Queensryche will (hopefully) never have drama on such a cataclysmic scale as their infamous 2012 schism, but things look rather precarious on their fourteenth full-length album. Drummer Scott Rockenfield is MIA, leaving guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson as the group’s sole original members, and setting the stage for vocalist Todd La Torre to assume timekeeping duties in his absence. Thankfully, The Verdict seems largely unaffected by these circumstances.
On the contrary, this album seems to pick where 2015’s Condition Human left off. It utilizes a similar blend of prog, metal, and alternative with an even more noticeable focus on mid-tempo pacing, grungy rhythms, and experimental vocal interplay. Comparisons could easily be made to the band’s mid-era ventures like Q2K or Tribe, but The Verdict’s more metallic edge keeps it from going into complete retread territory. At the very least, they’re far more certain than they were twenty years ago.
It helps that the songwriting is also pretty solid, featuring their most political themes in some time and benefitting from an easygoing forty-two-minute runtime. Like Condition Human before it, the first songs are the heaviest, though “Blood of the Levant” and “Man the Machine” have a meaner mid-tempo slant compared to past anthems. “Dark Reverie” has also proven to be a grower, serving as a somber pseudo-ballad in the Empire tradition. “Portrait” makes for the album’s most intriguing curveball, closing the album in a spacy fashion that recalls “Chasing Blue Sky” or “The Right Side of My Mind.”
But while everything comes together well on The Verdict, it really would’ve benefitted from some extra oomph. La Torre’s voice continues to be Queensryche’s most valuable asset, and his drum proficiency further reinforces how integral he’s become to the band’s success at this point. The other guys put in solid performances and I sure wouldn’t accuse them of slouching, but just as we saw with Chris DeGarmo and Geoff Tate before, they’re really only as good as whoever is leading them.
Overall, The Verdict is an enjoyable effort that comes close to being “just another” Queensryche album. It packs in plenty of strong tracks and solid performances that are worlds away from the band’s worst efforts yet still shy of their best. As much as I’d love to see the metal tour de force that was promised, the grungy elements work better here than they did in the late 90s. It’ll be interesting to see how the band’s next album pans out considering the situation with Rockenfield but for now, this is still the Queensryche we’ve come to expect.
“Blood of the Levant”
“Man the Machine”