was Krystoffer Rygg (Ulver) who said that each album he has done is a reaction to the one preceding it… So, is the response to something as complex and dark as London is maybe something lighter, catchier, more simplistic and punkier…?
It’s funny you should say more punky and poppy, because that was the idea I had. Myself and Dave are massive fan-boys of bands like Joy Division and Bauhaus and more recently to name a contemporary band I’m into, Savages, and while we’re not all of sudden become a fucking pub rock band or whatever, let’s think a little more about song based material, rather than really sprawling epic songs.
A song like ‘Last Train Victoria Line’ is in line with that kind of idea, and to me that’s the direction I’d like to consider going towards. Songs with hooks, choruses, that are a bit like Killing Joke, and a bit like Joy Division, but also extreme and out there.
Who knows what comes out when we start writing again, but I do not have any interest in regurgitating London because we ain’t gonna better that record.
Words by STEVE TOVEY
For a long time Queensryche was a band in steady decline. Pretty much all the post Promised Land releases suffered in quality, with Dedicated To Chaos being especially lacklustre. Last year things came ahead with singer and defacto bandleader Geoff Tate being fired by the rest of the band. The remaining members recruited a new singer and they decided to soldier on under the Queensryche banner. Ghost Cult spoke with drummer Scott Rockenfield who didn’t mince words and who seems to be on a personal crusade to get the band back in the spotlights again… Continue reading
These are confusing times for any Queensryche fan. Former QR singer Geoff Tate uses the name for his merry gang of hired guns and the remaining members recruited a new singer and decided to continue under, you guessed it, Queensryche. It’s a classical case of will the real QR please stand up… Continue reading