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It's all for the music, not the concept - 85%

Gas_Snake, March 22nd, 2020

Anyone who's interested in metal concept albums already knows what this is. This is "Operation: Mindcrime" - Queensryche's third studio album that made them one of the big names in heavy metal and likely helped popularize the very notion of concept albums in the metal community. Many hail it as an ungodly masterpiece for the ages, and one of the greatest metal albums there is. I, however, merely consider it a great album - one with noticeable flaws that manages to sell itself on the sheer quality of the musicianship here.

The production is likely one of the main reasons behind this album's monstrous popularity. Everything sounds very loud, very clear, and absolutely drenched in that echo/reverb effect that was so common in the 80's. There's cutting vocal lines, bombastic drums and a very audible bass tone, which is coupled with lots of catchy hooks to create an album that will stay in your head for a long time. Despite this, the production actually puts the vocals slightly above everything else, which would be a good thing with such a great vocalist, but it's really... not.

One of this album's biggest selling points happens to be my main gripe with it, and that is Geoff Tate's voice. It's technically impressive, sure, and it sounds amazing on the band's earlier works, but it doesn't work very well with the story of this album. His intonation mostly stays the same from song to song, which makes it a difficult task to convey the right emotions and really hook the listener. He always keeps this sleazy, glam-like delivery, which is further accented by the production, and it's not a good match for the lyrics. "The Mission", for example, has a very jarring vocal performance - the protagonist just committed murder (though not entirely of his own will), and Tate sings the song from his perspective, yet his delivery doesn't change at all compared to the previous songs, and even the vocal melodies are quite similar, too. It actually gets better toward the end of the album, but compare it to, say, Blackie Lawless's vocal performance on "The Crimson Idol" - there is no competition.

The guitars, by contrast, sound heavenly all the way through. They are the driving force behind this entire album, as they flow in tandem with each other, smothering you in monstrously catchy hooks and, crucially, conveying emotion in a way that Tate's vocals cannot. In fact, the guitars sound so expressive that they basically do Tate's job for him. "Breaking The Silence" and "I Don't Believe In Love" are perfect examples of this, and my favorites on here. During "The Needle Lies", the music even goes through the pop cliche of moving the final chorus a few notes higher, and it actually works, the result being a creepy escalation of the song's mood that greatly compliments the whole "struggle with drug addiction" theme.

The absolute low point of the album, on the other hand, is the overlong "Suite Sister Mary". Not only does it fail to keep itself interesting, but the vocals (including the Mary role) sound far too preachy and melodramatic for my liking. Actually, that whole song is like a poor take on Dostoevsky's novel "Crime And Punishment" - the potential for emotional impact is window-dressed in melodrama and orchestration to such a degree that the song loses its intended purpose and turns into self-parody, and it's just when the story starts getting more serious, too.

It's a great album, and it has some moments that are pure gold, but it definitely has notable flaws, and I cannot call it a masterpiece. In fact, I can't even call this their best album - that would have to be their debut "The Warning". If you want amazing guitar work above all else, I wholeheartedly recommend this. If you want a great concept album, there are much better ones to find, though you're still likely to enjoy this one.