Queensrÿche Continues Evolutionary Path With 'The Verdict' (interview)
Seattle progressive metal legends Queensrÿche return with their 15th album and major tour. According to guitarist and co-founder, Michael Wilton, it's all just one more stop on a path the seems to go on forever.
1 March 2019
Queensrÿche issued their 15th album, The Verdict, on March 1. It should be no surprise to stalwart fans that the group continues to evolve more than 35 years into its career. The music, always dynamic, remains so on this new set, the first in the group's career not to feature drummer Scott Rockenfield. Instead, the group recorded as a quartet with vocalist Todd La Torre taking over the drummer's throne.
"We're ecstatic about this album," says guitarist and co-founder Michael Wilton, who also credits producer Chris "Zeuss" Harris (Hatebreed, Rob Zombie), with helping the band find the best musical shape for the songs.
Wilton recently spoke with PopMatters about the group's continued evolution and what its future may hold.
Queensrÿche has evolved with each album. The Verdict is still identifiable as you but there are contemporary influences that creep in.
This version of Queensrÿche has been evolving very naturally. A lot of the energy in this material comes from the constant touring we've done in recent years. Being onstage and in front of fans spawned a lot of what you hear on the recording.
As the commercial landscape changes, some bands are having conversations about whether or not to make albums.
We're old-fashioned. We have the alchemy behind us. When we do a recording we view it very much as we did in the '80s and the '90s. That even comes down to the artwork. In our minds, we see it on a record, not a tiny thumbnail on Amazon.
I think one of the more remarkable things about the Todd La Torre era of the band is that the albums are especially lean.
You've got to know when to stop! [Laughs.] But the way that record companies work these days, they want alternate versions of songs, live versions of songs, all that, for different markets. The deluxe box set has two acoustic songs that aren't on the domestic version of the album: "I Dream in Infrared" from Rage For Order and "Open Road" from the 2013 self-titled album. They're really tasty. But you have to buy an import.
I'm glad you mentioned Rage For Order. As much as I love the other records, that one hit me in a very deep place. What do you remember about making that album?
That record was very special for the band. After The Warning we were still discovering who we were. We were a fairly traditional '80s metal/progressive metal band. Rage For Order pinpointed a creative identity. There was lots of experimentation and improvisation, going out on a limb. We just decided to be ourselves.
Queensrÿche albums are littered with little bits of information that you really only appreciate on repeated listens.
It's like peeling away the layers of an onion. With each listen you can concentrate on a different part of the music. Because we experiment in the writing and tend not to be the four-on-the-floor type of band that's possible. We do things in sixes and sevens and threes. But tastefully. It gives the song a little bit of a jolt and it makes it more fun to play.
There are always interesting dynamics.
I know no other. I'm always thinking of the counterpart. I went to music college for a year-and-a-half years, studied classical music and jazz improvisation. It was all about combining passages to create a big color.
Were you interested in production early on as well?
Not really. I'm very right-brained. I was very hungry for the textures in the music and how that all worked, being in a band and creating something that had creative input from different people. I could hear something I didn't hear before and all of a sudden it's in the song and the whole thing takes on a different color. It wasn't until later, when digital came in, around Empire, that I started to think more about that stuff.
I remember sometime around Operation: Mindcrime or Rage For Order, one of our producers brought in a portable CD player. I had never seen one before. We were in awe. He had a CD, I think it was The Pet Shop Boys, and said, "You've got to hear how clean this is!" That's when it really happened for me.
Did you feel isolated, as a Seattle band, in the early days?
It was all Top 40 music. We were in our late teens and going to the record store and looking in the import section for all the metal stuff that was coming from the UK and Germany. The Netherlands. We were buying all those albums. We didn't want to play the hits of the day. I was at my day job in a warehouse, where there was a radio on all the time. I heard "Queen of the Reich" come on and I was trying to tell my coworkers that that was me. They didn't believe it.
Eventually, I got to quit that job.
[Laughs.] It must have felt good to experience some success, then, because you were paving your own way. Your self-titled EP was something that you pressed.
The whole reason EMI picked it up was because we had sold 40,000 units on our own. When you're 19-years-old that's pretty cool. Then you get record companies involved and contracts. We signed a seven-album deal. We didn't know what we were doing. We were just taking advantage of the opportunity. We grew up really fast.
Scott Rockenfield did not play on The Verdict. The first time that he has not drummed on a Queensrÿche album. When you think about him in the development of the band's sound, what sticks out?
All his parts were well written and well-thought-out. That became the inspiration for guys like Todd, who came up listening to our albums. He knows the tasty hi-hat work that Scott does. If you focus on the drum parts on The Verdict you'll hear patterns that are consistent with what Scott did. A few of our drummer friends have commented on the similarities. But Queensrÿche is always evolving. It has to.