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Queensr˙che - Operation: Mindcrime CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.23 | 1084 ratings

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4 stars I am not a huge fan of prog metal. And a band like Queensryche would not normally be on my listening list. However, this album has always been much discussed or mentioned on this site, so I thought I should at least give it a listen. I'm glad I did.

Operation Mindcrime is arguably the first prog metal concept album. Indeed, as Marc Baum notes, the album actually verges on rock opera, having as much in common with The Who's Tommy as it does with Pink Floyd's The Wall (which I did not hear nearly so much of as other reviewers apparently did, other than the use of sound effects in and between songs).

As others have described, the story is about a proto-totalitarian quasi-theocracy in which a seemingly benign leader (Dr. X) turns a drug addict (Nikki) into a mindless killer in order to assassinate the leader's rivals. Keeping Nikki under control (by feeding his addiction) is an ex-prostitute (Mary), who herself is being "used" by the priest (Father William) and controlled by Dr. X. When Dr. X tells Nikki to kill Father William and Mary, he reluctantly kills the priest, but cannot bring himself to kill Mary, since she is the only person who ever cared about him - and the only person he ever cared about. However, he returns to find Mary strangled by her own rosary. Distraught over her death, he is either caught or turns himself in, and ends up in a (mental?) hospital. The story is bookended by Nikki's ambiguous comment from his hospital bed, "I remember now..."

Some reviewers have questioned whether the album is truly "progessive." Although it only has a couple of non-standard time signatures (and only one instance of shifting time signatures), there is no question that the overall approach and effect are progressive. Indeed, although Floydwright mentions that certain riffs remind him of Dream Theater's "Scenes From a Memory," I would go much further and say that Operation Mindrcime is the TEMPLATE for DT's masterpiece. In fact, although DT admits Rush as one of its primary influences, you cannot listen to Operation Mindcrime and NOT hear how much DT was influenced by Queensryche, both in general and, most specifically, by this album. Indeed, there are quite a few similarities between Operation Mindcrime and Scenes From a Memory, including that: both are bookended in similar fashion by the narrator; both have political overtones (admittedly more overt on OM); both have a murder mystery at their core (Did Nikki kill Mary? Who killed Victoria?); and, as noted, even some of the music on Scenes is similar to some of the music on OM (though admittedly far more progressive and technically amazing).

The album's lyrics are simple, yet amazingly effective in telling the story. And as Fishy points out, some of the lyrics (written in 1987) are as relevant today (if not MORE so) than they were then - especially considering that the U.S. is moving closer to a proto- totalitarian quasi-theocracy now than it was almost 20 years ago. Consider the following, which could have been written about the Bush Administration and the socio- political climate in the U.S.:

"Seven years of power, the corporation claw, the rich control the government, the media, the law. To make some kind of difference, then everyone must know, eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow. The system we learn says we're equal under law, but the streets are reality, the weak and the poor will fall. Let's tip the power balance and tear down their crown, educate the masses, we'll burn the White House down."

Or this, which is probably truer now than it was in 1987:

"Religion and sex are power plays, manipulate the people for the money they pay, selling skin, selling God, the numbers look the same on their credit cards. Politicians say no to drugs, while we pay for wars in South America. Fighting fire with empty words, while the banks get fat, and the poor stay poor, and the rich get rich, and the cops get paid to look away, as the one percent rules America."

The music on OM is amazing in its relative simplicity. I have rarely heard a band get more out of fewer chords and chord progressions. And yet there is no point at which it becomes repetitive in any serious way.

The musicianship on OM is also fairly simple, yet highly effective. The band is clearly very proficient at what they do, even without the technical virtuosity of a band like DT. And vocalist Geoff Tate does a fabulous job of "performing" the story, keeping us both engaged and in anticipation of how things will unfold. Tate's voice ranges from an almost sonorous baritone to a "classic" metal "scream." (Indeed, Tate's tenor and "scream" registers were almost certainly an influence on James Labrie - yet another way in which Queensryche influenced DT.)

Although not quite "perfect" enough to be a masterpiece of prog, Operation Mindcrime is without question a must-have for any serious progressive rock fan, because of its early entry into prog metal, its concept nature, and its influence on later bands and albums.

maani | 4/5 |


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