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The real Operation:Mindcrime II - 85%

chaxster, November 21st, 2007

2007 has been sort of a landmark for progressive music, with nearly every active band around deigning to churn out an album. Odd then that one of my favourite releases should come not from the usual suspects, but a relatively obscure bunch from Sweden. I mean, doing a google search for their name and you get only ONE link that actually leads to anything related to the band. I'm going to have to spit out some thoughts about that country, and go as far as to suggest that they probably have measures in place to speedily deport any musician who can't hold his own.

It's also odd that I should feel so warm about an album where traditional song structures are preferred to ambitious experiments. It's just that with a whole lineup of songs where the simplicity only serves to drill them faster into your skull, it's not much of a heartfelt complaint. This is a full-blown concept album, and from what I can tell, it's like they took the Operation:Mindcrime blueprint, laid it over the setting of the JFK assassination and nodded their heads sagely. Compare these deliveries:

"Kill the girl. That's all you have to do... She's a risk. And get the priest as well."

"This woman is a problem. She talks too much. Get rid of her...gently."

And yeah, there's a priest in both, too.

As is the case with most narrative concept albums, the lyrics sound pretty goofy, sometimes past the point I deem acceptable. "Like a cockroach in your mouth...laying eggs inside your brain!" WTF?! This is prog, not goregrind, guys! "Save your craving for the snake in my pants..." Prog! Not glam! Gah! They might have made sense within the context, but I wasn't paying that much attention. You know, unless you're Daniel Gildenlow, you should just stop making concept albums. And if you're Dan, you should go back to making concept albums. Or at least kickass albums.

That gripe aside, the show is tight. Everyone here has that typical Swedish proficience at their tasks, but selflessly put the song ahead of their own showboating. Normally within this genre, this earns a reproachful look from me but I really don't mind it here. I'm singing along to these bitches like that 'special' kid in class. Thankfully, Andreas Novak has a pleasant voice that doesn't go for inhuman highs and elects to use well-crafted mid-range vocal lines. know, I think he sounds like Phil Collins. Yeah, if Collins went metal, the whole package would probably end up sounding something like this.

Another point of note is that the album is heavily front-loaded - the best parts are all in between the first song and the seventh. After that, a speed bump occurs in the form of 'The Hour of Need', a male-female vocal duet, something like the sappy 'Spoken Words' from Shadow Gallery's Tyranny. After that, the pace never gets fully back on track. Plus, the closer, 'Pandora's Musical Box' would have been better off at half its length instead of a stretched 11 minutes. I know it's standard in progressive circles to make your last track a whopper, but fuck the norm (you don't have to fight the war if you don't want to).

But these are all bearable really, considering how nauseatingly happy the good parts of the album make me feel. The whole greater than the sum of its parts? Hell yeah! There's also an interesting-looking comic book of the album theme and a 'making of...' DVD included with the 'triple metal pack' edition. Grooveh! Here's hoping the next venture by this outfit builds on their strengths and gets to work eradicating or minimising their weaknesses. Take that, Geoff Tate and company!