Review Summary: Narration, poetry, addiction, tragedy and intrigue contribute to create a powerful, everlasting album.
Queensryche are a band who have had their share of success and, debatably, a long stretch of mediocrity. The group hadn’t quite broken into the spotlight for their first couple releases, but by the summer of 1988 that was about to change. Lead vocalist Geoff Tate had gotten the idea for an ambitious concept album during a snow-filled night at a Montreal Catholic Church. Though initially greeted with silence by the fellow band members and dealing with potential changes to the sound prior to release, the album came out untouched, as the band intended. And after more than twenty years, the album has left a legacy for both the band and the progressive metal genre.
Perhaps the most driven aspect to Operation: Mindcrime comes in its story as a concept album. Essentially, it deals with a much-conflicted protagonist (Nikki) recollecting snippets of his life and, more specifically, the past month in how he joined a revolution organization led by a man only known as Dr. X. For the sake of spoilers, I’ll refrain from saying any more about the plotline. The album tries to say a lot in its less-than an hour-long runtime but everything is brought to light without feeling drawn out or briefly skipped over. While listening and picking up the plot details (whether through the music itself or the lyrics), much elaboration can be found on its many subjects even with some tracks barely being a minute in length.
This also leads to another impressive feat that the album accomplishes wonderfully: the lyrics. While some might be turned off by some of the seemingly cliché track names such as “Spreading the Disease” or “I Don’t Believe in Love,” the words (and story) behind these songs are simply absorbing. The writing and poetic style that comprises the lyrics seems indistinguishable at first, but there’s in-fact a great blend of narration and verse here. And though this is arguably the most imperative characteristic of a concept album, Queensryche managed to present some truly spectacular work here that makes many other songs feel dull and one-dimensional by comparison. Easily the best example of this is “Suite Sister Mary,” giving a few moments of insight into one of the key characters of the story.
Of course, in order for a concept album to work it needs good music with a strong sound to accompany and flow the tracks together. And thankfully for us, Operation: Mindcrime pulls this off with ease. Variety is definitely at-hand for the entire album yet it never loses consistency of its core sound. If one were to play the more upbeat “Revolution Calling” and then skip to the unapologetic “Spreading the Disease,” they’d find the sound to be quite similar yet still hear a stark contrast in the mood. The early progressive metal style here is rather interesting in how it has an accessible sound but is invigorating in how it can appease more dedicated fans thanks to the no-nonsense themes. It can be very easy for a casual listener to compare the sound to early Iron Maiden work thanks to Geoff Tate’s high pitch and borderline operatic vocal style and the tuning of the guitars.
Speaking of Mr. Tate, the entire band is in great form here, with mixing that allows each of the members to give us an idea of their talents. Now, granted, you’re not going to be getting Hellhammer-esque drumming or guitar work that sounds like it’s competing with Yngwie Malmsteen, but this is appreciated for the sake of getting the story across. Since this is a concept album and thus has the priority of telling a tale, as listeners we don’t want much to detract us from the delivered plot. And this is realized wonderfully as moments such as the guitar solos are welcomed but not prolonged to where we forget what was sung or narrated in the last line.
Also impressive is how well the album’s production has managed to hold up, despite being over two decades old. Even with the remastered recordings in-mind, the sound is still reminiscent of its release in ’88 without sounding “washed up.” The ambiance and atmosphere that arises during moments such as the opening to both “Suite Sister Mary” and “Eyes of a Stranger” along with “Electric Requiem” are very effective and, in the case of the latter, chilling. And just like Operation: Mindcrime’s other various aspects, its points like these that contribute to the listening experience.
Regardless of whatever opinion one might have of Queensryche, what can’t be denied is the influence this album has left behind thanks to how excellent everything about it is. Even those who aren’t fans of the band or genre are encouraged to give the entire album a listening, at the very least. You can listen to it several times, even in the same day, and still be fascinated by what it has to offer. Without a doubt, one of the greatest heavy metal releases to date.