When Queensrÿche issued their self-titled 2013 album they were engaged in a nasty legal battle with fired founding vocalist Geoff Tate over the brand. He lost, leaving the title free and clear.
It was their first with new singer Todd La Torre. Queensrÿche were so intent on reestablishing their brand trademark, he ended up sounding too much like Tate. The hastily assembled collection also lacked their usual songwriting precision. Condition Hüman offers fans the opportunity to re-evaluate Queensrÿche on their own terms. With producer Chris “Zeuss” Harris, this band is keen on reestablishing its identity as a prog metal unit with the accent on “metal.” Queensrÿche toured together enough to offer proof of their now cemented relationship on the set’s two pre-release singles, “Arrow of Time” and “Guardian.” Both offer hard edges. The former contains classic (à la Iron Maiden) metal riffing and spiraling dual leads from guitarists Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren. The tune spins and gallops with a fresh burst of energy. “Guardian” is a showcase for La Torre and drummer Scott Rockenfield. La Torre still has Tate in his delivery, but that’s because he’s a lifelong Queensrÿche fan. Given this tune, he’s obviously studied Ian Gillan and Bruce Dickinson too. He soars with clearly annunciated phrasing, highlighting each pass in the music’s development. Rockenfield’s groove is iconic at this stage, but he is less celebrated for his impeccable syncopation. It’s split evenly between snare, cymbals, and double bass drums on this jam. La Torre really soars on “Hellfire,” and its fiery guitar and vocal pyrotechnics recall the Operation: Mindcrime period, while “Selfish Lives” with its political lyrics and rousing chorus touches on Empire. Despite this return to harder prog metal, Queensrÿche also resurrect a particular strength on Condition Hüman not once, but twice: the power ballad. “Bulletproof,” begun with a soft, liturgical female choir, introduces a swaying, infectious melody. La Torre offers his most passionate delivery on the record before a killer dual guitar break in the bridge, making the tune an arena rock anthem. His approximation of new age Celtic melody in “Just Us,” buoyed by strummed 12-strings and popping tom-toms, is the other number that the one and only Queensrÿche could pull off without sounding cloying. Eddie Jackson’s nasty, fuzzed-out bassline kicks off “Eye9,” a choppier, harder-edged, knottier jam than we’ve heard from Queensrÿche before — though the chorus is catchy as hell — and it signifies a new musical direction. The title track closer, at just under eight minutes, is almost worth the price tag. It’s an epic with four sections featuring a clean-tone, near operatic chorus (complete with chorale), a screaming Wilton solo, and a breathtaking outro (think “Roads to Madness”). Condition Hüman isn’t perfect and it’s not altogether instantly accessible; it will take a few listens to completely absorb. That said, it’s more creative than anything from Queensrÿche in at least a decade and far better than we had any right to expect.