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Dr. X's Prescription - 95%

jontayl, May 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2006, 2CD, Capitol Records (Reissue)

Operation: Mindcrime is Queensrÿche’s magnum opus. There’s pretty much no question about it. An excellent album, and a welcome expansion on the full-length rock opera format pioneered by The Who decades earlier.

As with any rock opera, the storyline is as important as the music itself. There’s nothing more disappointing than an album with listenable music yet an amorphous, convoluted, incomprehensible narrative. Such albums feel constrained by lyrical deficiencies, which is all the more troubling when there is a potential saving grace in the music itself.

But that’s not the case here. The storyline is eloquently assembled, ending where it began (Remember The Wall by Pink Floyd?) but positing one hell of a ride, through and through. Anarchy, drugs, murder, prostitution, and institutionalization are all, among others, themes that the lyrics of Geoff Tate ably explore throughout this crown jewel of prog metal.

Beginning with Anarchy X, a short overture that pits a raucous guitar solo against Scott Rockenfield’s eccentric marching snare beat, the listener becomes engaged and enthralled immediately. Then, a seamless transition into the anthemic Revolution Calling, the inspiration of air guitarists and bedroom drummers the world over. Geoff Tate’s snarling introduction, For a price, I’d do about anything/except pull the trigger/for that I’d need a pretty good cause, gives us our first look into the mind of Niki, the drug-addled wannabe-revolutionary who serves as Operation: Mindcrime’s embattled protagonist. In this song, Niki hears of a man named Dr. X, an influential anarcho-communist with homicidal methodologies and questionable staff treatment practices.

At that, we’re thrust into the title track, which is as self-explanatory as they come. You’ve gotta make something of your life, boy/give me one more vein is our first implicit reference to the heroin that Dr. X uses to control and subdue Niki. Then, the bridge: And I know you won’t refuse/because we’ve got so much to do/and you’ve got nothing more to lose/so take this number/and/welcome/to Operation: Mindcrime. Played with the frills of short arpeggios, a perilously lowly-tuned drumkit, Geoff Tate’s Robert Plant-esque howls, and a bassline that would be suited for a decent djent concert, it’s with this song that the full thrust of the band’s musical genius comes into view.

Next, we’re introduced to Sister Mary, a troubled nun with a troubled past. She and Niki fall in love, but then Niki is ordered to execute her. The unfolding of this particular scene is the subject matter of Suite Sister Mary, a Stairway to Heaven-like prog rock epic that features everything from melodic 12-string acoustic chords, played in a Flamenco scale, to a full-on, Slipknot-style double bass assault with a solo played in Drop D tuning juxtaposing the incredibly high and angsty singing of both Tate and Pamela Moore, a soul-packed powerhouse who plays Sister Mary.

The rest of the album is made to depict a panic, and it does so with an inspired sense of urgency and storyline-oriented power rock. Uptempo and fully deserving of the “prog metal” title it claims, the album’s second half is highlighted by I Don’t Believe in Love, Eyes of a Stranger, and Breaking the Silence. All built around stadium-rocking choruses that come in bursts and set against tasteful guitar riffs played in major keys, it’s with the words, And I raise my head and stare/into the eyes of a stranger that the story ends–finishing in the same hospital room in which it began.

It takes a lot of musical muscle, ambition, and a certain degree of narcissistic musicianship to be able to pull an album like this off. Both in form and function, however, Operation: Mindcrime succeeds with a resounding success. 95/100.