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I set my expectations reasonably high for this. The first album is an absolutle masterpiece, one of metal's best, and one of my favorite albums. I'm obviously going to be highly critical over a sequel to it.
After listening to the album for a few days now, I have to say, Queensryche have put out a not perfect, not amazing, but GOOD album, which does not desecrate on the original in any way.
I'll get into the good stuff first...
- Guitar solos. All over the place, and they rule. Wilton and Stone did a fine job, and shouldn't leave anyone dissapointed in that department. We all know that Degarmo's soloing talent is going to be missed, but these two do a very good job of almost making you forget about him.
- The guitar and drum production is solid. As many have been saying from those who have reviewed it already, it's very similiar to the original.
- The songwriting. This obviously was my biggest concern about this album, seeing as one of the major writers of the original (Degarmo) was not involved with this project. However, Tate and Co. have created songs which sound similiar in style to the original, while fusing a bit of their modern sound in as well. I know, most of you are cringing reading that (I would be as well if I hadn't already heard the album), but it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. The riffs aren't as catchy as the original, and are a bit more gritty. They contribute to the darker tone that this album is trying to present, and it fits quite nicely... at least for the most part.
- "I'm American" is a great opener, which is guaranteed to bring back memories of the original, both musically and lyrically. Saying you don't like this song is like saying you don't like "Revolution Calling" or "The Needle Lies" off OM1.
- Dio's guest appearance is absolutley great, but then again, I had very little doubt that it wouldn't be. His duet with Tate is one of the highlights of the album.
Things that surprised me...
- the overall tone was much much more darker than I had expected. Yes, it's a dark story, but the grittier riffs, and the ambient synth / keyboard work give a very eerie tone throught.
- I expected more recurring melodies from the first album, and aside from a few noteable spots (the beginning of the Hands has the same chord progression as Breaking the Silence, and the riff from Anarchy X makes an appearance at the end of A Junkie's Blues), they weren't present. There are a few places that a modulation of a riff or a melody will appear for a few seconds, but you would serioulsy need to scrutinize to find it. That's a shame... I feel they could have maybe brought back a few more distinct riffs in a places to keep an even more common musical theme throughout the story. Anarchy X should have been the albums opener instead of burying it at the end of one of the later songs! Instead they opted for a new opener. It still was effective, but not nearly as good as OM1's classic opener.
And now the not so great stuff...
- Overuse of the synth. Yes, it was there on the first, but it was perfectly in balance. No overuse whatsoever. I understand what they wanted to create this "dark and eerie" tone, but at points, it's a bit much.
- The interlude songs aren't nearly as cool as the first. "Circles" immediatley springs to mind. It's boring, it lasts for two minutes, and it's mostly just noise over a guitar tone.
- Despite the abundance of really good songs, we've got a couple clunkers (at least musically)... "Speed of Light", "Circles", "If I Could Change it All" and the closer "All the Promises." These songs plod along at a stagnat pace with riffs that aren't as catchy or powerful as you'd like them to be. Speed of Light is anything but, staying mostly at mid pace, and then moves into a riff section towards the end which just doesn't flow at all. In some places, you'll be nostalgic for the tempos and melodies of "Spreading the Disease" and "The Needle Lies." There here on this album, but not in the afformentioned songs.
- The closing song, "All the Promises" is VERY anti-climactic. I was hoping for something as epic as Eyes of a Stranger for a closer and was a bit dissapointed. Instead, we get a very artistic, somber exit. Don't get me wrong, it's a well done acoustic ballad including a vocal duet between Tate and Pamela Moore (as Mary), but epic closer to an epic album this IS NOT. I wanted something in the vein of "Eyes of a Stranger" and was dissapointed.
I wont get into the story much as to not spoil the plot for those interested, but for what's obvious, Nikki is released from jail 18 years after the events of Mindcrime 1. After his release, he sets out to take his revenge on Dr. X (who on the album, is played by Ronnie James Dio).
My favorites: I'm American, The Hands, The Chase, A Junkies Blues, and Fear City Slide.
As far as I'm concerned, NONE of these songs would sound out of place on the original Mindcrime. Hopefully that gives you a clue as to their quality.
Combine that with about 5-6 songs ranging from decent to good, and you get exactly just that... a GOOD album. No, Queensryche did not put out a masterpiece to follow up their masterpiece. However, this late in their career, looking at their previous track record over the past decade, and how far removed they are from writing the original album in the first place, one can not help but to be at least mildly impressed at how well this album came out.