Growing up in San Antonio comes with a certain inherent knowledge — it's strange really, like some sort of cultural awareness or collective consciousness. We all know it. Some accept it, some embrace it and some deny it for one reason or another. But, the fact remains, San Antonio is a hard rock and heavy metal city, and that's badass — so deal with it, you naysayers.
The shared memories are forged into a near folk legend legacy, first-hand accounts mixed with stories shared at cul-de-sac barbecues, bars or shows. These experiences become a part of us. Queensrÿche is one of those names that has been embedded in the fabric of rock 'n' roll. If you aren't already a fan, you know somebody who is. We all know something about them, somehow, whether it is a few licks on the guitar (Mark Focus), a vocal melody, or some story regarding the group. Life-shaping accounts of the Joe and Harry Freeman Coliseum along with the Sunken Garden Theater are often shared in the same sentence with Queensrÿche. You know the name. You've seen it in the patches of the denim or leather of the long (or short) hairs. You've seen it on the T-shirts of the smart prog rock guy at school, Robot Monster Guitars, or wherever. You've heard your neighbor, dad, uncle and friend talk about them with nothing but respect and fondness.
Queensrÿche is a technically proficient, solid progressive metal band that has withstood the test of time. With a career greater than 30 years, they have undergone some lineup changes in the not-too-distant past. But, after listening to what the latest formation is all about, the passion and fire are still there, if not more so with the newest members. If I didn't know about the member changes and heard their latest album, Condition Hüman, I would have thought, "Wow, this sounds like Queensrÿche, a little more aggressive with a nod to some modern influence and a particular punch to it, but still, definitely Queensrÿche," which is a pretty impressive thing to pull off. But, after all, this is Queensrÿche we're talking about – they're professionals.
I talked with vocalist Todd La Torre about what it's like being the "new" frontman in the band. La Torre is a cool, confident and easy-to-talk-to professional. He's younger than the founding members and explains what it's like joining a band he listened to while growing up.
"Speaking as an outsider, as a fan of the band and the music — you want to say 'I kind of seamlessly integrated into what they are.' However, people's musical tastes change in different ways. I feel that instead of merging into their traffic and flow of things I've actually come in and t-boned a few things and spun some cars out and said, 'Hey, now we're on track.' By them moving on, they've had a huge barrier lifted from them creatively where they're not being told songs are too heavy or that kind of thing. Because I'm more of a metal guy and I like doing a lot of the harder, heavier music, I think that definitely was a factor in why the band and material sounds this way. I'm able to bring that element back to the band that was missing for a very long time. I don't say it with malice, I'm just being very pragmatic."
The old school Queensrÿche purists have nothing to fear, La Torre explained that they are "still playing a lot of the great songs from the first five or six albums of the band." The new sound "translates a little balls-ier, with a little more bite, but still has all the dynamics that the band is known for."
La Torre notes that "people are always going to compare you to the original guy, it's going on four years since I've been in the band. Each show we play we are proving ourselves, that's very much a part of the equation. Some people are gonna love it, some people are not gonna like me. I know I'm not going to be able to please everybody. That's with everything. There's nothing you can do to change that. It's really a matter of how good you are."
There is more than one person that makes a band what they are. Sure, some individuals make a stronger impact or have a stronger imprint on the identity of the band but sometimes people change, bands change and lineups change. The band's rock 'n'roll legacy goes on. What La Torre brings to Queensrÿche is a perfect example of a legacy that is continuing to be built. See for yourself Friday, January 15 at the Alamo City Music Hall.