Album Review: QUEENSRŸCHE The Verdict
As one of the pioneers of American heavy and progressive metal, Queensrÿche’s early output contains some of the most beloved albums in the genre. However, their work in the late 1990s and (especially) the 2000s was met with less than favorable feedback, so it’s not surprising that many listeners were pleased when original vocalist Geoff Tate was replaced by former Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre in 2012. Indeed, the band’s first two efforts with La Torre—2013's Queensrÿche and 2015's Condition Human—received praise for feeling reinvigorated and reminiscent of the troupe’s former glory. Fortunately, their third outing together, The Verdict, upholds (and surpasses) those benchmarks by delivering a thoroughly exciting, catchy, and fluid collection that will undoubtedly please longtime fans.
Not only does La Torre continue to be a very fitting singer on The Verdict, but he also proves quite skilled at taking over drum duties from original percussionist Scott Rockenfield (who’s been on hiatus for about two years). Produced, mastered, and mixed by Chris "Zeuss" Harris (Rob Zombie, Iced Earth), who also worked on Condition Human, the LP clearly has a lot to live up to; yet, as guitarist Michael “Whip” Wilton aptly surmises, it’s “the most metal and the most progressive record [they] have made in a long time.” Honestly, it finds all involved breathing new life into a recognizable formula, showcasing how much drive and quality some classic acts still have.
Perhaps more than most of their contemporaries, Queensrÿche excels at balancing soft and heavy arrangements and songwriting. That remains true here. On the more intense side of things, opener “Blood of the Levant” storms in with mesmerizing riffs, call-to-action syncopation, and rising vocals (including a trademark anthemic chorus) to reinstate their cherished sound. (There are even some voiceover snippets to add more characteristic importance.) Later, “Man the Machine” is feistier and more fatalistic, “Light-years” and “Inside Out” add arena density and dynamic funkiness. “Launder the Conscience” offer enough beguiling tempo changes and soaring timbres to satisfy any stylistic fan.
While those songs do feature more serene segues as well (to varying degrees), some of the best moments on The Verdict come when Queensrÿche delves more fully into their lighter persona. In particular, “Inside Out” recalls Promised Land in its pseudo psychedelic surrealism and elegance, whereas “Dark Reverie” appeals most when it’s symphonic and warmly pensive. Finisher “Portrait” is the best example of all, though, since its luscious desperation resonates from start to finish. Likewise, its recurrent harmonies are surprisingly powerful, compressed, and graceful, leading to some of the most impassioned guitar work on the entire disc. It’s really a captivating closer that demonstrates the quintet’s knack for atmospheric emotionality.
The Verdict is not only the superlative entry in the La Torre era thus far, but it’s easily one of their best outings in twenty-five years. He ceaselessly impresses in his dual role as singer and drummer, the rest of the crew brings plenty of inspired tenacity, and Harris does an excellent job behind-the-scenes to make it sound like vintage Queensrÿche. Few acts are able to bounce back this boldly after such a lengthy slump, and there’s no reason not to expect that trajectory to climb higher next time around.