Review Summary: This album is one of the defining concept albums released in 1988, and the accompanying musicianship is class. Not so much a blunt attack as a subtle criticism of society, it hits home on every level.
Before Dream Theater singlehandedly decided to put Progressive Metal on the map, there were other bands in the genre that were already playing the style. Progressive music had faded out of interest in the 70s, being labeled as pretentious and overblown, and full of musical wankery without the decency to create a proper song. However, Queensryche's album, Operation: Mindcrime, released in 1988, started the rekindling of interest in this genre. They released an album that would inspire countless of others musicians, be hailed as one of the greatest concept albums ever, and for good reason... I think that anyone who calls himself a fan of progressive ought to own this no matter what... it may even be my favourite album of all time.
The first thing I notice about this album is the emphasis on guitar solos and riffs. The riffs don't have that thrash-metal quality, it's clearly influenced by the likes of Iron Maiden and such. The soloing is also present everywhere on the album, providing interludes between the songs, but never ad nauseam; every song except the closing track and Suite Sister Mary clocks in at less than six minutes, with the only other song breaching the five minute mark being The Mission. Queensryche are progressive maybe, in a sense, but they tone down senseless instrumental wankery to a minimum and keep everything short and sweet. No ridiculous 12-minute instrumentals, no sir. Well-crafted, well-thought-through, it's planned to be this way.
Geoff Tate has a voice which is very much reminiscent of Bruce Dickinson et al., being able to hit these high notes with ease, he gives off a splendid performance during the record, plus his lyrical antics are nothing close to cheesy. The whole album has a theme, a concept, a narrative, and every lyric despite being clear has some sort of hidden meaning, while all serving to advance the narrative Revolution Calling is a clever attack on the capitalist/communist lifestyles, Spreading the Disease attacks the life of prostitutes, The Needle Lies hits home on drugs, I Don't Believe In Love reflects on a failed relationship, proving that lyrically this album is more than just a story. It's a reflection on society as a whole, subtly underling its flaws rather than spitting them in your face the way punk rock likes to go about its business. That's another reason I enjoy this album so much: despite being easy to listen to and a fun record, there's a sense of intelligence and brains behind it. This is the kind of disc and lyrics you could write your English final essay on. There is a double meaning to everything, and still it ties into a coherent story. That's what lyric-writing is all about, folks.
And the music is not inferior. As I mentioned the guitars are topnotch, with some terrific solos all over the place, especially on the short instrumental interludes such as Anarchy-X and Waiting for 22. Not a note is out of place, all these vocal-less moments enhance the flow perfectly. The drumming isn't as over the top Mike Portnoy-esque progressive, but it's excellent and a lot of the fills kick ass (double-bass on The Needle Lies anyone?). The bass is a bit low in the mix, but it never strays or goes amiss. The keyboards just enhance the atmospheres perfectly, and Tate's amazing voice tops the whole thing off. Musically AND lyrically this band is at the top of their game on this record and shooting their load on all possible fronts.
And despite all this the album still is more than a sum of its parts. Most bands that have these skills tend to be a little too pretentious, but this album has a perfect flow from beginning to end. It never bores or tires or gets repetitive, every song flows perfectly into the next, every placement makes sense, it all just fits into place like a puzzle being solved. Nothing is too late. It all climaxes in the grand Suite Sister Mary, which is a 10 minute plus track showing off all the best characteristics of this band: heaviness, melodic approach to music, Geoff's operatic voice, excellent narrative... It's almost too perfect to be true.
The only problem this album has is that it hands clean blows everything else in the band's discography out of the water, puts it down about five notches, and stands supreme as one of the best albums ever released. This belongs up there in your classics collection without doubt. It's so much better than all the other things they've ever released. It fits perfectly next to Number of the Beast and Master of Puppets on your heavy metal side, or The Wall and 2112 on the prog side, it blends both these worlds into one. This is a must have for anyone who calls themselves a fan of music. It's worth the bucks, 100% guaranteed. A timeless record.