I guess the old adage is true: What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Such appears to be the case with Queensrÿche, who have not just weathered the difficulties that COVID-19 inflicted upon the entire music industry, but also an entire slew of personal and professional difficulties that would certainly convince a good many bands to lay down and die. But not this rendition of the thinking man’s metal band from Seattle. In fact, they could easily have titled this record “Phoenix” because an absolute beast is rising from the ashes.
Their road to madness has been long, winding and hard-suffering, especially for the fans, whose loyalty and patience has been tested with endless dramatic headlines. The line-up casualty roster reads like police report. After reaching the band’s creative apex with the titanic metal pairing of “Operation Mindcrime” (1998) and “Empire” (1990), things began to unravel with 1994’s “Promise Land,” which lacked the cohesive catchy punch of its predecessors. “Hear in the Now Frontier” (1997) was an absolute identity crisis, ushering in the departure of Chris DeGarmo, who many fans considered the soul of the band.
Much of what came after seemed to be heavily directed by Geoff Tate, whose distinctive, soaring lead vocals were a signature aspect of the band. The next five records were mediocre or worse, and it was very apparent that the magic had been lost. Tate’s pipes were simply not enough to rescue the records from flat songwriting and the void that appeared when DeGarmo left. The ill-conceived attempt to capitalize on the commercial success of “Operation Mindcrime” with a sloppy sequel simply tarnished the brand and dragged the name through the mud. Rumors abounded of dissention in the ranks, and with 2011’s ironically titled “Dedicated to Chaos,” Queensrÿche hit rock bottom. The live shows were uninspired, and in 2012, the rock headlines told the tale of a lead singer spitting on his drummer in Brazil, with the need to physically separate them—a split that would eventually become permanent.
Todd La Torre stepped into the significantly large shoes of Geoff Tate and fronted a Tate-less version with the remaining members, while Tate took his own version on the road with a motley mix of journeyman players. Now the fan base was forced to choose sides. Were either of these version legit? What happened to band that jolted the world in the late 80s with cerebral yet crushing metal? In the years that followed, both teams raced to release records and lay claim to the title of legitimacy. Judging from their output, La Torre’s team pulled far ahead and left Tate’s version in the dust. Todd seemed to understand the identity of the original band, and moved the members to respect the old work and realign itself with what made the band great. Tate seemed to keep reaching for something that proved to be elusive. A court case ultimately settled in favor of granting La Torre’s team the official brand moniker.
For my tastes, I would suggest that the first three records with Todd La Torre at the helm did much to restore the faith and respect of the music that fans initially were captivated by in the 80s. Each one seemed to build momentum and refine the band’s process of returning to relevancy. The self-titled “Queensrÿche” established the impressive vocal capacity of La Torre and made an effort to recapture the classic sound without rehashing old ground. “Condition Hüman” explored some new territory without straying too far, but it was “The Verdict” that finally re-claimed the hungry, heavy, signature sound of Queensrÿche. And now 2022’s “Digital Noise Alliance” leaps off from that starting place.
There have been more casualties in personnel. For what continues to be undisclosed reasons, longtime skinsman Scott Rockenfield never recorded parts on “The Verdict.” In a rather Phil Collins’-in-reverse move, La Torre not only sang but took over the drum duties, delivering an unexpectedly solid performance. Former Kamelot drummer Casey Grillo had been playing with the band live for quite some time, but it’s only now on “Digital Noise Alliance” that he make his debut on record with Queensrÿche. And he makes a hell of an appearance. Despite his power metal roots, Casey brings a fresh and fiery performance to the drums that elevates this record. Scott appears to be gone for good, but the percussion position is in good hands.
Also gone is Parker Lundgren, who logged a number of years with the band as the younger, energized foil to founding guitarist Michael “Whip” Wilton. The tandem had re-established the signature dual chorusing guitar tone of the classic lineup, and I was concerned that there would be missing piece on this release. To be honest, I was even more concerned to read that Mike Stone was serving as Parker’s replacement. Mike’s previous output with Queensrÿche was during their “lost” years prior to Tate’s split from the band, and that was not a place I hoped to revisit. Fortunately, this record sounds more like classic Queensrÿche than anything since “Promise Land,” and that’s a very good thing. I don’t know how much of the recorded work was supplied by Stone, but the guitar work on this record is vastly superior to the lost years.
Once again, the band teamed up with a producer named Zeuss, and it can not be overstated the Herculean effort he has made to make this record sonically superior, with drum and guitar tones that roar, smash, chunk and crunch in a way few records of the day can match. This record is a headphone lover’s delight, with ear candy galore, especially regarding La Torre’s vocals, that are washed in processing to great effect. Todd’s performance on the record is really strong, and the effects augment the layers of innovative background work he has brought to the table.
The majority of the record features edgy, driven songs with hooks and melodies that are instantly accessible but complex enough to pass the test of repeated listens without boredom. There are two stylistically divergent moments on the record, one being the unexpected album closer—a rocked up version of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” which is actually more fun than expected and a fantastic rendition of a song that has been covered by many. Todd’s take on Idol’s varied vocals are surprisingly effective, and while it’s somewhat strange to hear so much “poppy” keyboard on a Queensrÿche track, the rendition ends up being way more satisfying that one can expect when seeing it in the track list. The other unexpected moment on the record is “Forest,” which is not a rip-off of the Floyd-esque “Silent Lucidity,” but rather a pleasant piece of lush and lighter diversity amongst a consistently pounding record. It’s a little bit of the odd man out but provides a timely change of pace.
Overall, the songs are very strong. The production is pristine. And somehow Todd La Torre manages to retain a startling vocal capacity despite a long-running relationship with smoking. “Digital Noise Alliance” is a fantastic addition to the Queensrÿche catalog—one that builds on the classic sound and signature style of its best output and somehow utilizes modern production technology to build a better bot, rather than just a clone. I’m avoiding the simple task of analyzing this album track by track, and am opting instead to write about it more as a whole, because that is how the record should be experienced.
It’s very listenable thanks in large part to the tone choices. Casey’s drums are tight, cracking and interspersed with wide panned cymbal “gonks” that break up any percussive monotony. The guitar tones are lush, biting and angular. The solos chorus and soar like a Queensrÿche record should. Apparently during the album sessions, Michael Wilton employed a number of vintage amps from the band’s earlier days. “We ended up using Michael’s collection of old Marshalls,” says Zeuss. “We’d turn them on and it would be like, ‘Whoah!’ Like we were awakening this beast. It brought a lot of great vibes to the album.” On this subject, the producer words are absolutely spot on.
If any fans have wandered away from the Ryche due to all of the confusion and uncertainty that’s been foisted on them over the years… or if someone is still unsure whether they can find a version of Queensrÿche legitimate without Geoff Tate on vocals… or if you simply want to pick up a rocking record that sounds both classic and contemporary…check out Queensrÿche’s “DNA” and be pleasantly surprised during the process.
Released By: Century Media Records
Released On: October 7th, 2022
Genre: Progressive Metal
- Todd LaTorre / Vocals
- Michael Wilton/ Guitars, vocals
- Eddie Jackson / Bass, vocals
- Casey Grillo / Drums
- Mike Stone / Guitars
“Digital Noise Alliance” track listing:
1. In Extremis
3. Lost in Sorrow
5. Behind the Walls
6. Nocturnal Light
7. Out of the Black
10. Hold On
12. Rebel Yell (Billy Idol’s cover)
Pre-order “Digital Noise Alliance” HERE.
Listen to this record in the hear and now for what it is, and you’ll remember why for many years Queensrÿche was at the top of the thinking man’s metal game. Despite a revolving door of personnel over the years, the DNA of this band has been rediscovered, and they are truly emerging from the ashes and reaching forward to touch and improve the glories of their golden years
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