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Queensr├┐che

Operation Mindcrime II

Review by Gary Hill

History - in many ways this album (and this review) is all about history. For my money the first Operation Mindcrime album is a true masterpiece that is unmatched by any album by any artist in terms of power and execution. The story, the music, really everything on that disc is about as perfect as one can ever get. Certainly there are others who feel the same way I do about it. From most people's recollection that album is at the very least the finest thing that Queensryche have ever produced. With that kind of history it seems that it must have been a daunting project for the group to even attempt a sequel. In many ways that history is what makes this review such a difficult one to write.

I don't think I've looked forward to an album more than this one in a very long time (if ever). With years and years of enjoying the first disc, it seemed unlikely that this one would ever touch the familiarity and the special place in my heart that is the home of Operation Mindcrime. Well, the familiarity isn't there yet. I've probably been able to give this one maybe a dozen spins so far. That first one took a lot of time to digest, and for the story to fully sink in. This one hasn't had that opportunity yet. So, what I can tell you is that while in the long run I will probably still like the first one best of the two, this one comes really close. It shares a lot with that outing. For one thing every listening seems to reveal more and more layers and textures that hadn't presented themselves before. Given the same time invested, this one will probably be right up there with the first one. Like that album, this one breaks incredibly new ground. While Ryche could have either chosen to record an album in the style they've been doing the last decade or so, or simply make a carbon copy of Operation Mindcrime, they did neither (and at some points both). They took chances. They went off in directions that seemed to have challenged themselves, and certainly challenge the listener. The album (like all real art) has a learning curve. There is music here that truly defies categorization. There are sounds here that are like nothing I've ever heard before. Those are both factors that I found so endearing with the first MC.

The more astute reader may have noticed that I haven't really even talked about the storyline. There is a reason for that. I seriously have not gotten a grasp on that part yet. It took me quite a while to really understand what was going on in Mindcrime I and this one hasn't had the chance to really speak to me on that level yet. I can tell you that it takes place when Nikki, the main character/narrator of the other one, is released from prison. There are interactions between that character and two of the other players from the previous time around. Mary is played once again by the powerful vocal presence of Pamela Moor (I'm not sure if that's a typo or the credit as on MCI as "Moore" was). Dr. X, though is a different story. The first time around he was presented through a series of spoken segments. This time Ronnie James Dio takes on the role, singing, not speaking the parts. The effect is both heavy metal and opera all at once. I suppose the upside for me here is that I still have a lot of discoveries on this album. The downside is that this review is certainly not what it would be if I were to write it five years from now. The thing is, by then you'll probably have heard it, too. Well, at least you should. If you like the first disc, by all means pick this one up. If you haven't heard either, but enjoy adventurous metal, then get down to the store (or click on one of the Amazon links) and get them both. I haven't listened to them back to back yet, but I can tell you it's an experience I am really looking forward, too. Just like that first Mindcrime album, I'm sure that this one is going to be a dear friend of mine for the rest of my life.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Freiheit Ouverture
An atmospheric tentative tone starts this. They build on this very gradually. Then it kicks in with a hard-edged sound, but symphonic instrumentation gives it a classical tone that makes one think more of progressive rock than heavy metal. As this carries forward those classical tones really dominate the piece, but there's still enough crunch to keep it rocking. This instrumental is a pretty amazing piece of symphonic power metal.
Convict
This is a very brief spoken interlude establishing the fact that our main man Nikki has been released from prison.
I'm American
They jump into the rock here, and this one feels a lot like the original Mindcrime album as it kicks in. In fact, there are even some musical quotes from that disc on the intro to this one. As it drops to the song proper, though, it's a stripped down metal rocker that has a heavier texture that seems to incorporate the band's newer sound with the style of that classic release. This one is quite potent and a good choice for a single. The guitar solo segment here is especially meaty.
One Foot In Hell
As this one jumps in it again has some sounds that feel like they could have come straight from part one. This one has a more twisted sort of texture than the last number and is rather dark. It's another straightforward rocker with a lot of crunch. The emotional punch on this one is quite high. Another extremely tasty guitar solo also appears. Interestingly enough the symphonic instruments make another appearance on this track, but only in a function one could best describe as ornamental.
Hostage
Another that pounds in, this one starts even heavier than the last two. It runs through the introduction in this manner, but then cuts back to what is essentially a ballad mode. They turbo charge it back out at the end of the first verse, but just for a fairly brief package. Geoff Tate's vocal performance on this one is extremely passionate. After the second verse a guitar sound that reminds me a bit of some of Trevor Rabin's work on Yes' Talk album takes it for a short journey. This gives way to more of a modern Queensryche mode for the next segment. Then they turn the corner into a new jam that is extremely potent. This is another part that seems to bring together the older and newer sounds of the band. They then jump back to the harder edged main themes to carry it forward. They keep throwing short little left turns into the arrangement through it's length, making this a fairly dynamic piece and one of my favorite tracks on the disc. An anguished scream by Tate gives way to a sound bite segment that feels like much of the incidental sounds on the first Mindcrime disc.
The Hands
Once again starting with themes from its predecessor, Tate's spoken vocals on the introduction are another echo of that first Mindcrime disc. They drop this back to a more stripped down main song structure, then build it up from there. This is another extremely powerful one, both in terms of the musical and vocal performance and the lyrical textures. The chorus is catchy and rather empowering. Some more impressive guitar work shows up later, then gives way to a new instrumental theme that is quite heavy, but still melodic. This one is another standout composition on an extremely strong album. A keyboard line jumps in towards the end, then serves both as the outro and a segue into the next number.
Speed of Light
Coming seemingly straight out of the last one, this one is probably the most neuvo-Ryche sounding piece on show here. It truly feels like it could have come from Empire or even Q2K. As such it's not bad, but quite arguably the weakest segment on show here. It does turn into a rather intriguing progressive rock like jam a bit later to save it from pure mediocrity. And to its further credit this then gives way to a reprise of the cut's main musical themes, but shifted into a sort of swirling descent that is just a little creepy. Then they turn it into something that feels like a short reprise of the male/female duet sections of Mindcrime I. All of these elements raise the number up drastically from the point where it started.
Signs Say Go
The band turn in a powerful and stomping metal rocker here. This one has some killer layered vocals and is just extremely meaty. There are no real surprises or twists here, but the overall theme is strong enough that it really doesn't need them. Besides, the awesome guitar soloing sure doesn't hurt.
Re-arrange You
Symphonic sounds with a dark texture start this one off. As the band join in the arrangement is something unlike anything we've ever heard from any incarnation of Ryche. This mode of the track is very progressive rock in texture. They move through like this for a time, but burst up into metal fury for the chorus. Then the two sounds are seemingly merged. While this track doesn't resemble anything from the first Mindcrime, it does share the sense of breaking down barriers that was so prevalent on that album. This one is full of odd twists and turns and a bit hard to nail down at all. I would say that it is one you have to hear. In fact, if people ever want one track to show just how creative this band can be, this would be it. In many ways this track is hard to get a grip on, and it takes the longest of anything on show here to absorb. That said, it is certainly one of the most impressive pieces of music this band have ever produced and one of the major highlights of the disc. It has everything going on from symphonic textures, to scorching metal, nu-metal, progressive rock and a lot of other things that are very unique. You'll find yourself coming back to this one over and over and finding new things in the mix every time.
The Chase
A pounding metal sound with Ronnie James Dio singing the part of Dr. X begins this number. It's another that combines metallic themes with layers of symphonic instrumentation to good measure. Dio and Tate play off of and against one another in this duet in a powerfully epic way. This is heavy metal operatic theater at it's best. They even include a fast paced, old world sounding segment that is based on just the two singers trading lines, percussion and the symphonic instruments. They then launch into a killer neo-classical metal guitar solo segment. The varying themes collide and combine in varying combinations as the track carries forward. This is another masterpiece.
Murderer?
Seeming to sense that after two such powerhouses the listener needed a break, this one comes in with sedate tones, like a prog metal ballad. The peace doesn't remain, though. This pounds out of there after a time into another scorching rocker that combines both the more modern Queensryche textures with those from the first Mindcrime album. The chorus like bridge has a rhythm guitar structure straight from the first one and the vocal lines on this segment are especially evocative. Packed with one change after another this one (like quite a bit of the disc) is really hard to pin down. They drop it back to a sedate ballad like structure later that has vintage QR written all over it. Then they pound back out into another neo-classical metal structure. As they drop back down to the more ballad-like music from there it is with a more potent arrangement and a darker texture. This segment serves as the eventual outro. 
Circles
Atmospheric, but noisy, guitar begins this in the backdrop. Tate speaks an echoey monologue over this backdrop. The guitar wails a sad song after his speech and eventually sound bites work their way up, but remain far enough in the backdrop to be fairly indistinct. It almost feels like a dark take on the sounds one might hear at a sidewalk café. This one doesn't really go far, instead remaining a potent mood piece.
If I Could Change It All
Coming straight out of the last cut, the guitar ballad sounds that begin this remind me just a bit of "Angie" by the Rolling Stones. That's more in the melody line than the sound, but there are also elements of more mellow Santana in this arrangement, too. Still, there is a powerful progressive metal texture pervading it all. After a time they energize this motif, screaming it out into a turbo-charged version of itself. The classic rock elements that made up the opening phase are even more prevalent there. When they drop back, rather than Tate's voice taking the verse we are greeted with that of Pamela Moor. As her singing ends chorale, Gregorian type vocals (think the theme song to the original Omen movie) much like on the first MC disc enter and carry the song from there. This also has some guitar soloing and symphonic instrumentation here, but carries it for quite a time with those vocals nearly unaccompanied. This mode takes it directly into the next song.
An Intentional Confrontation
The modes of the previous number begin this one at first, then the new song stomps out into a killer hard rocking jam. From here Tate and Moor trade vocal lines. This is another highlight of the disc as the emotional power here is incredible. A short unaccompanied line of "Do you understand anything?" is delivered by Moor before they turn the track into a new movement that is certainly firmly based in a unique form of progressive rock. Still, this eventually transforms into more powerful metallic sounds to move it onward. Circles of guitar soloing eventually end it. While this is a dynamic number, the true effect comes from the combination of the past two songs and this one. Together they seem to be parts of a very complex and powerful suite.
A Junkie's Blues
A riff that feels like something from Alice In Chains serves as the backdrop for the early modes of this one. They work through several incarnations of this theme with varying layers of sound coming over the top. Then it drops back to just a chiming guitar sound down in the mix with Tate speaking over it. His lamentations carry forward as the voice of Nikki as the arrangement takes on more and more powerful elements. Then it bursts back up into a considerably strong modern Ryche sound. This one feels a bit like a heavier version of something like "Delia Brown" from Empire. It has all of the emotion and power of that cut, but delivered with a bit more of a metal texture. They move it out from there, adding other layers and textures, then shift the corner into another familiar musical theme from the first Mindcrime album. This one really pulls it all together as it fits the sound and progression of this track, but brings it into the same zone as the original album.
Fear City Slide
Another mellower intro starts this with a fairly stripped down arrangement serving as the intro. Then they pump it out into a rather stalking sounding riff which again calls to mind this album's predecessor. Tate's vocals here are more of the extremely emotional variety. They turn this out into a more stomping arrangement, then a new furious riff takes over. The cut seems to rework its various themes to carry on, and truly feels as if it could have been lifted from the original Operation Mindcrime album. They drop it back to a rather creepy mellower segment with distant spoken vocals for an interlude mid-song then power it back out from there. Frantic guitar soloing leads to atmospheric tones that eventually end the number. This is another extremely effective piece of music.
All The Promises
An almost playful, cheery (by contrast) sound begins this in very sedate ways and builds ever so gradually. This carries it for about 40 or so seconds, then it shifts to a ballad type movement over which Tate's evocative vocals weave their tale. Moor joins to begin a duet with Tate. This one is beautiful, powerful and sad. They take this through for a while before shifting it into a different, but related musical theme. This time Moor takes a verse alone, joined only at the apex by Tate. The two voices work together for a time, then over the new mellower segment Tate carries it by himself for a while. The two begin singing alternating lines and shadowing one another on the more dramatic lines to carry this theme onward. Then an instrumental movement based on these themes takes it. This crescendos then drops to a false ending and atmosphere. The earlier ballad structure returns to reclaim the piece. This shifts later to a very dark and rather dissonant tone. Then eventually just a symphonic, mellow arrangement serves as the outro. The track serves as a very satisfying conclusion to the disc.
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