With the release of 'The Verdict', it blew my mind for a minute thinking that Queensryche has been around for 39 years. My first introduction to heavy metal was 1988's 'Operation: Mindcrime' and I can still remember riding around in my uncle's car as this album was blasting through the speakers.
While they have been churning out quality music from the get go, the band hit a lull in the late 90's and early 2000's. With the arrival of second guitarist Parker Lundgren in 2009 and current vocalist Todd La Torre in 2012, the band has been revitalized and has shown that on 2013's "Queensryche" and 2015's 'Condition Human'. Four years later, 'The Verdict' has arrived and I was dying to sink my teeth into it.
Opening track "Blood of the Levant" set the tone for the album. The heaviness of the guitar is what struck me immediately as the song kicked off. The intro riff is vintage Queensryche with a bit of bite and melody intertwined beautifully. La Torre's vocals are spot on as usual, a great mix of higher end screams and well-balanced melodies. His soulful, clean delivery on the bridge helps punctuate the seriousness of the lyrical content which focuses on events that brought about the start of the Syrian War. "Shelling, the cowards let it rain, from a tag on the wall." The bridge is also punctuated by this syncopated drum beat that has this great pitter-patter to it and is then followed up by an incredible twin guitar harmony from Parker Lundgren and Michael "Whip" Wilton.
"Man the Machine" is one of the heavier songs that the band has released in La Torre's time with them. I hadn't heard heavy material like this since the band's EP when they were first starting out. "Light-years" follows and is a bit of mind bomb. It starts off very slow and subtle with a bit of a proggy feel to it. La Torre's vocals have a bit of Warrel Dane tinge to them from the start and get stronger as the track progresses, much like the music progression. "Inside Out", "Propaganda Fashion", "Inner Unrest", and "Launder the Conscience" are all solid tracks through and through. With "Bent" there's a bit of a 'Promised Land' sort of feel to it. "Dark Reverie" is this really awesome driving, somewhat ballad type song that is everything that epitomizes what Queensryche is about--excellent lyrics, incredible vocals, strong guitar work and excellent rhythm sections. Closer "The Portrait" is another great story-song that is just the type of track that I love from this band.
Musically, this album is the most diverse of the three that the band has released since La Torre took over the helm. While you can definitely hear the influence of the early material, you can also tell that it's one of the more ambitious albums that they have released to date. Moments of heaviness, proggy passages, and emotive ballads are all present and flow together with a cohesiveness that has come from this lineup growing together as a unit. Lundgren and Wilton have heavy riffs throughout the album as well as some soulful playing and great harmony work as well. Jackson's bass playing provides some solid beefiness to the rhythm of the songs and I feel that he's always been criminally underrated as a bass player. The drumming, which was handled by La Torre while Scott Rockenfield is on hiatus, has this subtle jazz influence that pervades the album but also is bombastic and thundering when needed. Vocally, I think this is Todd La Torre's best work since he joined the band back in 2012. I never get tired of hearing his incredible high, melodic vocals and his lower, more emotive approach.
After 39 years and 15 studio albums, Queensryche has clearly shown that they still have more incredible music to give us and that they still have plenty of life left in them. "The Verdict" is another career defining release right here.
Recommended for fans of: Fates Warning, Savatage, Nevermore