QUEENSRŸCHE
"Queensrÿche"

(Century Media)

01. X2
02. Where Dreams Go To Die
03. Spore
04. In This Light
05. Redemption
06. Vindication
07. Midnight Lullaby
08. A World Without
09. Don't Look Back
10. Fallout
11. Open Road

RATING: 8.5/10

The darts have been thrown, the camps have divided and what has befallen L.A. GUNS and WARRANT now afflicts QUEENSRŸCHE, once class elite of metal music. On the one side, the exiled Geoff Tate has assembled his clan of hard rock dignitaries aiding him under the preamble "The Voice of QUEENSRŸCHE." On the other end, three-fifths of the remaining original members with new vocalist Todd La Torre are contesting for indisputable rights to the 'RŸCHE. No one outside the nucleus could've foreseen this shameful division under two incarnations of the QUEENSRŸCHE moniker. Yet it's happened and it's the diehard fans hanging with the moseying "Tribe" through the dysfunctional "Dedicated to Chaos" who have been forced to stomach the shit platter served from this butt-ugly breakup.

In all honesty, QUEENSRŸCHE has been somewhat of a tough sell since 1997's "Hear in the Now Frontier", Chris DeGarmo's final album with the band. Despite some rock solid cuts on the subsequent "Q2K", QUEENSRŸCHE was never the same after DeGarmo's departure. Not everyone was a fan of "Operation: Mindcrime II", but that album was a telling point about where the band was and where it was ultimately headed in 2006. 2009's "American Soldier" was a noble effort, but after the dysfunctional "Dedicated to Chaos", it's no surprise rages for a new order rose up within the band.

Pick whichever side you believe is right within the QUEENSRŸCHE battleground. What we're left to analyze now is the release of two albums from each respective stable within months of each other. The "Taterÿche" (as it's been labeled by the metal public) album "Frequency Unknown" is badgered mostly by a two-minute drill mentality to reach the goal line ahead of the La Torre posse, falling short by about twenty yards. "Frequency Unknown" could've been much better had Geoff Tate not chased his poorly-received second solo album "Kings & Thieves" with it and let the spirit of malice speed up the former's process. There are some truly sharp cuts on "Frequency Unknown", ("Fallen", "Slave" and "The Weight of the World", for instance) but by now the consensus has flagged the rushed and vocals-drowned mix of that album to be its undoing.

All of which opens the field wide open for the La Torre version to pull off the unthinkable, which is issuing the best QUEENSRŸCHE album in many moons. It's no secret Todd La Torre's now-former band, CRIMSON GLORY, were, in their day, considered the poor man's QUEENSRŸCHE. If you're going to commit bloody treason by pawning a QUEENSRŸCHE album without Geoff Tate's voice of authenticity, then you'd best come up with the only acceptable substitute, this being La Torre.

What's remarkable about the self-titled 2013 "Queensrÿche" album is how much the band sounds like themselves from "Empire" on back, with a few gnashing shades of "Promised Land". Unlike "Frequency Unknown", however, "Queensrÿche" 2013 doesn't come from a place of anger or resentment. It's the exact opposite. There's a liberated feeling pushing forth from the La Torre sanction and this upbeat vibe will grab more than their share of the faithful.

For all of the implications slung between the aggrieved parties, the most valid one seems to be that Geoff Tate retaining primary songwriting duties over the past decade-plus was nothing the rest of the band wanted. "Queensrÿche" organically nurtures the progression of their early work by updating it for today's audiences. This album has enough dignity to avoid replicating "Operation: Mindcrime", even if both bands are drawing from all or in portion of it in their current live repertoire.

If you want to get to the heart of the matter, this album is perhaps what should've come after "Promised Land". Featuring a culmination of input from Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield and Michael Wilton plus Todd La Torre and Parker Lundgren (Tate's former son-in-law), the output is the most realized QUEENSRŸCHE sound in ages. Wilton and Lundgren sparkle more than usual (sounding unchained on the uplifting sways of "Redemption" and "In This Light"), while Eddie Jackson throbs his bass lines through the majestic mini-epic, "Vindication". Todd La Torre seizes the moment on "Vindication" to propel his soaring altos and near-falsettos on the banging choruses. Scott Rockenfield drives the track with such steady concentration even his fills seem like a floating continuum.

This QUEENSRYCHE ensemble is so focused and efficient even the slower measures of "A World Without" seem to move beyond its slithering groove. Todd La Torre sells the Tate illusion so much here that the band supplements him with a cameo by Pamela Moore (a.k.a. Sister Mary). They also heap luxuriant synths, strings and a fully-orchestrated feel to "A World Without" it all seems like heresy at first. Still, the fact remains such diligent song structuring like the old days pays off tremendously.

"Don't Look Back" hints at both "Mindcrime" and "Empire" with its anti-corporation tirade that just might be the definitive hijacking of the QUEENSRŸCHE legacy, even more than the oxygen-draining splendor of "A World Without". Carrying a hefty drive for most of the ride, the stepped-up outro says everything the title "Don't Look Back" doesn't already.

QUEENSRŸCHE through this album has largely avoided the rocksteady punch of "Fallout" and the broiling swagger of "Spore". If any carryover from the Tate regime is left within this camp, it's on the lighter swing of "In This Light" and the tempered melancholy of the finale, "Open Road". It's bittersweet that Todd La Torre sounds so much like Geoff Tate here and all throughout "Queensrÿche" 2013, because the final analysis leaves room for the maddening supposition that nobody had the courage to make this album as a unified front prior hereto.

Winners and losers are inevitable in this kind of wretched conflict, and at least for this round, the La Torre QUEENSRŸCHE prevails decisively.

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