Not to be too presumptuous, but it must feel great to be Michael Wilton and Eddie Jackson these days. For decades now, they’ve dedicated themselves to making some of history’s greatest progressive metal under the Queensrÿche banner, and through all the ups and downs and various means of attrition, they’re the last two original members remaining. Queensrÿche’s post-millennium story is a dramatic one, a rollercoaster ride to say the least, but those two stuck it out, and here we are, four albums into their rebirth, and it’s an upswing that shows no signs of slowing down. Take a victory lap or ten, gents – you deserve each of them.
For Jackson, he of the Absolutely Godly Bass Tone, his songwriting contributions were sporadic through most of the early days, though he’s long been among metal’s most underrated bassists. Then, in the La Torre era, Eddie became the first non-DeGarmo band member to solo write a song since Wilton did it for The Warning in 1984. Thereafter, Jackson’s solo-penned songs have been some of the strongest on the last three records – “Eye9,” “Light-years,” now “Nocturnal Light” and “Realms.” Across those albums, and this one, he’s also collaborated with the other band members to equally grand results. He’s an additional creative force, previously overlooked but waiting there the whole time, ready to rock and now rocking away, going from unsung asset to noted songwriter.
It must also feel great to be Todd La Torre. Plucked from relative obscurity a decade ago to front one of American metal’s most legendary bands, La Torre didn’t singlehandedly revitalize Queensrÿche, though I’ll admit to having made that easy generalization before. It’s more that his entrance provided the catalyst for their return, and his undeniable talent and enthusiasm have certainly been a large part of their recent successes. Given his position, Todd will forever be compared to Geoff Tate – and that’s a tough spot, because Tate is an incredible singer – but here’s the thing: Todd is up to it, no question. Anyone who’s been listening can hear that – like Tate’s, Todd’s vocal talent is, put simply, fucking unreal. Yes, they sound alike, but that’s the name of this game, and with each subsequent Queensrÿche record, Todd moves farther out from Geoff’s shadow. Almost no one alive could pull off a vocal performance like this; almost no one could capture the particular brand of soaring melodrama that’s intrinsic to the Queensrÿche sound – and Todd is the one who does exactly that. This is yet another incredible performance from an absolutely incredible vocalist. Listen to the melodies on “Behind The Walls” or “Hold On” or “In Extremis” – each reaches back and captures the Queensrÿche sound of old, and each one brings it wholly into this new era. If you’re one of the “no Tate, no ‘Rÿche” dummies out there, then… well, you’re missing out on so much classic prog-metal greatness.
It also must feel great to be Casey Grillo. As Scott Rockenfield’s paternity leave turned into an eternity leave – and then into a lawsuit and whatever the “Queensrÿche 2021” thing was – Grillo has been filling in on the road, and doing one hell of a job of it, night after night. La Torre played drums on The Verdict (and he also did a hell of a job of that), so Digital Noise Alliance is Grillo’s Queensrÿche studio debut. Not only does Casey kill it – if you’ve seen ‘Rÿche live in recent years, you knew that he would – but in addition, he landed two songwriting credits himself. Notably, he wrote the drum part on “Hold On” and asked Wilton to add the harmonic components; that song may turn up toward the end of DNA, but it’s one of the best on the whole affair.
Furthermore, Casey landed a credit on “Forest,” which is one of Digital Noise Alliance’s most interesting tracks. A ballad, albeit more of the quasi-drifting type, with some background vocals heavily reminiscent of “Silent Lucidity,” “Forest” feels like a direct nod to that massive hit even as it’s several steps removed. Truthfully, it’s the album’s only sticking point, easily its least metallic moment, one that will take some time to sink in even as it stands out markedly from the riffwork around it. It’s not a bad song, by any stretch, but it’s outside the realms of what surrounds it, and it definitely leans backwards towards a certain era of commercial success, for better or worse.
Hell, while I’m racking them up: it must even feel great to be Mike Stone – he’s back now, Parker Lundgren having left in the interim between The Verdict and this latest. Stone’s a great guitarist (his penchant for scrunchy cowboy hats notwithstanding), and his chemistry with Wilton is undeniably solid – familiarity and all, if nothing else – and now he gets to be back in one of the best bands of all time, which has to be an awesome thing, right? I’m a shit guitarist, but I’d take this gig – I’m ready, guys, whenever you want…
So here’s the real catch: I’m an unrepentant Queensrÿche fanboy, for decades now and forever to come. I’ve stuck with this band since the 80s, as hard as it’s been at times, and in the last twelve years, my patience has been rewarded exponentially. These four most recent records have been godsends, starting strong from nothing and then each fitting perfectly with the last, a tale told in multiple parts of a band of (my) heroes, some new and some old. In this tale, these heroes find themselves again, growing stronger across the arc as they pick up the pieces and rebuild their empire by exploring their past and adapting it to their present.
Now a decade into that tale, Digital Noise Alliance continues Queensrÿche’s renaissance. Again produced by Chris “Zeuss” Harris, this latest ‘Rÿche offering sounds killer, sharp and crisp and punchy, like the rest. In the making, Wilton revisited the guitar amplifiers and sounds from the Queensrÿche classics, and those tones are there, coloring Queensrÿche’s bright future with shades of their unbeatable history – it’s not a deciding sonic factor, honestly, to these ears, but what matters most is that Queensrÿche c. 2022 is aware of the need to wrap their classics into their upward trajectory. With that, the frontier laid out by Digital Noise Alliance is one both then and when, and also one here and now; it embraces the building blocks from ages past, and takes them into the new era; it’s a progressive metal band continuing to progress, even as they acknowledge their legacy.
So here’s the realer catch: Digital Noise Alliance is a hands-down massive triumph, the result of a confident band making incredible metal – nothing more, nothing less. As that longtime fanboy, this is exactly the record I wanted Queensrÿche to make in 2022, though I will admit that the bonus cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” was unexpected – but also… surprisingly great. If you like Queensrÿche, then you need this album because this is why Queensrÿche is one of the greatest there ever was.
It’s been a decade since the new age began, and Queensrÿche’s rebirth continues.
And it feels goddamned great.