Review Summary: The Key sounds like Geoff Tate finally cares again. It's no throwback to the glory days, but it's his best modern output.
Geoff Tate just can’t seem to stay out of his own way. There’s no doubt Tate is a talented singer that helped Queensryche achieve the success they enjoyed in the 80s and 90s, but there’s also no doubt the man believes all his own hype. That (over) confidence has led to a lot of questionable decisions over the years. Geoff’s decision to call his new band Operation: Mindcrime and release a song that sounded like it was lifted directly from the Queensryche album of the same name is just the latest in a series of strange choices. Releasing that song made it seem like he had nothing more to say musically, and that he was going to end his career milking the Mindcrime-cow to death. However, after hearing The Key
in its entirety, it turns out that Geoff Tate does still have something new and worthwhile to say.
In a nutshell, The Key
mixes the atmospheric prog of Promised Land
with the alt. metal-lite of Tribe
, but with modern influences. Possibly even more substantial, though, is that it actually sounds like Geoff and company care about making a quality album. Almost the entire album is full of chill prog rock that features great hooks, subtle background flourishes, catchy guitar melodies, and even a great modern performance from Geoff Tate – the second half of the album is especially good. Furthermore, he achieved his goal to push further into musical territory he never really hit with Queensryche. There’s the 70s-inspired keyboard solo on ‘Ready to Fly’, the electro-goth sound of ‘Discussions in a Smoke-Filled Room’, and even some gritty alt. rock vocal styling on ‘Life or Death’.
Of course, everything isn’t all sunshine and buttercups. The story itself is pretty unsubstantial. To be honest, I’m not even sure what it’s really talking about. I’ve figured out that some dude found a key that gives him some cool power over the world, but the story isn’t really front-and-center like on the Mindcrime albums. Basically, at no point does the story feel as epic and world changing as Geoff’s pervious concept album endeavors. The only other issue with The Key
is the song ‘The Stranger.’ ‘The Stranger’ is Geoff’s attempt at including a heavy track on the album and it fails pretty spectacularly. It seems to take a majority of its influence from 90s alt. industrial bands such as Stabbing Westward, but also features Geoff Tate giving his best rhythmic vocal delivery. To be honest, with a different vocal track, ‘The Stranger’ wouldn’t be that bad of a song; as it is, though, it’s one worth skipping.
When Geoff Tate took on the name Operation: Mindcrime and started spouting off about a prog rock trilogy that would allow him to break new musical ground, I just rolled my eyes. It turns out, though, he was pretty much able to pull it off. The story itself isn't nearly as compelling as either Mindcrime album, but the album is still pretty damn good. Despite the band name, it turns out The Key
isn't trying to cash in on Mindcrime's sound and direction. What we get with The Key
is a chill, atmospheric, prog rock album that should appeal to fans content with the mellower side of bands such as Riverside, Porcupine Tree and, yes, even Queensryche.