QUEENSRŸCHE — Operation: Mindcrime (review)

QUEENSRŸCHE — Operation: Mindcrime album cover Album · 1988 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Simply the Best Metal Album Ever Made

In 1988, there was no prog metal. There were no metal rock operas. Glam and thrash were the reigning genres of metal. Queensryche was a hardworking band that had impressed opening on multiple tours and whose reputation was slowly growing. Operation: Mindcrime was immediately applauded by critics across the scene, but its success with the fans took time to slowly grow. First there were videos to "Eyes of a Stranger" and "I Don't Believe in Love" on MTV. Then the band toured in support of Metallica. It was actually when the band played the entire album during the headlining Empire tour 3 years later that the album really start solidifying as one of the best metal records ever.

I picked up the album after a feature in Guitar Magazine, and new from the first listen that this was something different. Though there were a few allusions to Iron Maiden, the band had now created something their own. Michael Wilton and Chris Degarmo had altered their guitar tones specifically for the album, and film composer Michael Kamen was enlisted for orchestration. Clearly this was an ambitious project, and it paid off.

The basic storyline is that two urban lost souls, Nikki and Mary, get caught up in a revolutionary insurgent organization. Sex, religion, power, everything is fair game in this story. It's a little over the top, but for a cynical teenager, it was like preaching to the choir. "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." Sadly, it wasn't just the Yuppie 80's that feels the bite of those words.

On the original record / tape, the album's first side was a much more coherent whole while the second side wrapped up the story with more encapsulated single songs. It is the first side that still seems so perfect even 20+ years later. The opening refrains of "Revolution Calling" is simultaneously dark and envigorating. "Speak" and "Spreading the Disease" continue the intense and dangerous ride, leading up the epic "Suite: Sister Mary." This song's theatrics, mood and guitars still form part of my memory of what that time period was all about. The Carmina Burana style vocals were still relatively fresh at the time, and the film noir in dark color feel of the story wasn't even captured on film at that point, let alone on vinyl.

Though the level of virtuosity in metal would increase substantially in the next decade in the post-Vai/Malmsteen and Dream Theater eras, all of the members of Queensryche were extremely strong at their instruments. Degarmo and Wilton upheld the twin guitar tradition of Priest and Maiden and even upped the ante. Of course, the star of the band was always Geoff Tate, one of the best traditional metal singers ever. In 1988, his pipes were still at their peak, and his melodramatics still were full of youthful energy. Scott Rockenfield's toms fuel some of the most intense bridge sections, and Eddie Jackson's just ahead of the beat thump kept the urgency strong throughout.

Most of all, Queensryche at the time of Mindcrime was a band. Though Tate was the frontman, he was still clearly one of the team. The riffs and orchestration are just as important as the vocals on this masterpiece.

This album is probably in every metalhead's library that bothers to go back into the 80's. It should be. If you don't know it, get it.
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