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A Return to form, though more is needed. - 70%

hells_unicorn, February 26th, 2007

Sequels are marred by the expectations created by their predecessors, and it is truly a rarity when one manages to surpass the story that it seeks to continue, particularly when the original incarnation was considered one of the most groundbreaking works in its genre. The pressures to be both faithful to the already established storyline yet try to culture it to the more modern tendencies of the day cause one to walk a fine line, and it is easy to sacrifice one for the sake of the other, resulting in either a carbon copy of the original or something that has nothing in common with it.

“Operation Mindcrime 2” has come about in the midst of a renaissance in the metal genre, and one would wonder why an album like this didn’t come about 2 or 3 years before instead of the lackluster “Tribe”. It is first and foremost an attempt to recapture one of the earlier approaches the band had adopted, as can be observed in the increased keyboard presence, stepped up vocal display, and more metal oriented riff collection. In essence, the only thing that truly holds this album back is some production flaws, as the drums still have some of the deadness that has been present since “Promised Land”.

The swapping of chief storyline duties and overall musical direction from Chris DeGarmo, who left the band and seemingly took most of the Grunge sounds that he originally imported into the group with him, to that of Geoff Tate seems to have worked well for them. The guitar sound has seen some drastic improvements, although they still lack the solid vintage crunch that they had carried throughout the 80s. Likewise the bass has maintained its new sense of activity since the 90s, while the drums have stepped back from the abyss that they entered with the advent of “Empire”.

Highlight songs are more prevalent than they had been before; owing to some attempts at continue the Progressive evolution of the band. “Freiheit Ouverture” has one of the oddest sounding keyboard ambiences driving it that I’ve heard in a while, setting the stage for the release of a killer back into society. “Speed of Light” sounds a bit like a Led Zepplin song, although it lives up to its name and ends rather quickly. “Re-arrange you” has a lot of keyboards to it, although the overall flow of it and the guitars tend towards later Fates Warning works such as “Perfect Symmetry” and “Parallels”.

Other music on here sticks out quite well yet reaches back further to Queensryche’s roots in the 80s. “I’m American” merges some aspects of the original Mindcrime with the speed and aggression of the original 1983 EP. The intro to “The Hands” sounds a lot like the middle section of the title track to “Empire”, while the rest of it is similar to the original Mindcrime. “Signs say go” and “Hostage” have some dark guitar work at play, but mostly function as hook oriented songs fit for fanfare status on a concept album.

But with all of the powerful works aiding to push the story along, the true strength turns out to be the musical sections containing the climax and the denouement of the story. “The Chase” is a duet between two vocal colossuses, as only Ronnie Dio would be fit to have a singing duel with Tate, and the results are a brilliant yet mostly vocally driven number. The music behind is fairly repetitive, but the solo section at the end of the vocal interchange is quite entertaining. “All the Promises” culminates the philosophical resolution of this dark tale with a somber duet with Pamela Moore, it’s a ballad, but it is quite moving musically and lyrically.

Now some whom pay equal attention to the storyline as the music might ask, why did this sequel have to happen, the original told the story sufficiently? To this I respond, the story was not complete at the end of Part 1, and it was philosophically confused. It did not see justice visited upon the true villain of the tale, but instead portrayed a world of utter doom and despair. I’m proud to say that Geoff Tate has proven me wrong with this release, I thought as a lyricist he was cut from a line of literary naturalists, but this has a strong measure of Romanticism to it. I had little sympathy for Nikki, though quite a strong amount for Mary, because the former was the personification of the anti-hero, something which is the fictional equivalent of every moral coward that should and ought to be denounced in today’s world.

Nikki’s death is a slow decay that had already began since Mary’s death, as she had essentially been his saving grace, while Dr. X was the demon that he had always turned to for the refueling of his illusions. When he stood up to his demon and destroyed him, his life and purpose was lost without the source of his initial revelation. In essence it is the modernist incarnation of the same Romantic telling of Romeo and Juliet, it is tragic, but it also teaches a lesson in what really matters. Vengeance may be justified, but it is not something that one can live for, only one’s own sense of self can give one cause to live. Mary’s constant words about Nikki continually acting in self-hatred by pumping poison into his veins is a testament of his own self-hatred, which in turn condemned them both from the very beginning. No one was there to tell either of them that there was something out there better for them, and until someone has the courage to tell the Nikkis and the Marys of the world that the ones whom claim to be their saviors are using them, that they are as entitled to the happiness that they are told is impossible, we will continue to lose them to the cult of despair and death.

To my fellow core-Queensryche fans, this is not quite the masterpiece that we had hoped for, but it is a huge step in the right direction. It will satisfy your desire for closure to an Orwellian masterpiece, but it doesn’t quite capture the initial magic. If you liked the 80s approach of Queensryche, you will like this, and it is worth the money. The Queen has not yet recaptured her former throne, but she is in the grand hall and it is in her line of sight.