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Usually music has a "shelf-life" for me; even if I still appreciate the music, after a certain period of time I lose taste for bands/albums that I used to like. For instance, the album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was a constant on my playlist circa 2004-2007, and even though I still like the album and the band, I never listen to that album. Nor do I listen to Painkiller anymore, nor Under a Funeral Moon, nor the Keepers of the Seven Keys, nor Imaginations From the Other Side. However, I still listen to Operation: Mindcrime, despite the album having been on my playlists for years.
To be clear, this towers above the rest of Queensryche's discography. Perhaps this was a fluke, but this is the maturation of Queensryche's process. All the trends that had been bubbling since their inception as The Mob come out here in full force, and their habitual overuse of balladry is joyously absent, with the closest we have to a balled being perhaps "Breaking the Silence" or "I Don't Believe in Love", but even then they are still uptempo numbers. Scott Rockenfield is to credit for this, as he has never before (nor since) sounded so alive at the kit. Likewise, DeGarmo and Wilton are on point here, with leads, silky clean chords, and meaty riffs prevalent enough to satisfy me for this many years. I still derive enjoyment from the textures found in songs like Spreading The Disease and Suite Sister Mary, and Geoff Tate's chorused singing only add to this delicious audio. I mean, shit, even if you don't pay attention to the story, this just SOUNDS good. The drums have a nice pop to them, the guitars are loud and steely, and the bass is present and cuts through the mix with Jackson's unique sense of rhythm, and Tate's vocals are balanced perfectly above this mix.
The story is worth taking into consideration, as well. Usually I pay close to zero attention to lyrics but this is different. At times they match the music so well, even before I read the story I kinda had an inkling of what was going on, and after reading the story, it becomes clear how well done the narrative in this story is done, and how well it relates to the music. From the first plot twist (the introduction of sister Mary) to the conclusion in The Eyes of a Stranger, there will be many chills running down my neck every time I listen, and the ending floored me from the first day I listened to it until now, as I hear deeper nuances and allusions and references in the lyrics I missed before. Once I heard every lyric, the whole story made a whole lot of sense; and it also revealed a lot of poignancy to me.
Most importantly, though, is replay value. I'm almost 30. I've loved this album since I was 16. It's still fun to listen to and I've still yet to find a weak song on this. Would I call it progressive metal? Not really, more like experimental heavy metal. But it's genius nonetheless, and something Queensryche wouldn't touch for the rest of their career.
(I rate on a 10 point scale. 2 = unlistenable, 4 = mediocre but has its moments, 6 = good, 8 = great, 10 = classic. Generally 6+ = worth buying. The odd numbers are "in-between" scores.)
For a classic, Mindcrime is an odd album. It is unmistakably, unapologetically '80s, with a pronounced trebly sound, high-pitched operatic metal vocals, and a (male) protagonist named Nikki. It sounds '80s, and it references '80s things -- war on drugs, greedy preachers, the phony enemy that is Communism, etc. It's somewhere between glossy heavy metal and aggressive hard rock, with a progressive pedigree but boasting beautiful, catchy choruses and radio-friendly hit songs.
Essentially, while it is by no means some kind of pop-oriented, image-obsessed hair metal, it's still the type of music that was essentially commercially annihilated by Nirvana's Nevermind in the early '90s -- in a way that rougher bands like Metallica or Megadeth or Pantera, for example, were not.
Despite all this baggage, Mindcrime remains a classic, which is almost miraculous in a way. It just works THAT well, to this day, because it is both a collection of universally great or good songs and a coherent, evocative concept album. About the only negative thing I can say about it -- other than perhaps a couple of clumsy lines from Geoff Tate -- is that its sound can be off-putting to those coming into it with a thrash metal or Black Sabbath sensibility (which, let's face it, describes plenty of metalheads). I remember listening to it for the first time, having heard all these accolades afforded it for years, and initially thinking, "THIS wimpy-sounding '80s rock album is what everyone's been praising?" -- then I listened to it. Again. Again. Again. And the more I listened, the more I became addicted to virtually all its qualities.
Let's start with the story. Mindcrime is a concept album, possibly the mother of all metal concept albums. It tells the story of a junkie named Nikki who gets involved in some kind of shadowy scheme to assassinate people in high places as directed by the evil Dr. X. X provides the drugs and the brainwashing, while Nikki provides his killing skills. Eventually Nikki has 2nd thoughts due to the involvement of his love interest, the ex-hooker Sister Mary, and things unravel from there.
On the one hand the story and characters are full of archetypes, maybe even clichés. On the other hand, the singer Geoff Tate more than sells these. His voice bleeds emotion, and when guest vocalist Pamela Moore participates on one song as Mary, she is his match every step of the way. As important is perhaps the fact that, while ultimately quite focused on these characters, the album is also obviously a form of strong social commentary. In the first half of the album, while Nikki is getting involved in the conspiracy, the messages are political and social and explicitly delivered, with commentary on fighting the drug war, corrupt priests, corrupt politics in D.C., etc. In the second half, while Nikki's life has essentially gone to shit in a circle of drugs and violence, the commentary is more subtle and character-based but still has things to say about the way we treat the dregs of society.
One problem concept albums tend to have is that the story either stands too apart from the music to make much sense, or the two are coupled so closely that the songs suffer from the burden of having to service the story. (For example, try listening to Dream Theater's rock opera with Mangini on drums and tell me that the overwrought concept didn't water down the musicality of the album.) Well, Mindcrime is probably the first and best example of EXACTLY how to do this right. There are something like 15 tracks, of which maybe 5 are semi-musical or spoken interludes, while the rest are honest-to-goodness, actual songs (with story-related asides to start or finish, in some cases). Yes, there is one 10-minute opus with orchestra and guest vocals, almost like a requirement of a prog concept album -- it's called Suite Sister Mary -- which is absolutely fuckin' perfect for what it is, by the way -- but the rest of the album is dominated by regular-length songs.
...And what songs they are. This is an album that absolutely starts strong and then, generally, gets better and better and better, culminating in the two main singles, I Don't Believe In Love and Eyes Of A Stranger. The thing is, the first half leading into Suite Sister Mary is good but perhaps not utterly great. All good songs, but to me -- other than the opening "real" song, Revolution Calling -- they don't quite have that sing-along intensity.
Then Suite Sister Mary happens, and I honestly get jitters throughout the thing, both musically and due to the lyrical interplay between the two lead characters. After that, it's basically just excellence-ville throughout -- brilliant songs stitched together with perfectly mood-setting story-relating interludes of varying musical value. Needle Lies is verging on thrash metal speed, with heart-breaking lyrics about the desperation of drug addiction (something that, if you've personally experienced it, might get you to shed a tear... and this is a very fast song, mind). Then we get the trio of brilliant mid-tempo singles -- Breaking The Silence, I Don't Believe In Love, Eyes Of A Stranger. It's a bleak trio lyrically but musically basically an aural orgasm, with restrained riffing, blazing leads, deep bass, and perfectly enunciated verses with soaringly catchy choruses.
Then it all ends in circular fashion. "I remember now." And if you're like me, that means you're going back to track 1. Again.
P.S. A quick note on instrumentation. I don't really think of this album as a showcase for instrumentalists. The miracle of it, to me, is just the brilliance of the songwriting -- the way the concept and the individual songs are married perfectly. That said, the album has a unique sound and plenty of instrumental pyrotechnics from the guitar duo of Wilton and DeGarmo (the latter doing most of the music writing as well). The solos are all tasteful and perfectly executed and memorable to boot; they're still not strictly "necessary" per se but are all unique and enhance the songs. The rhythm section is thundering, drummer Scott Rockenfield achieving a particularly booming and busy performance -- reminiscent maybe of John Bonham on overdrive? -- and Eddie Jackson's bass providing a satisfyingly heavy and full low end in less guitar-heavy moments such as the verses of I Don't Believe In Love.
Just about everyone who remembers progressive music before Dream Theater was a thing could tell you what Operation: Mindcrime did for the genre as well as what it did for Queensryche’s reputation. While the following release was the one that truly pushed the band into the mainstream consciousness, this album paved the way for its success and for the fortunes of many groups that sought to follow in its footsteps. But with that said, there are several ingredients to Queensryche’s legendary concept album that its imitators never got quite right and a few more that seemed to have never crossed their minds…
While Queensryche has never been a band that stopped experimenting with their sound, this album is their first that is completely focused. While The Warning and Rage For Order respectively dealt with contrasting styles and throwing every idea against the wall to see what sticks, Operation: Mindcrime combines every idea that they have had and condenses it down to a style that is distinctly theirs. The speed runs on “Speak” and “The Needle Lies,” the epic “Suite Sister Mary,” and the various interludes may be exceptions to the rule, but every song on here operates on a steady formula of a mid-tempo pace, some well placed riffs, and an incredibly catchy chorus.
The band dynamic has also seems to have undergone a few changes with this release. Geoff Tate’s vocal prowess was originally the ace up Queensryche’s sleeve, but the other band members have all stepped up in their game. There are plenty of riffs that are just catchy as the chorus lines, the production really brings out Eddie Jackson’s bass performance, Scott Rockenfield throws out some nifty drum beats here and there, and they even let the guy bring out some of his electronic influences on “Electric Requiem.” Also worth noting is Pamela Moore’s performance as Sister Mary for she provides some effective theatrics despite only appearing in the second half of a single song.
But what really makes this album stand out is the fact that the band still hasn’t lost sight of the songwriting process. Despite having a pretty lofty concept to handle and the interludes to spar with, no segment goes on for too long and each song is an absolute classic that is just as enjoyable on its own as is in context with the others.
With that to consider, the highlights will certainly depend on the listener’s personal tastes. I’ve always found “Revolution Calling” and “Breaking The Silence” to be the most emotionally stirring though the crossover appeal of “I Don’t Believe In Love” is something that just can’t be ignored. Even the interludes manage to be entertaining as “Anarchy-X” serves as a brief but powerful prelude while “Electric Requiem” and “My Empty Room” make for memorable set pieces.
Speaking of sets, the album’s concept of the trigger-happy junkie who loses his way is one that cannot be ignored. While the Manchurian Candidate meets Romeo And Juliet plot may seem simplistic at times, the themes of individual songs are what truly sell it as each one has its own things to say about the needs for social revolution, political and religious corruption, drugs, and relationships. You may not be asking yourself who killed Mary at the album’s end but you may find yourself quoting the political rhetoric on “Speak” and “Spreading The Disease” from time to time…
A few bands like Kamelot and Savatage came close to replicating the song-oriented story formula of Operation: Mindcrime, but it is a release that cannot be topped and just might the greatest concept album that the heavy metal genre has to offer. The story might be its biggest talking point but the songwriting and band performances are what truly push it into an ethereal level. And whether you end up listening to the whole thing or just downloading its singles, I think you just might come out of it at the same level of satisfaction. Just don’t think about the subsequent attempts to cash in on its success…
“Breaking The Silence”
“I Don’t Believe In Love”
“Eyes Of A Stranger”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
…or “how we learnt to disguise a singles album with an overblown concept”.
Let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t a bad album but its acclaim is something I find rather curious. Hell, there’s even times when I can sort of get into it; but only for the odd song and even then it’s not exactly the band’s crowning glory. Call me kooky-come-wacky but in my view classic albums aren’t supposed to be ridden with plodding filler tracks. But alas the ‘ryche really tricked people with this one as Operation: Mindcrime still has a reputation as being one of metal’s all-time classic albums. But to me, all it’s got is a few excellent singles in a mire of proggy, conceptual-filler. Apparently people remember filler more fondly if you tell them fans that the filler tracks aren’t even filler: they’re serving the High Conceptual Art ™ and you really must listen to them or else you’ll never appreciate the High Concept ™. The singles are genuinely good – there’s about four songs here that are really rather excellent, but that doesn’t make a classic album now, does it? Moderately entertaining, sure, but I don’t think I could ever mistake this for a great, consistent work.
I think one of the real problems with this album is that it spends way too much time serving its silly concept and even then the story doesn’t come across too well. Certainly, lyrical excellence isn’t something I explicitly need from metal bands but I do find Operation: Mindcrime to be a prime example of a band getting ideas above its station. I mean, really, the story just doesn’t come across that well from the lyrics alone; there’s some guy called Nikki and Doctor Bad Guy, some nurses with English accents, prostitute nuns (oh, the dichotomy!), heroin and some sort of dumbed-down Orwell meets Total Recall vibe running through the whole thing. I dunno, I just feel that the band spend a great deal of time serving a concept that’s perhaps not told particularly well. Say what you will about King Diamond’s concept albums – they’re certainly “sillier” on a superficial level when compared to Operation: Mindcrime – but at least he gives a good sense of character and a sense of movement in the plot. The stories – however fanciful – tend to come together quite well in their given playing time. With Operation: Mindcrime’s first half, I’m often trying to make sense of the plot rather than being immersed in it. All I can make out from this storyline is that there’s some sort of Revolution being planned and that it really needs Big Dumb Choruses to get its point across. I mean, how many times do we need to hear the chorus to the title-track? To the band’s credit it is a catchy song, but it just happens to be that annoying “Argh, please get it out of my head!” sort of catchy. So, let’s just recap some of the main points of the story, shall we?
1. Evil organisations are prone to committing acts of evil.
2. Assassinating nuns is a bad idea.
3. Falling in love with the said nun-cum-prostitute will probably lead to heartbreak.
4. Doing heroin is probably not a great lifestyle choice.
5. If you associate with an evil bad guy your life might not turn out so great.
But never mind me; it’s fucking deep because Geoff rhymes ‘raison d’etre’ with ‘forget’. Truly, this is life-changing stuff.
However, as I previously mentioned there’s a reason that this album is significantly better than Rage for Order and it’s because there’s a good few songs on here that really stand-out as stand-alone tracks. ‘Spreading the Disease’, ‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ and ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ (I guess it’s somewhat bittersweet that there’s such a great finale to such a mediocre album) are genuinely great tracks and, instrumentally, ‘Revolution Calling’ is pretty damn good but Tate really hurts it with the yelping chorus and the lyrics in the verses are just downright silly. It seems to me that this album was such a commercial success because it melded the proggy concept with the pop-metal single and therefore achieved the same crossover appeal as, say, Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Certainly, I can get some pleasure from listening to this just because of how “big budget” it sounds. Operation: Mindcrime is definitely an album that has had a lot of time and work put into it. It sounds like they probably spent all their shiny, yuppie cash on this as it’s so ruthlessly professional and ruthlessly slick. The pacing is meticulous, too, as after every few dull album tracks you’re treated to a delicious pop-metal number. There are plenty of great riffs, too, and overall, the guitar work is excellent. The problem will be often that the band don’t really utilise the riffs to their full-potential or, if they do, Tate’s vocal lines will be letting the side down. However, there’s still moments where everything comes together nicely and while these songs are on I almost feel like I can finally get this album. If I put on the aforementioned excellent tracks I find myself thinking “Hey, this album’s not so bad… I can almost overlook that dumb, convoluted concept”. However, if I play the whole bloated thing from beginning to end I certainly find myself checking the clock and wishing that the instrumentalists would have been given more time to shine. Hell, for a progressive metal album this album is rather short on cool instrumental sections – I could certainly do with more guitar and less Tate. Oh yeah, and fuck ‘Suite Sister Mary’, fuck it on the stupid choir-riddled horse it rode in on.
So, just like Rage for Order before it, Operation: Mindcrime is at its best when it drops all pretence and simply delivers sweet, sweet pop metal for the masses. I do really wish that on this album Queensryche just delivered an excellently produced pop-metal album, with blazing twin lead guitars and massive choruses. Instead we get a stupid half-baked concept getting in the way of everything. Just imagine an album full of songs like ‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ instead of dopey prog like ‘Suite Sister Mary’. You’d have a sure-fire winner there, certainly. I suggest you make a great EP out of ‘Revolution Calling’, ‘Spreading the Disease’, ‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ and the brilliant emotional climax that is ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ and forget about the rest. For me, however, I’m sticking with The Warning. You don’t remember owt!
It would be remiss of me to think of Operation: Mindcrime as a mere album, because to me, personally, it has served more as an institution. Along with records like Port Royal and Somewhere in Time, both of which share a similar, airy eloquence in their production values (thank the 80s), this has become a monumental benchmark by which I've judged much melodic metal I've experienced since. In fact, if I myself was to be locked away in some remote gulag or asylum, stripped of my iPod, but allowed a mere car mirror CD visor worth of metal music to bring along, this would be guaranteed a slot. It's one of those rare cases of a record upon which I wouldn't propose a single alteration. If given the power to time travel and manipulate musical media, I wouldn't change a damned note on Operation: Mindcrime. It was, and remains in my estimation, flawless. Never broken. And never needing to be fixed. Or compromised by its own authors (but that, as they say, is 'another story').
However, despite its massive commercial success, and the endless landfill of praise and detraction that has been laid upon it through the ensuing decades, Operation: Mindcrime is not a record without some baggage, and this I would largely attest to conflicting perceptions of its conceptual merit. Queensrÿche's third full-length was not its first with a unified theme, but the first to really splay it out into a narrative rock opera involving brainwashing, political assassination, and a clear violation of doctor-patient confidence. The band hired on friends and actors to perform brief character roles, and they set it up with a number of briefer story vignettes to round out the metal tracks. For some listeners, this is a huge hurdle, but personally I rather enjoyed each of these pieces, not only for their value to the central theme, but also because of the clinical atmosphere and sense of gravity they lend to the story. They're also musical for the most part, with but one or two exceptions; for instance, "Anarchy-X" is a 90 second anthem with brazen guitars, dual leads and warlike drumming cadence that fully fits with the lengthier cuts. It's not like Pestilence's Testimony of the Ancients, where the interludes seem to be incorporated just for the sheer whim of experimentation. No, these pieces actually seem to belong to their surroundings.
Of course, one of the joys of this album is that it can actually be listened to in two ways: straight through the story sequentially, or by skipping the central narrative and appreciating each of its regular length tracks for their individual values. Some might contain snippets of samples or story, but the lyrics behind a tune like "Eyes of a Stranger", "The Needle Lies", "I Don't Believe In Love" could hold some relevance for a listener whether or not he/she gives two shits about Sister Mary, Father William, or Dr. X. Nor would it take a high intellect to be able to make an 'abstraction' out of "Suite Sister Mary" or the title track. Much has been said of how 'genius' or 'brilliant' the album's concept was. I myself was incessantly exposed to such praise in high school to the point that I couldn't stand it, joyous that, for once, the hairspray-drugged Poison and Bon Jovi crowd, and the male students chasing their tails, had invested themselves in an album of quality. But let's be honest: Mindcrime's story is an average psychological thriller at best. It's not a Gravity's Rainbow, or Foucault's fucking Pendulum. It doesn't have the same pulse pounding action and intrigue as Robert Ludlum's Bourne series. The twists and turns are fairly obvious, and the lyrical diatribe used to convey the tale is hardly complex or inventive prose. That said, though, so what? Compared to most of the driven being spewed upon the radio to glam fans, or the same half dozen issues being beaten to the floor by the more serious metal acts of the 80s, Operation: Mindcrime was indeed something special. Different.
What's more, the music itself is superb. Bearing aside the standalone intro and interludes, which I've discussed above, the level of composition on this album is far beyond that of its predecessors, and needless to say any of the miserable albums since. Tate and DeGarmo, Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield create this monstrous admixture of melody, harmony, atmosphere, power and drama through a riff-set that even for its day would hardly be considered complicated or technical, and yet its impact is timeless. After a few cycles of the ten 'core' tracks, I have never been able to get them out of my head. Aesthetically, this is an album which walks the line between the mainstream hard rock sounds of its day and a slightly more progressive metal inclination. The writing is similar to Rage for Order, but with an exponentially superior polish and level of refinement. I mean, for fuck's sake, I like every single (complete) song on this album more than Rage for Order in TOTAL, and sitting here a quarter century after its release I can't hear a single flake of rust on this whole spectacle. Sure, you could 'date' this to the 80s, but three decades later I find it all too rare that I pick up any album which covers so many bases as this.
All five of the musicians deserve top honors for this feat, but I suppose, to start at the top: Geoff Tate. There is a reason this man built a legacy which brought him in firing range of legends like a Halford or Dickinson. Some consider the guy the greatest vocalist in the field, and you're listening to exactly why. His timbre is impeccable. His range, perhaps not limitless, but so fully utilized that he's the equivalent of a living siren. Had the sailors of antiquity heard this voice through the maritime mists, and changed course to find a naked, German-born man calling them to their deaths from a rocky outcropping, they would have questioned their own sexuality before hull breach and drowning. Higher pitched, inspirational and unforgettable pre-chorus and chorus sequences litter this record like lemmings a cliff-side, and he structures every individual line with skill and quality. Where he hits those highs in "Speak", or "Revolution Calling", or the eternally pleasing chorus to "Eyes of a Stranger", all 6'2", 220 lbs of burly, bald-headed, linebacker-like, (nearly) middle-aged me wants to break down into tears; partly because of the sheer level of emotion inherent in the melodies, and partly because I know I could never sing that beautifully in my entire life, with or without computerized assistance...Tate even excels when it comes to adding a playful or maniacal component to the verses, and his lower range is cautionary, moody and eloquent where it appears.
Yet the chords, leads, and rhythm section support his crystalline delivery brick by brick. DeGarmo and Wilton weave the sorts of gracious, burning melodies over the lattice of backing guitars that I so loved about a song like the Scorpions' "No One Like You". I must have spent hours in my formative years with the instrument scratching out the chorus melody to "The Mission", or the Maiden-esque, opening volley of "Speak" which is probably better than anything those same Brits wrote at their own peak. But the MVP award here might go to the rhythm guitars, which are muscular and spacious, whether chugging or hanging on an open chord. DeGarmo earned a paycheck for the next century with these riffs. If I were to dissect all of the album's central songs, or even "Anarchy-X" measure for measure, remove the drums and bass, the beautiful vocals, the subtle but effective synthesizers, each of the guitar progressions would be enjoyable by its lonesome. That proves just how well-composed this is, and in fact I can barely understand how they were able to arrive at such impressive riffs and vocal lines individually, both so glorious in tandem. The leads, too, are all wonderful, though they've got their work cut out for them to even ATTEMPT to live up to the other riffs and choruses that lead into them.
Jackson and Rockenfield should not evade mention, either, for while the ears might remain affixed to Tate and the guitar harmonies throughout Mindcrime, their steady pummeling is part of the appeal. Jackson's tone is punchy and plodding, especially for a lot of the mid-paced numbers where he's repeated such simple note sequences below the workmanlike gait of the guitars (reference "Breaking the Silence" or "I Don't Believe in Love" for a prime example). Rockenfield doesn't overdo anything here, as usual he gives a mightier than typical approximation of the standard rock beat, but he earns his signature steel cage, and those snare hits really drive home the emotional wait of each mournful chord sequence and palm muted mugging. Nothing too technical, which would feel arbitrary in the universal grasp of these songs, but it sounds like it must have been quite fun to lay these out. James Barton and the rest of the engineers did a knockout job of fusing the varied elements together, none ever too loud that they drown out another, despite the 80s proclivity for setting the vocals so high in the mix. Like the satisfaction of finishing a puzzle, everything seems to snap into place, even the less pronounced components like airy synthesizers and the vocal acting used for the intros/interludes. I still have my original CD copy, and it sounds unbelievable cranked up.
In terms of individual songs, there are no personal favorites, or to be more accurate, they are ALL favorites. I could not choose one over another, since the consistency of quality is omnipresent. Even comparing two of the most 'contrasted' neighbors on the playlist, the 11 minute epic "Suite Sister Mary" with its ominous, operatic choirs, overcast clean guitars, and varied, almost frightening arrangement; to the succinct power metal pummeling of "The Needle Lies", there is no lapse in fulfillment. I suppose the songs that were made singles are sensible, like the soul searing, climactic finale "Eyes of a Stranger" or the hard rock pleaser "I Don't Believe in Love", but even the more unsung entities "Spreading the Disease" and "Breaking the Silence" are better than anything most bands ever concoct in their entire careers. Lyrically, while the album serves to follow its character perspectives with a blue-collar rage, its perfectly cast to the music, and there are a number of unforgettable phrases throughout. 'Twenty-five bucks a fuck and John's a happy man', 'People always turn away from the eyes of a stranger', all great stuff that most of us can relate to.
Like any masterpiece, there will be opposition to a record like this. Hell, even the most recognized chefs attract roaches to their kitchens. Crunch. Operation: Mindcrime is an indisputable, indispensible cornerstone of the progressive/power metal field, even if most bands in this niche seem to take more direct cues from the wonkier Rush-like expressions of an act like Dream Theater. It might not be jammy or improvisational, or as nerdy sounding as Rage for Order, but it was blessed with an accessible edge that somehow managed to blow the lid off the band's potential audience, while not insulting the more underground sensibilities of the serious metal fan. It 'speaks to all of us', if you'll pardon the phrase. While its far from the first rock concept album (the 60s and 70s had some pretty heady stuff), or even the best of its type in 1988 (Voivod's Dimension Hatröss was more interesting, if not musically superior), it set the bar for many to follow it. In fact, it set that goal so high that its own creators have failed to match it since, even with the greater mainstream success of its follow-up Empire. That's the one 'down side' to Mindcrime. It won't happen again. Perhaps the album's narrative saga is not the most brilliant of ideas, but the music didn't get that memo.
Oh, and as for my teary-eyed confession above, well... I never wrote that. Never happened. Forget it. I'm sending someone over. I've got a job for you. Time to make something of yourself. Take this number and welcome to: da-neh-na-neeeeh.
The year is 1988. Ronald Reagan is in the last years of his presidency and the Cold War is nearing its conclusion. Despite rebounding from a severe recession through "Reaganomics", there is still a considerable gap between the rich and poor. Though the Soviet threat seems done for, scandals such as the Iran-Contra Affair have only exacerbated the American public's anger and mistrustfulness of the central government and its leader. Coupled with increased crime stemming from the war on drugs, many Americans are rightfully pissed. With one album, Queensryche encompasses and captures all of these feelings and concepts with the story of a drug-addicted revolutionary part of a conspiracy to clean America of corruption and deceit. Operation: Mindcrime succeeds in not only becoming Queensryche's crowning achievement and a cornerstone in the progressive metal genre, but it may very well be the greatest concept album of all time.
Operation: Mindcrime is a 15-track story about a heroin addict named Nikki who, disgruntled and fed up with the corruption he sees in the government and organized religion, decides to work for the mysterious Dr. X, who uses hypnotism and drugs to turn Nikki into a political asssassin. Along the way, Nikki falls in love with former prostitue-turned nun Sister Mary, who is used by Dr. X's associate Father William for the pleasure of the assassins of the order. As the romance develops, Nikki finds himself in over his head and tries to escape from Dr. X after being assigned a mission he cannot bring himself to carry out. What makes Operation: Mindcrime such an exceptional concept album is that the band is able to tell the story so well that it is very easy and clear to follow. Also, many of the songs are connected together through various interludes. Most concept albums are hindered by interludes as a way to try to separate the story into "chapters', but often times the flow of the story is needlessly interrupted. Queensryche is able to avoid this by having the songs flow continuosly with the interludes and by adding in key dialogue, make them essential to the plot.
While Operation: Mindcrime is considered to be perhaps the greatest and most important progressive metal album of all time (and rightfully so) the sound is actually somewhat different from the band's first two progressive albums The Warning and Rage for Order. While the progressive elements are certainly evident in the deep lyrics and instrumentation (especially in the near eleven-minute epic Suite Sister Mary), the album for the most part adopts more of a straight-forward hard rock/heavy metal feel with even a few flashes of pop. The adoption of a more rock/metal oriented approach actually aids the album in telling the story with catchy choruses and memorable hooks. Revolution Calling, easily the album's best song, not only helps paint the picture of the story about to unfold but is also the very defintion of an anthem with its memorable riff and unforgettable chorus in which Geoff Tate screams "Revolution Calling!" at the top of his lungs. The title track, while not as anthemic as Revolution Calling, has another memorable chorus and helps set the scene for Dr. X. Spreading the Disease, which tells the story of Sister Mary, is fast and in-your-face with powerful energy and aggression. Perhaps the album's biggest hit, I Don't Believe in Love, is not only a heart-breaking power ballad but contains a lot of power and heaviness to help bring out the emotion, once again with the help of Geoff Tate's masterful vocals. The final track and other album hit, Eyes of a Stranger, has a similar feeling of despair to I Don't Believe in Love but contains even more power and heaviness with an almost grinding riff. There is no such thing as a bad song on this album, but these five tracks are really the gems of the album and easily the best in the band's entire catalogue.
One final aspect of the album to note is the vocals of lead singer Geoff Tate. This would be the last album featuring his Bruce Dickinson/Michael Kiske-esque sounding vocals before adopting more of a relaxed style starting with the next album Empire. Though Geoff is and always has been one of the greatest and most gifted vocalists in all of rock/metal, this album he truly goes all out, whether through his melancholic lament in I Don't Believe in Love or his high-powered screams in Revolution Calling and Speak. Guest singer Pamela Moore also does a fantastic job portraying Sister Mary, her duet with Tate making Suite Sister Mary especially memorable.
With slick instrumentation, mind-blowing vocals and a story worthy of becoming an Oscar-winning movie (a Broadway adaptation is supposdedly in the works!), Operation: Mindcrime is without a doubt the greatest concept album of all time. As it perfectly describes the feelings of uncertainty and mistrust during the late 80's, this album is still relevant to the period of uncertainty and unrest that America has been experiencing today. The fact that its story can still hold such relevance more than a generation later is truly a sign of Operation: Mindcrime's greatness.
Queensryche's Operation:Mindcrime was one of a small handful of CDs that introduced me to the metal genre. About 7 years have passed since then, and I am still listening to it at least once a month. It is not far off from being a perfect album. The songs are ingenious; they are insanely catchy, but still maintain this dark undertone that helps progress the story.
The storyline is the driving factor of the album, it's what listeners come to remember above anything else: brainwashing, corruption, drug addiction, prostitution, the works... It flows like a movie, as if each track were just a scene, one part of a whole. But the most amazing part of it is how well the story is told through a series of 15 tracks; each song is so well written and thought-out that they could stand alone, outside the Operation:Mindcrime storyline and still be an awesome song.
The guitar-work is awesome throughout the whole album; just about every track has a riff that will make you want to pick up your guitar right then and there and play along. Geoff Tate's voice is inarguably one of the best in the industry; he has an insanely impressive four-octave range, which you will hear a good chunk of on Operation:Mindcrime. Then, of course, there are the unorthodox drum beats one would expect to find in a progessive metal album. Musically, everything is well placed, balanced, flawless. Operation:Mindcrime also has a few dialogues or spoken parts by its characters, which I usually dislike in my music, but here, they are well done, non-obtrusive, and even welcome.
Queensryche's biggest success is a milestone in metal history, and there are few who would argue with that. It takes music to a whole new level, where it is not just'pleasant sound', but substance and thought-provoking art. It is easy to listen to, yet it is also deep and emotional. Plus, it has one of the best replay values of any CD in my collection. Highly recommended to fans of heavy metal, or fans of almost any branch of metal.
Highlights: Suite Sister Mary, Breaking the Silence, Eyes of a Stranger
Despite not being an avid fan of Queensrÿche, I always thought that “Operation: Mindcrime” would turn me in a fanboy of the band. First of all, because of its marvellous concept, which speaks about Nikki, a guy that has lost his memory and begins to work for a criminal, the famous Dr. X. Of course there's also a love story within the concept: Nikki later meets Mary, a nun, also working for X. One day, Nikki goes to Mary's house, discovering her dead. I won't spoil the story further, so better read the lyrics or search for an entire and detailed description of the concept on Wikipedia.
And most of all, because it is widely regarded as one of the most important progressive metal records ever released. Bands like Dream Theater constantly praise “Operation: Mindcrime” as THE definitive prog metal album, the album that was absolutely essential for the creation of the genre. Well, like I've already said on my review of “The Warning”, I really don't get how so many people worship Queensrÿche as the fathers of prog metal. Yes, their music has some clear progressive elements and touches, but, at least for me, they always were more like a heavy (even with power metal touches) metal band. True heavy metal. Not progressive. If you compare Queensrÿche with Fates Warning (another influential prog band), everything becomes clear. Fates is one thousand times more progressive than Quensrÿche, I mean, compare songs like “Traveller in Time” or “Exodus” with, say, “En Force” or “Revolution Calling”.
Call me ignorant, but, in my opinion, the majority of the songs penned by Queensrÿche are very straight-forward and relatively simple, structure-wise. Really.
So, anyways, let's get to the music. The most distinctive characteristic of this album is the mindblowing vocal performance of Geoff Tate. While he was good on “The Warning”, he here is simply AMAZING. Oh my God, check out “Suite Sister Mary” (a kick-ass song, by the way) for a quick example. He can also sound so emotional sometimes, again, listen to the afore-mentioned song and you'll understand. The man of the record? Yeah, I think so.
As for the guitarists, the guitar playing isn't as raw or aggressive as on the first EP of the band or “The Warning”. The riffs no longer scream “Heavy metal!” in your face, but there are still some interesting ones to be found here, as the main one of “Suite Sister Mary” and the first of “The Needle Lies”. The drumming is extremely simplified, especially if you bear in mind the technical performance Scott Rockenfield delivered on the debut. Still competent though. Ah, and the bass drums are audible this time, thank God.
The album begins with a little intro, in which we hear a nurse talking with Nikki. There are lots of this kind of interludes on this record and despite I usually hate interludes on concept albums, this time they work very well; they are, most of all, USEFUL for us to understand the concept. Anyways, “Anarchy:X” follows, being a small instrumental, and then “Revolution Calling” begins, being a very straight-forward and catchy song. The catchiness is another characteristic of this record, there are lots of sing-along choruses to be found here, that's for sure.
The title track is another highlight; again, its structure is pretty straight-forward but the song kicks ass, anyways. Great performance by Tate. “Speak” is the first low point of the album, a generic number to say the least. The next track is “Spreading the Disease”, ahh, and this one wins the prize for the best song of the album lyrically. Overall, the lyrics are extremely good, but this one is the best of them all, really. “The Mission” is another weak track, before we reach...
The SUITE SISTER MARY. Oh my fucking God, this tune is amazing. Perhaps the only true progressive metal track of the record too. It begins with a little spoken intro, between Nikki and Dr. X. Unfortunately, Dr. Faggot wants our hero Nikki to kill Mary. Son of a bitch! Anyways, a soft clean guitar riff is played then, accompanied by the magnificient Geoff Tate. We then reach a crescendo and a heavy guitar riff is played for the first time, the song slowly becoming heavier and heavier, until Tate begins to scream like a madman, woow!
Anyways, Pamela Moore sings as Mary on this song, doing a pretty competent work accompanying Tate. After some minutes, we finally reach the outro, in which the clean guitar riff played in the beginning is played again. One of my favourite songs ever, indeed. “Operation: Mindcrime” is worth getting just because of this tune, really.
All the songs after this track are pretty weak though, the strongest may be “Eyes of the Stranger”, even though I consider it an extremely overrated take. “The Needle Lies” is a generic speed metal song, “I Don't Believe in Love” a bad ballad, and “Breaking the Silence”, a common catchy tune. The interludes present on this part of the album are great though, from “Waiting to 22” to “Electric Requiem”, I really have to praise the band for having the ability to pull out interludes that remain interesting after all.
So, concluding, the concept is excellent and so are the lyrics, Geoff Tate never sounded so good, and there are some really amazing songs here. However, there's also too much fillers in; the whole listening experience is harmed and so is the durability of “Operation: Mindcrime”. A worth getting album, nevertheless.
Best Moments of the CD:
-“Revolution Calling, revolution calling... Triiiiiim”.
-When Tate begins to sing on “Suite Sister Mary”.
If you're into prog-metal, then it's just about impossible to not know about Queensryches famous Operation: Mindcrime, and the inevitable praise and hype. Does it live up? Not quite, but it's still a masterpiece.
The members of Queensryche aren't quite as talented as those that followed in their footsteps, but they've got some respectable musicians. Geoff Tate does some soaring vocals, but can sometimes sound silly. The guitarist pulls some memorable riffs and solos. The drummer gives some complicated tracks. All of these people though, really rely on being more than the sum of their parts, as they're nothing special individually. And they deliver.
The album starts off with a short mood-setter and immediately goes into the instrumental Anarchy-X, a nice short piece that serves as a prelude to Revolution Calling. Revolution has a great chorus, and is very catchy, a good choice for the single. Operation: Mindcrime, Speak and Spreading The Disease offer up similar but lesser versions of the same thing while furthering the storyline and establishing Nikkis part in the story.
The album really heats up here however, The Mission gives a new character Sister Mary and gives some doubts in a very emotional piece. Suite Sister Mary continues this, giving the longest and most epic piece on the album. Having two vocalists do the work for each character is a good touch, and the song is particularly affecting, and has good tension. The album gets more incoherent after this point, mostly due to the main character being hyped up on drugs, but The Needle Lies helps to establish why it's that way, and returns to the chorus type of song early in the album.
Breaking The Silence and I Don't Believe In Love show Nikkis distress as he further degenerates, with the following two songs setting up how he came into the authoritys hands. (They're short pieces, just used to stitch it together.) And now, the major single, Eyes Of A Stranger, being the second-most memorable, and having the best chorus, I'd suggest trying this one out first.
This album is very much like the bandmembers, which I said before were 'greater than the sum of their parts', meaning that you can't get the full experience just listening to one song. This album is a riveting soundtrack to a betrayal and immorality-laden story. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to know about prog-metals roots, and while this album fails to distinguish many of its songs as their own, they make an impressive package altogether
Highlights: Revolution Calling, Suite Sister Mary, Eyes Of A Stranger
When one finds themselves in a serious discussion among one's peers on the subject of the concept album, it is rarely considered in good judgment to exclude Queensryche's third album, the definitive classic Operation: Mindcrime. Along with the Who's rock opera Tommy, Dream Theater's somewhat superfluous Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, and W.A.S.P's The Crimson Idol (among others), Operation: Mindcrime is consistently and tirelessly associated with the best and brightest concept albums ever conceived. And I'm still unsure why that is. Despite all the hype and endless praise from the collective progressive metal fanbase, I can't grasp it's supposed allure; this album appealing to me about as much as Extreme's Pornograffiti album.
It's not the storyline; on the contrary, the tale that Queensryche has told is one of intrigue and suspense. I even found myself drawing a few parallels to Orwell's 1984, a classic of dystopian fiction that this album surely took some inspiration from. But it's a story that seems like it would have played out much better as a novel, or even as a screenplay. The concept album format almost exclusively makes the storyline of an album a bit difficult to follow, even more so if the listener isn't taking the time to read along with the lyrics in the sleeve. So for an album of this type, it's usually necessary to listen to it several times before one finds that they truly understand and appreciate it the way it was meant to be heard. And for that to be possible, the album (musically) must be compelling enough to warrant a second, a third, or a hundreth listen-through in its entirety, however long it takes before the listener 'gets' it. And that right there is where Queensryche failed me as a listener. Zero compulsion to listen to it again.
And it's not the fault of the band's playing either. No, these are men of talent and vision. Eddie Jackson's walking bass lines often call to mind the playing of Getty Lee, while Chris De Garmo's playing is restrained by tact and purpose, never once perceptible as pretentious or showy. And Geoff Tate is fucking amazing. He soars like an eagle and commands a stunning lower register that compliments the mellower parts of the album tremendously. There's plenty of parts where you can be assured that James LaBrie was taking notes, as a good bit of his singing sounds like what Tate was doing here. But a performance can only be as grand as the songs that are being performed. And here lies the only actual flaw on this album, the reason I haven't bothered to listen to it twice nor consider it in the upper echelons of the conceptual album realm: these guys cannot write for their lives.
Here they are, putting out their most daring album lyrically, poking fun at our government and our society while casting a grim forecast of dystopia, and they never bothered to make the songs interesting. This is where the album parallels with said Extreme work musically: it's slighty elevated 80's pop metal, praised for its higher quality of lyrical aptitude while remaining generally dull instrumentally. The psuedo speed metal in "The Needle Lies," those half chord half stop-for-a-second-to-highlight-the-vocals riffs that bands like Motley Crue and Winger were so fond of back in the day (see the title track for an example), the poor use of keyboards for 'atmosphere' in the segue tracks. All these grievances and more occur repeatedly throughout the album, that while remaining listenable, fails to enthrall. The only thing that excites me at all about this album's songwriting is Queensryche's masterful ability to create an aura of tension. "Suite Sister Mary," despite its 10+ minute length, manages to form a suspenseful, frantic mood (partly due to the lyrics) that is damn near astounding. They sort of do it again on "Eyes of a Stranger" and there's hints of it at other times, but it's the closer for that first side that makes this entire album alright in my book. Few other artists can create a mood like that, so credit is given where it is certainly due.
But by the end of the album, I still am left with the feeling that I'd rather have seen Operation: Mindcrime the movie than have listened to the album. The band wrote lyrics that they could not accommodate properly with their music, leaving more dissatisfaction than pleasure. If this is considered their masterpiece, I fear for the quality of their remaining back catalogue I've yet to experience. One can only hope that a band with a reputation like Queensryche's could at least deliver one completely solid album.
[UPDATE 4/25/09: Having picked up a cheap copy of the album on cassette, I decided to give it another chance. But despite a few listens over the past few days in various environments, my opinion stands. For all of the pomp and circumstance that comes with Operation: Mindcrime's legacy, it offers very little in the way of the replay value and depth an album of its billing (not to mention its reputation) is supposed to offer. Obviously some love the thing, but you may find, as I already have (twice), that's it's much less than indispensible.]
Some have stated that this album was a bit ahead of it's time, and based on the gigantic barrage of concept albums put forth by the likes of Rhapsody, Luca Turilli, Iron Savior, Avantasia, and even Dio's Magica in the late 90s and the early 2000s, it is a fair assessment. If albums like this band's first full length album "The Warning", Helloween's "Keeper" albums, and Dio's "Last in Line" pioneered merging the genres of metal and 70s progressive rock, this is the album that made it universally accessible both to a wide audience and to a large number of bands.
Many in the metal community have dubbed this album a sell out, but the only aspect of the band that seems to have changed since the warning is a stronger production. Queensryche has never really been a speed metal band, although their first release had elements of it, they have always been a more progressive metal act, even before the term was coined. The NWOBHM was not known for having keyboard tracks, nor for obscure concept albums, both of which were present on "The Warning". And as to the image factor, you don't sing or play an instrument with your clothes, get over it.
The concept of this album is a bit nebulous, many critics were quick to label it a blanket condemnation of the Reagan years in America, but this only is the case if you only listen to the first 5 or 6 tracks on the album. What I think that DeGarmo, Tate, and the others are actually suggesting with this story is a bit more universal and far-reaching that mere 80s political polemics.
Dr. X is a prime example of a criticism I've often had of the various people trying to reform the American government, the cure is 5 times as grotesque as the disease it claims to be opposed to. Dr. X is actually a rather clever philosophical figurehead for a kind of person that has been with humanity since the beginning of time, the manipulator. In olden times we referred to him as the witch-doctor, the one who instigated the atrocities of history by inspiring the Attilas, Genghis Khans, and the Ottoman Empires of the world to strike out at what they defined as evil. The modern witch-doctor that X portrays is a combination of the idiot-philosopher who can manipulate the ideology of the impressionable student, and the drug pusher who sells an alternate reality as a reward for serving his ends. The idiot-philosopher label can apply to people like Kant, Marx, Hegel, Rousseau, and other collectivists who inspired irrationality and then destruction.
Nikki and Mary are essentially the masculine and feminine incarnations of the primary victims of both the drug pusher and the idiot-philosopher, the impoverished and the socially rejected. Both of them are alienated and easy to manipulate, and also believe themselves to be completely unable to control what is going on around them. The very premise of "Operation Mindcrime" is the ability to control the minds of others, and the result is a very dark story. Although such stories don't further any positive philosophical causes, as was the case with George Orwell's 1984 (which unlike Ayn Rand's Anthem did not offer solutions to the dilemma of the tyranny of the government/majority), they do entertain quite effectively.
The music on here is essentially a collection of mid to up tempo prog. metal classics. Fast paced rocker "The Needle Lies" is probably the most energetic of the bunch, while more mid-tempo rockers like "Spreading the Disease" and "Revolution Calling" see a large emphasis placed on lyrical storytelling and powerful choruses. In fact, there are choruses in any song on here that come close to being forgettable, by any standard.
The overall pacing of the album is fairly similar to that of a fictional novel. There is a spoken exposition at the beginning, followed by an anthem-like musical overture. The only real flaw here is that any listener with a short attention span might have a hard time getting past 3 minutes with no singing. Once we get to "Revolution Calling" the album picks up and never really tapers off. The pacing of the songs slows a bit in the middle to give more time for story, but then gets ratcheted up big time right after "Suite Sister Mary" when Nikki's character falters in his attempt to escape from Dr. X's control. Every full length song afterwards is extremely powerful and pushes the story all the way to it's horrid conclusion in "Eyes of a Stranger".
The instrumental and vocal performances on here are spot-on from start to finish. If I had to pick a favorite song for Tate's singing, "Breaking the Silence" and "Suite Sister Mary" are tied for the best. The greatest overall instrumental performance would be a toss up between "The Needle Lies" and "Revolution Calling". And my favorite solo goes to "Breaking the Silence", which also gets my pick for best overall song.
In conclusion, this is obligatory listening for any fan of melodic and progressive metal. This album represents, along with "The Warning", the missing link between the music of Rush and the forward looking music of today's Prog. Metal scene. The only real complaint I have about this album is that I don't think the story of the concept album is up to par with Rush's philosophically inspired lyrics. It is an excellent work of fiction, but the message it carries is one that leaves little hope for mankind. Perhaps I ask to much of today's artists, but in life all is not outside of our control, and I would give the philosophical edge in the metal scene to unapologetic bearers of triumph over adversity, such as Lost Horizon as the heirs of Rush's philosophical fortune. Of course, had it not been for Queensryche, Lost Horizon would probably not play the way they do.
As this is my first review, I thought it was only fitting that I write it about the greatest album ever: Operation: Mindcrime.
Nothing you have heard about it, or read, can actually prepare you for what you're going to hear. It's thought provoking, insightful, beautiful, and it tells one hell of a story while it's at it.
I suggest all of you who haven't heard it to hear it, because if you don't, you really are missing out on one of the greatest records, ever.
Now that the preaching is out of the way, I can talk about the songs.
The album begins with "I Remember Now", a track that clocks in at just over a minute. It sets the mood, as we meet Nikki, a drug addict who has just woken up from a drug induced sleep, recovering his memory of the events that have transpired.
The next track, "Anarchy-X", starts immediately where the previous track left off. This is the literal beginning of the record, as in the background we hear Dr. X telling all of his minions about the plan he has. This song is instrumental, and it has some very good guitar work, and the drums are top notch. Also of note is this is the first song that we hear an orchestra in the background.(the orchestraton was done by the late Michael Kamen) More than a few of the songs have orchestration in it, and it really adds a since of "Wow, this sounds fucking epic" to the table.
"Revolution Calling" is one of the albums best cuts, and it's where we get to know Nikki, and how he came to meet Dr. X.
"Operation: Mindcrime", the title track, is our first look at Dr. X, and what the whole fucking album is all about. It's a great song.
"Speak" is another strong song, and it shows how Nikki is now basically brainwashed to Dr. X's plan.
"Spreading the Disease" gives us our first look at Sister Mary, Nikki's love interest in the album. She went from being a whore, to being "saved" by a church.
"The Mission" is easily in the top five of the album. The chorus is god like, and the guitar playing is some of the best the band has ever done. This is where Nikki meets Sister Mary, and falls in love with her.
"Suite Sister Mary", the album's longest track clocking in at just over ten minutes, is one of the album's most epic. It starts with Dr. X giving Nikki the order to kill Mary, and Father William. This song is fucking incredible. The duet between Geoff Tate and Pamela Moore is unbelievebly well done, and the choir and orchestra really help flesh the song out.
"The Needle Lies", in my eyes, is the weakest song. I love it, make no mistake, but compared to everything else on here, it's lacking something. This is where Nikki confronts Dr. X, and wants out. But he's the only one that can help Nikki get his fix.
"Electric Requiem" is easily the album's most disturbing track. Nikki finds Mary dead, apparently killed.... but by whom?
"Breaking the Silence" is absolutely fan-fucking-tastic. The chorus is booming, the Chris DeGarmo solo is awe inspiring, and the sense of emotion in this song is breathtaking. Throughout the song, Nikki wanders throughout the city, calling to Mary and not wanting to let her go.
"I Don't Believe in Love" is when Nikki is finally caught. All that yelling got the Cops' attention, and they figured out that he might be connected to the slayings of some political leaders. The song is absolutely wonderful, and features another jaw dropping solo by DeGarmo.
"Waiting for 22" is an interlude to the next track, but it's definately worth mentioning. It's basically an un-distorted guitar and a couple of distorted guitar solos by DeGarmo, but it really sets the mood for what's to come.
"My Empty Room" is next, where Nikki is all alone, wondering what will become of him.
and finally, we come to the album's closer, "Eyes of a Stranger". This is easily the best of the album, and the best song Queensryche will ever write. the build up is amazing, and the song is just something you have to hear. Easily one of, if not THE best closer, ever.
Getting to the lyrics, they're very well written by Tate, and they're sung even better. Geoff Tate will never sound this good again. The story unfolds with such grace, you'll forget you're listening to an album. Almost every track bleeds into each other, which creates a very seamless experience. The ending is sort of a cliff hanger, and to finish the story you'll have to give the soon to be underrated Mindcrime II a listen. That album is very good in it's own right, and kudos to Tate and Co. for having the balls to write a sequel.
Seriously speaking, if you have not heard this album yet, you need to. It's the reason I listen to music.
When Queensryche emerged onto the metal scene in the early 80’s they were seen as another glam metal band. With early releases such as The Warning and Rage for Order they proved that they were slightly more than that with a deep political background to many of their lyrics. However it wasn’t until the release of
Operation: Mindcrime in 1988 that they truly proved how wrong early assumptions were of this Seattle Metal band.
Operation: Mindcrime is indeed a concept album and is even verging on a rock opera. It tells the story of Nikki a street-wise punk who relies on his addiction to keep going who becomes a hit man for an underground group. Mary is a long-suffering girl who after living by a prostitute is seemingly rescued by Father William but once again ends up being left open to abuse. Dr X is an evil twisted leader of an underground group that on the outside is a freedom-fighting group but beyond the publics knowledge lays o dark secret. These characters lives start separately but this story and this concept is knitted together fantastically as the plot develops. To tell you the whole story would take ages, but now more importantly onto the songs.
We open with a scene setter “I Remember Now.” Here we hear a half dazed patient confused as the nurse puts him to sleep. His words are haunting and this is incredibly atmospheric and is a perfect to set the mood. The mood continues in the short instrumental “Anarchy X” this also sets the scene especially of the political side of this novel as crowds are heard screaming for revolution.
“Revolution Calling” is the first full song and it is by all means a classic and one of the most well known songs from the album. The lyrics are deeply socialistic and incredibly thought provoking. But lyrically aside this is a fantastic song! Vocally Tate is sensational throughout and excels in the chorus. He hits the high notes and they are unbelievably high effortlessly and flawlessly. The guitars are strong and powerful and the song is in general a great one and the anthem of the album.
“Operation: Mindcrime” the title track is not one of my favourite tracks but is a strong track none the less. It is another atmospheric track that does a lot of story telling and gives us the background of Nikki. Again haunting lyrically as Nikki’s background and involvement with Dr X begins, all in all a solid track.
“Speak” starts off with a very memorable riff and doesn’t disappoint in general. This is another deeply socialistic song that also covers the public message of the socialist group. Some interesting ideas are conveyed such as ‘Burning the Whitehouse down.’ With a memorable riff and solid vocals from Tate it is a strong track again.
“Spreading the disease” is my favourite song on the whole album. It is the story of Mary and her life of suffering. It contains another haunting line as to the priests actions “He takes her every week on the altar like a Sacrifice” As well as by the end a full blown political message. This song contains a great riff, with a great quick paced drumbeat to back it up. Tate is vocally at his very best again here and it’s unbelievable how he hits some of the notes here, as it goes from verse to chorus it is incredible how Tate belts it out. Great song.
“The Mission” opens with the words of a preacher and then slides into Nikki’s assassination of the priest. This is another strong song, and again Tate is strong vocally. This involves a great guitar solo too. It conveys Nikki’s confusion and develops the love story that every good story needs perfectly. It shows the way Nikki’s head has been manipulated.
“Suite Sister Mary” is this albums epic, perhaps overlong at 10 minutes though it is undoubtedly a good way to spend ten minutes. More subtle vocals from Tate as well as the atmospherics from the backing coir vocals and musical side is great in the first 3 minutes until it picks up pace wise without losing the atmospherics. Of course this is the big story teller and develop[s the love story and Nikki’s choice whether he can follow orders to kill his lover or not. Perhaps overlong, but a great song none the less!
“The Needle Lies” this speaks of Nikki;s confrontation with DR X and the pain of his addiction. It’s refreshing to hear anti drugs from a metal band in the 80’s. The drumbeat is phenomenal again as is Tate’s vocals the guy is absolutely sensational. Again this is powerful, high range singing and as ever the emotion comes out in abundance. This is once again a great song.
“Electric Requiem” is another scene setter as Nikki finds Mary dead in her room apparently she’s committed suicide and again this is incredibly atmospheric. This is as I said a scene setter but it contains a short display of vocals, which are once again incredibly impressive and softer than others in this album!
“Breaking the Silence” is the next track and one that conveys Nikki’s frustration and emotion after losing Mary as he calls but no answers. This is one of the more catchy songs and was one that stood out early it is again impressive and solid in every department. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Time and time again I am left in awe of Tate’s vocals and also listen out for a nice DeGarmo solo.
“I don’t believe in love” continues the trend and is almost a case of Nikki trying to forget Mary. Not one of my favourite tracks while still good, again you can’t fault any department and once again Tate’s vocals soar through it and it’s a pleasure to listen to as always. There is also some nice guitar work, with a crunching and catchy riff here and DeGarmo proves he can belt out a solo, without being over the top he makes a tuneful impressive solo.
Next is another scene setter and the second instrumental of the album “Waiting for 22” Sure you would not consider it as a great instrumental song in it’s own right but that’s not it’s design, it’s design is to build up what’s to follow and it does so brilliantly. The eerie tune works wonders. “My empty Room” is another short song, that once again contains speech and a vocal display by Tate, both of these link us to the last song and work wonders building up the ending! Conveying Nikki’s emotion before he’s taken away as we await the ending.
The ending comes in “Eyes of a Stranger” one of the softer and all be it stronger tracks on the album. This closes the story as we are taken back to the hospital where the story begins. All readers of this will be sick of hearing this but we are once again treated to some marvellous vocals from Tate. Haunting, atmospheric it is a perfect closure it’s one of the longer songs to at 6:38. The suspected is confirmed as it is Nikki who was speaking at the beginning, his finishing words while inconclusive are haunting “I remember now”
To sum up this is a phenomenal album and is my favourite album of all time. It has everything from a story point of view, you can pick more and more up every time you listen to it. Song wise it has everything, an anthem, love songs, ballads an epic, short atmospheric instrumentals! Vocally Tate is one of the greatest singers in metal and rock for that matter. The great sing about the music is it doesn’t show off while being impressive, and musically enjoyable to listen to. If you like any of what you’ve heard of Queensryche this is something you must listen to. If you like variety, value the vocal side highly, progressive lyrics, have an interest in politics and want a little bit more form your metal this is an essential album.
When i started to think about what album i wanted to be my first review for this site, i got together a few releases which, over the the past 20 years, became very important to me. "Operation : Mindcrime" was one of them.
Thinking about which album i should choose, it became more and more obvious that "Operation : Mindcrime" was the only right choice, simply because it is the album that defined my taste in music the most. Even though i already started listening to metal a few years earlier and i knew the most important bands by the time "Operation : Mindcrime" was released, this album did 100 % fit my view of how metal should sound.
So, what does make this album so special to me and thousands of other fans? I guess everyone does have his own explanation of that question, since everyone does experience music in his own way.
In my opinion it's the fact that "Operation : Mindcrime" at the time, and even today fifteen years after his initial release, it's the perfect symbiosis of the lyrics/storyline and the music. And in a time when a certain "faster, heavier and louder" mentality took place in the metal scene - first by all the speed/thrash metal bands and later through the death/grindcore movement - Queensryche managed to compose interesting music by varying the speedy and melodic parts and creating their own style. By doing that they created a timeless masterpiace, which is still able to fascinate alot of fans. They simply were able to perfectly transfer the feelings of the lyrics into the way of playing the music. By listening to the music you are basically able to feel the hate,anger, desperation, fear etc. which Nikki (the main person of the lyrical story) goes through during the 60 minutes of the album.
The compositions on "Operation : Mindcrime" offer almost everything a fan of good music (and i'm not just talking about metal my friends) should like. From faster parts/songs like "Speak" and "The Needle Lies" to songs with balladesque parts "The Mission" on to progressive (almost classical) structures in a song like "Suite Sister Marry" - this album offers everything . Actually i shouldn't have taken out specific songs, since the whole album only works perfect as a union. Of course every song on the album could speak for himself, but only by listening to the whole album, reading through the lyrics you will find out what a fantastic piece of music Queensryche created at the peak of their career.
The lyrics of "Operation : Mindcrime" reflects a fictionous story about a guy called Nikki who is getting in touch with Dr. X the leader of a religious/political underground organization. Nikki is becomming a tool of Dr. X's organization that uses him as an assassin to kill political and economical leaders of the US Nikki. At first Nikki, who probable is unemployed person with drug/alcohol addiction, believes in the goals of Dr. X and his organization. But after he got the order to assassinate the person he loves, Sister Mary, he begins to rethink his situation and starts to realize the wrong path his life has taken. He, for the first time, doesn't follow Dr. X's orderes because he wants to safe Sister Mary's life. Mary gets killed by somone else, leaving Nikki in his desperate sitution.
Within the storyline of the actual album Queensryche managed to "hide" some critical lyrics such as the middle part of "Spreading The Disease" :
Quote : " Religion and Sex are powerplays, manipulate the people for the money they pay, selling skin, selling god, the numbers look the same on their credit cards, politicians say no to drugs, while we pay for wars in south america, fighting fire with empty words, while the banks get fat and the poor stay poor and the rich get rich and the cops get payed to look away as the one percent rules america".
Even though those lyrics were written 15 years ago, they contain lot's of true facts that still have validity nowadays. Some critic once described Queensryche's style as "thinking mans metal" by reading this small part of the lyrics you may understand what that critic meant.
What else to tell you about this monumental album ?
Well, the musicians especially vocalist Geoff Tate delivered their best work and displayed them as the most perfect union.
Now back to the headline of this review, is "Operation : Mindcrime" the most perfect metal album of all time ?
Well in my opinion it is not, but only because there will never be such a thing as a perfect album.
If there was something like a perfect album, "Operation: Mindcrime" would be very close to that status.....VERY VERY close.
So to all of you out there that might not already know this masterpiece, get out and buy it - i'm sure you wont be dissapointed.
(c) Stormrider 2003
In 1988 there was released a masterpiece of progressive/power metal, one that demanded to be listened to in one sitting, one that grabbed one's attention from the beginning and refused to let go until a good five minutes after the end...
but this isn't a review of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. THIS particular album in question (Operation: Mindcrime, for those that forgot!) is not bad, but it really does suffer from being overlong. There are some really, truly great songs here. However there are some that just lose one's attention, and thus don't keep the story going as well as they should. Also, there are just a bit too many interludes, and not enough heavy fucking metal moments. This is no Hanging in the Balance.
Highlights... "Spreading the Disease". On the song level, this just fucking works marvellously.
Too many songs suffer from the "let's accent the vocals" syndrome. For example, "I Don't Believe in Love" has one of the best intro riffs ever. Then it dies for a while, before coming back with a truly impressive melodic part at 2.52. Judas Priest is damn proud. Same with "Revolution Calling". The best ballad is probably "Eyes of a Stranger", which works well as a closing piece.
The overlong... Suite Sister Mary has its moments. The intro operatic vocals are amazing. Geoff on the other hand sounds fairly ordinary at the beginning, as does the random chick. Some awesome guitar work in here too, but it just doesn't tie in right. Also, too many intros. There is an intro song to the intro song!
As for the concept... awesome! Somewhere in here, a 46 minute masterpiece is waiting to get out.