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A chilling excercise in narrative - 96%

The_Ghoul, November 17th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1988, 12" vinyl, EMI

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.