Queensryche taps into '90s roots for latest album
If the title hadn't been famously used already, Queensryche might have been able to title its new album "Back to the Future."
That's because the album – actually titled "Condition Human" – was all about re-embracing Queensryche's roots without forgetting to keep an eye toward the future, according to guitarist Michael Wilton.
If the Seattle-based band has been successful, fans will be comparing "Condition Human" to early albums like the band's sophomore release "Rage for Order" (1986) "Operation: Mindcrime" (1988) and "Empire" (1990). Those releases brought the Seattle-based band major popularity and a reputation for musically adventurous hard rock and thoughtful topical lyrics.
"Obviously, the musicianship is there," guitarist Michael Wilton said. "But bringing depth to the music again, and also thought-provoking lyrics, we kind of brought that back again. It's like that's something that Queensryche's been known for.
"For a lot of people, those (early) albums, it took a few listens to get it going on them and try to understand where the band was going, but they had depth. They had very innovative things happening, and it was just great creative energy. That's what we're trying to do on this, we're trying to bring the spirit of that back."
Evolving, expanding, exploring
At the same time, the group wanted to show the forward-looking attitude that has also been a trademark.
"Queensryche is all about evolving, and evolving with each album," Wilton said. "We needed to evolve and show that we were expanding, we're exploring, we're using our creative juices and we're pushing the envelope, but not jumping 180 degrees so that we lose everybody.
"I think the goal was to really connect with the past, but record it in a modern way," he said.
In a very real way, the past three years for Queensryche have been about making a new beginning.
After reaching a commercial peak with "Empire" (the album featured Queensryche's biggest hit single, "Silent Lucidity"), and maintaining considerable popularity through the 1990s, the group's fortunes had declined as problems within the band increased as Queensryche moved further into the first decade of the new millennium.
Wilton readily admits that Queensryche grew stale as a band, particularly as albums like "Take Cover" (2007), "American Soldier" (2009) and "Dedicated to Chaos" (2011) were met with indifferent responses from the public.
At the heart of the situation was growing discord between singer Geoff Tate and the band's other original members – Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield – as well as its more recent recruit, guitarist Parker Lundgren.
Matters came to a head in spring 2012 when the Wilton, Jackson, Rockenfield and Lundgren fired Tate's wife, Susan, who was managing the band, and Tate's stepdaughter, Miranda, who ran the fan club.
Soon afterward, the dissension became public. At an April 2012 show in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a backstage fight broke out between Tate and the other core members of Queensryche. After that messy incident, Tate was given his walking papers.
This led to lawsuits over the dismissal and whether Tate (who formed a new band lineup and began touring and recording using the Queensryche name) or the other three original band members, who also continued to tour as Queensryche, would get the rights to the Queensryche name.
In the end, the two sides settled. The band, in a May 2014 statement, said it had bought out Tate's portion of the Queensryche name and allowed Tate through August 2014 to bill himself as the "original singer of Queensryche" or "formerly of Queensryche." After that date, Tate could no longer use the Queensryche name in any form, while the other band members now have exclusive rights to the Queensryche name.
Of course, there might have been no Queensryche to continue had Wilton, Jackson, Rockenfield and Lundgren not found someone who could measure up to Tate as a singer – no small task considering Tate was long recognized as one of hard rock/metal's finest vocalists – and be a force on stage in fronting the band.
But that issue was already on its way to being resolved before Tate was officially fired. In January 2012, Wilton had met Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre at a National Association of Music Merchants event. The two started talking about working together in some capacity, and before long, Wilton recommended La Torre to his Queensryche bandmates.
Everything clicked, and soon LaTorre was touring as Queensryche's new singer and working with the other four band members on a self-titled album that was released in June 2013.
Having gained exclusive rights to the Queensryche name in September 2014. Wilton, Jackson, Rockenfield, La Torre and Lundgren turned their attention to writing and recording what would become the "Condition Human" album.
Where Tate had increasingly come to dominate the songwriting in his later years with Queensryche, the band returned to a far more collaborative writing approach with La Torre on board – resolving an issue that Wilton said had contributed to the split with Tate.
"It's (now) a democracy in the writing," Wilton said. "Everybody has the ability to write songs now and they all get worked on. They're not cherry picked. They all get worked on, to the point where everybody says 'OK, this one's good. This one, I don't know.' It's just a whole different scenario now."
The final piece
The final piece to the puzzle for "Condition Human" was choosing Chris Harris (known by his nickname Zeuss) to produce the album. According to Wilton, Harris understood how to translate key elements of the original Queensryche sound into the 2015 version of the band.
"He knew how to do that, and that's kind of primarily what we wanted to do," Wilton said. "The scenario which is common that we run into is we get people who haven't heard the band since 1991. So when they pick up a 2015 Queensryche album, they go 'Hey, those guitars sound like Queensryche.' So that's where rekindling your roots is invaluable. It's really staying deep rooted, and respecting it, but kind of giving little bits, little spices of inspiration, into a modern recording."
Fans, of course, will have the true say about whether Queensryche has recaptured the musical magic on "Condition Human," which will be released on Oct. 2. But songs like "Hourglass," "Hellfire," "Eye9" and "Arrow of Time" do have the progressive rock edge, advanced musicianship and powerful vocals that originally made Queensryche stand out, while "Toxic Remedy" and "Selfish Lives" are among the songs with the kind of provocative topical lyrics that were common on the early albums.
Wilton feels the renewed creative passion within the band is translating into Queensryche's live shows. That's important because the band members know fans have had their faith in the band tested by the lackluster later albums and the drama that surrounded the split with Tate.
"It's just a whole different scenario now. Now, when we're playing live, the fans know we're giving it," Wilton said. "We're out there performing, and it's a shame we have to prove ourselves every night. But you know what, if we prove ourselves one show at a time, so be it. We'll just keep doing it. And we've been doing that for the last two years and winning fans over."