By Paul Southwell
Seattle means grunge to many but prior to that scene, one band, which worked hard to hone their own identity in the hard rock world was the regularly praised band Queensrÿche. Their classic 1988 concept album Operation Mindcrime remains both a highly respected, influential work and a document of the band’s musical development. They went on to have both remarkable chart topping success with subsequent releases as well as venturing down various avenues since with varying degrees of success. Of late, having survived recent band turmoil involving a split with a key member now sorted out in the legal realm, the band has risen from a near career dive bomb with a sense of ongoing purpose to release a cracking new album titled Condition Hüman which is heavier, full of harmonies and gladly references their signature old school sound without losing touch with current musical changes. Currently on tour with the Scorpions, Heavy Mag finally managed to get a hold of founding guitarist and songwriter, Michael Wilton.
Asked about the new album having that unmistakable Queensrÿche sound, Wilton is confident and enthused. “It sounds like that because you have the three original guys who started the whole thing. The sound is all ingrained and just a matter of pulling that out with the performances,” says Wilton. “It was more burning the inspiration and how we recorded the instruments back in the day to bring that Queensrÿche flavour into a 2015 setting.”
As for song writing, gearing songs for performance is a rusted on method. “I always wrote songs to be riff based and to sound cool live,” recalls Wilton who soon explains how technology and the resultant intricacies therein has been both incredibly helpful yet potentially detrimental to creativity. “If I have an idea that I am recording into software, I play the damned riff at a good volume to know if it kicks ass live. That is how it reaches people. Technology is about convenience. Five albums of the Queensrÿche history on a little usb key,” he notes, with tongue in cheek on discussing digital amplifier modelling options today and the way bands can now travel light thanks to technology.
Producer Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris was also a notable contributor to the album having both musicality and dramatic impact. “Chris believed in this project; the songs and the potential in the song arrangements,” explains Wilton. “Being a fan of the first six Queensrÿche albums, he knew there was a magic with the way the music was built. He was able to take the songs for Condition Hüman and make the best arrangements. It wasn’t about radio format, it was whatever the songs needed.”
Guitar heads will also be happy to hear some ripping lead parts with song Hellfire being a great example. “Yeah, we got into this one musical chasm and I told Parker [Lundgren – second guitarist], ‘just play the most melodic fast thing you can make up’ and he did. All that super fast playing was him doing that in a matter of fifteen minutes.” There are also some nice tones throughout with good use of music theory put into practice. The title track includes atonal chord usage creating unresolved tension. “That is in my DNA,” confirms Wilton. “I like hearing that as music needs to breathe. It comes from a classical background with movements going into different keys. You can also hear it on the older albums where I accentuate it a bit more.”
Their hit song Silent Lucidity from the 1990 release Empire was something of a gift from planetary alignments. “It was just timing,” offers Wilton. “When that came out, it was a different world. Record companies were big, MTV and VH1 were playing metal videos and we just connected at the right time. All you can do is not try to write a hit or radio song but be true to what the songs wants.”
Songs from Operation Mindcrime such as I Don’t Believe in Love, Revolution Calling and Suite Sister Mary are set list requirements. Asked how a concept album runs a narrative thread without becoming too locked down, Wilton is forthright. “It was a combination of everybody working together, having a good story and good songs. It is like a puzzle, putting it in order to give it a flow like a book or film.”
As for the 2006 sequel Operation Mindcrime II, he is philosophical and contextual. “The original was when you had the band firing on all cylinders,” comments Wilton. “It was the original writers. The second one was different writers and bunch of people playing on it. It was a good attempt but there is nothing like the original. Operation Mindcrime was something we really believed in but it was not until MTV played video of Eyes of a Stranger that the album took off. It was touring with Metallica [where they saw the pre-release of the One video on the tour bus] and getting on MTV got the album platinum. Metallica fans were rabid so it was challenging to open up for them.
Today’s latest album continues the use of eye catching cover artwork. “We wanted to make an impact,” clarifies Wilton. “The little girl in the white dress symbolises pristine innocence and as she is wiping away the glass, a Tri-Ryche appears. She views a world of darkness outside the window. It symbolises us asking where pristine innocence fits in such a dark, jaded world?” It is a lofty topic that fans may associate with, diplomatically put, personnel events in the last few years. “Sure, the songs are all stories in themselves. They paint a larger picture of a bigger subject as you dive into the lyrics, look at the album cover and see how it relates to the songs. Queensrÿche is unique and always have been so why not be that with the songs and the album cover? There is nothing like holding an album cover while experiencing music. As a kid it gave me the images in my mind of the music playing.”
Given what the band has been through what new experiences are they new to venture towards? “Right now, we’re just rebuilding Queensrÿche,” replies Wilton. “The main thing is to get to as many different countries as possible and maybe hit some new countries. I think that is the goal of the whole band, to keep growing and playing live as much as we can.”
Condition Human is out now via Century Media Records.