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Flawed, but Worthy Successor To A Masterpiece - 75%

worgelm, February 24th, 2006
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Rhino Records

Unquestionably the best record this band has delivered in over a decade, Queensryche has finally broken off the musical restlessness that started long ago with Promised Land, and gotten back to true metal. This is an impressive record, the kind I would have never suspected this band to have in them - sonically reminiscent to the original but with a slicker, well-updated, more modern radio edge to it. Most importantly this album flat out rocks, just like the original.

The story, augmented well by the packaging and artwork, takes place 18 years after wanna-be-revolutionary Nikki was tried and imprisoned and sets up a plot for revenge against his former employers, who left him to rot. It also gives a sense of connectedness as both we and Queensryche are also exactly 18 years older since the original 1988 release of Mindcrime. Nikki is now a free man and has to face a world that is in many respects as evil and twisted as the impulses that landed him in jail. Many of the same players are here, including a good amount of original Mary vocalist Pamela Moore, and there are rain-soaked, eerie interludes, or religio-musical iconography (such as the choral outro to If I Could Change It All) that hearken back to the conceptual sprawl of Suite Sister Mary and Electric Requiem from the original. Occasional snippets of voices and musical themes resurface from the original Mindcrime (such as Anarchy-X).

As conceptually dark as this album is, it is mixed rather brightly, giving it a contemporary feel similar to prog albums of bands like Dream Theater or Green Carnation. Perhaps even more surprising is that there are at least four or five high-quality singles here. The accessibility of Queensryche is something I think gets the band more reviled by the more extreme metal and prog fans, but their history reveals it to be one of their most charming conceits (to the tune of 4 million copies of Empire served, thank you very much). Though the band went with the hyperkinetic I'm American for the first single, its the superbly melodic Hostage that reminds the most of the original Mindcrime. The trickster neo-prog arrangement Re-Arrange You sounds like Pain of Salvation meets Iron Maiden. Perhaps the boldest single shot is the pulsing Fear City Slide which has the warm confidence and accessibility of Empire riding with a fat, head-nodding groove.

Elsewhere, more surprises abound, such as the duet with none other than the mighty Ronnie James Dio (here playing an epic Dr. X) on The Chase, a crafty tune that highlights the two vocalists impressively. It's a shame the brief reunion with Chris DeGarmo on Tribe didn't last, especially considering the overall basic quality of the songs here, but Michael Wilton [ed. ?] and new axeman Mike Stone still deliver the twin lead goods on tracks like The Hands and A Murderer? More adventurous is the song island starting with the haunting If I Could Change It All through the blues-grunge-stomp of An International Confrontation into the deep dark jungle-prog groove of A Junkie's Blues. It touches on themes from the first Mindcrime while adding eccentric touches like gospel and even doo-wop. This is probably one of the most adventurous moments of the album, as Nikki begins yet another slide into the seamy underworld of society's nightmares and confronts the ghosts of his past. As the album drifts away into the darker recesses of Nikki's psyche, it concludes with the dreamy, mournful All the Promises whose tragic, lovelorn lyrics over delicate acoustics, pack a satisfying emotional punch.

The biggest detriment to this album is that the narrative this time around does not seem to flow as well as the original did. What makes the original Mindcrime a true classic was how successfully the theatrical nature of the album was woven into the songs. But the story seems more inscrutable this time, more detached from the songs themselves, maybe a little too introspective. This leads to a bit of a dead spot starting with The Hands, Speed of Light into Signs Say Go until Re-Arrange You kicks your keister (where the original had the incomparable trio of Operation: Mindcrime, Speak and Spreading the Disease.) In any case, the music raging beneath it generally kicks so much ass i'm inclined to forgive the extra work i'll have to do to really dig into Nikki's inner demons. One of 2006's best albums.

[P.S. 2019: Given the post-litigation revelation most of the music here isn't really Queensryche, but rather a Geoff Tate/Jason Slater solo album, it seems proper to reconsider the overall rating. I stand by most of what I liked about the album when I wrote this over a decade ago, but in retrospect it doesn't have nearly the staying power of the original, and maybe should have had a little more fat trimmed - you could drop Freiheit Overture, Speed of Light and A Junkie's Blues and this thing would tighten up considerably. While the rest of the band was not enthusiastic about the idea of making a sequel, and thus disinclined to participate or was otherwise edited out during the recording process, this still charted pretty well and stands as one of the better business decisions made during the downward spiral. ]