A review of a modern Queensrӱche album goes something like this. The band produced one of the best metal albums of all time with 1988’s Operation Mindcrime and set the standard for the modern concept record as we know it in the field of progressive metal. They achieved a commercial peak in 1991 with the MTV hit, ‘Silent Lucidity’, and then fell victim to grunge as a heavy metal anachronism even though they could claim to be Seattle residents in the pre-Nirvana era. Only the diehard fans stuck with them through the 1990s and early 2000s despite some derided records (see 1999’s Q2K and 2007’s Take Cover) and the final departure of iconic frontman, Geoff Tate, after 2011’s abysmal Dedicated to Chaos. The band sacked his wife and stepdaughter from key roles in the management of the group, and it came to blows and a lawsuit in which Scott Rockenfield (drums), Michael Wilton (guitars) and Eddie Jackson (bass) won the right to the brand name, leaving Tate to perform under the Operation Mindcrime moniker. The Wilton/Jackson band have released three records since gaining control of the name, the latter achieving commercial success in Germany, Austria and Finland and receiving favourable reviews. Of course, they will never produce anything as life-affirming as their 1988 masterpiece, but Digital Noise Alliance is yet another reminder that this band’s best days are behind them.
The issue with this album is not the vocal performance of Todd La Torre, who continues to impress with the range and dynamism of his voice. You can’t criticise the bass and drum rhythm section, either. The main stumbling block is the lack of memorable guitar hooks and the predictability of the chorus refrains. As you’d expect, opener, ‘In Extremis’, is one of the stronger compositions with its unusual mix of 1980s hard rock chord formations and dystopian prog metal stylings. The band lean on King’s X for guidance on how to use drop-tunings without surrendering their hard rock roots and even experiment with more obtuse arpeggio formations in the bridge to the chorus. You might feel like it’s 1988 all over again if not for the late-night textures and crimson-brown colour palette. This is a clear negative on ‘Chapters’ and ‘Lost in Sorrow’, both of which sound like a traditional metal covers band without the riffs and choruses to elevate the sense of excitement. Indeed, the latter will only remind you how much you hate the dreadful pop-metal of Def Leppard and Quiet Riot from the mid-1980s.
We’re three tracks into the listening experience, and the omens do not look good, but Queensrӱche remember their purpose in the mid-section and increase the temperature with a neo-thrash approach on ‘Sicdeth’ and a chorus that warrants a fist in the air on ‘Behind the Walls’. Maybe, it’s not so mediocre after all… ‘Nocturnal Light’ uses a Bach fugue to iron out the opening riff in a blaze of electricity and electronic drum samples. Todd La Torre sings the lyrics like a dream master appearing in the discord of a teenage loner who could be the next victim of nefarious political extremists. The band use predictable platitudes about seeing beyond the noise of modern political rhetoric: “No one cares to whisper anymore/ They shout over the other/ No one cleans the floor, the days long gone when less was more/ Take and take, that’s all that they can do, but there’s a better way,” decries La Torre on ‘Hold On’. Is there anything that creates more anxiety in modern rock and metal music than the vicious culture wars and digital isolation of today’s emerging voters?
Does this album earn the right to clock in at one hour? Unfortunately, not. Too many of the songs here are innocuous and unaware of the heavy metal clichés that underpin them. ‘Realms’ would be much better if it made effective use of La Torre’s voice to go with the chugs and bass grooves. Divorce your prejudices from the drama of the last few years and see if you can still hanker for the repeat button. This line up sounds unsure of itself and unable to edit the moments of unnecessary padding that make it such a chore on your headphones. Digital Noise Alliance is not disastrous and has some moments of genuine quality, but expectation levels for this band dipped many years before the release of this LP.
Release Date: 07/10/2022
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: In Extremis, Behind the Walls, Nocturnal Light
Suggested Further Listening: Fates Warning – Parallels (1991), Spirits of Fire – Embrace the Unknown (2022), King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet (1987)