Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime II
Operation: Mindcrime II By: Queenryche Year: 2006 Click here for the artist's site I have to be honest right from the beginning here. Operation: Mindcrime is one of the best concept albums written. Ever. Period. The music is powerful, the lyrics both interesting and politically poignant (both 18 years ago as well as today), the story well told. But for me, the clincher that lifts Mindcrime from the level of good to astoundingly great is just how strong the songs are. One of the largest perils of creating a concept album is loss of any single great song. For example, Fates Warning's absolutely brilliant A Pleasant Shade of Gray really needs to be listened to in its entirety to be appreciated. Dream Theater's Scenes From a Memory is the same. Both are amazing albums, but lack really great singles that can stand on their own. Not so with the original Mindcrime. Songs such as "Speak", "Eyes of a Stranger", "I Don't Believe in Love", and "Breaking the Silence" are just great songs that you can listen to any time. No need to go from start to finish. That ability to tell a coherent, cohesive story while still having a whole collection of amazing singles is very uncommon. Add to that the fact that Mindcrime still sounds fresh, energetic and important, and you have one fantastic album. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that when Mindcrime II was announced I was skeptical. With recent Queensrÿche records being disappointing, I didn't have very high hopes when I gave Mindcrime II its first listen. And after the first listen, to be honest, I didn't quite know what to think. Let's get the easy parts of this review out of the way first. Yes, this is the heaviest Queensrÿche has sounded in well over a decade. It is also the most energetic their music has sounded since the original Mindcrime. However, this reviewer truly thinks that calling Queensrÿche a "Metal" band is a mistake. They are still a respectable progressive rock band, but they haven't really sounded "metal" to me in many years. Okay, those points out of the way, just how does Operation: Mindcrime II stand up to the original? Well, it isn't as good, no doubt about it. But that doesn't make it a bad album. It really did take me numerous listens to really get a feel for Mindcrime II. This is one of the aspects in which it is inferior to the original. With the possible exception of one or two tracks, there just aren't really great singles on this album. And there certainly is nothing that comes close to the powerful "Eyes of a Stranger". However, I do believe that Mindcrime II is Queensrÿche's most progressive record to date, even surpassing (and there are likely many who will disagree with this next comment) their progressive masterpiece Promised Land. There is plenty of orchestration on this album, choral arrangements, rapid and often even jarring stylistic changes, and some really interesting musical passages. The prog geek in me really appreciates those aspects of the record, while I recognize that they will likely make it difficult for some people to like the album. Lyrically, I have always thought Queensrÿche was ahead of the game. They have successfully penned lyrics that challenge political and social ideologies, and have often done it without coming off too preachy. Mindcrime II again has strong lyrics (though certainly not perfect) that deal with the political and social climate of the times, while still working to tell the story. And what of the story? It takes place 18 years after the original, with the anti-hero Nikki being released from prison, attempting to put back together the pieces of his broken life. The story doesn't flow as well as the original, but it is still interesting. Musically the album is much better than other recent efforts from the band. The dual guitars are used much more effectively, with solos from both guitarists in many of the songs. Likewise the guitars are more prominent and powerful in the mix. On a few of the tracks the guitar sound doesn't quite work for me, but on others is really great. That inconsistency definitely takes some getting used to. The rhythm section is excellent on this album, with a full, rich bass sound and thick, heavy drums. And while time has taken its toll on Geoff Tate's inimitable voice, with a noticeably decreased range, it is very distinctive, powerful and evocative. He has long been one of my favorite vocalists, and he continues to be. The guest appearances on the record are also worth mention. Pamela Moore returns to fill her part as Mary, the whore-turned-nun that Nikki has loved for all these years. She makes numerous appearances (though deceased), most likely in Nikki's mind's eye. She is the voice of Mary, and it would sound so wrong with someone else. She does a fine job. Also, filling the role of the evil Dr. X is metal legend Ronnie James Dio. "Chase", on which both Geoff Tate and Dio sing is a lot of fun, with two of rock/metal's most recognizable voices giving and taking. However, their vocal styles are not sufficiently dissimilar, and it can be a bit difficult recognizing who is whom when they sing at the same time. Tracks to catch: "Freiheit Ouverture" is an interesting, atmospheric intro that works well to start off the album. "I'm American" does a great job of capturing the current American culture of individualistic consumerism. "Signs Say Go" is probably the albums best, bona-fide rocker. "Murderer" is the most interesting and eclectic track on the album, and really appeals to my progressive tastes. "Circles" hearkens back to "Electric Requiem" from the first album. "Intentional Confrontation" is another track that almost seems confused about what it wants to sound like, but pulls the apparently disparate styles together well. Rating: 3/5 Honestly this is a difficult album for me to rate. It is not a repeat, amazing album like the first. But it is a solid, well written and composed progressive rock album that demonstrates that Queensrÿche still has energy and some interesting ideas in them. Uneven at times, I likely forgive this due to my penchant for the original. Mindcrime II is a strong album, a vast improvement over anything from the band in a decade, and just a darn good rock album. While I might wish for more metal to be found, this is a most encouraging sing of life from a band I had almost buried, and certainly worth checking out. It won't appeal to everyone, and I am sure there will be fans of the first who hate it, but warts and all, Operation: Mindcrime II is both a return to form of sorts as well as a welcome evolution of one of my long-time favorite bands.