Operation: Mindcrime II should not exist, at least not as an album released under the Queensryche name. The fact that it is a sequel to the greatest prog metal album of all time was puzzling enough when it was first released in 2006, but a few more details that have come to light since the band’s 2012 schism make it even more frustrating. Despite being another attempt to pander to disgruntled fans after the failed DeGarmo reunion, Operation: Mindcrime II is the first collaboration that Geoff Tate and producer/writer Jason Slater released under the Queensryche name and features a slew of session musicians instead of actual band members. From what I’ve gathered, longtime guitarist Michael Wilton and drummer Scott Rockenfield aren’t even on this damn thing!
What makes this revelation painfully ironic is that the second Mindcrime is the first album that actually sounds like Queensryche in a decade and might just be their most metal-oriented release since the first one. Granted the focus on slower tempos means that “I’m American” and “Signs Say Go” are the closest things that we really get to old school “The Needle Lies” style speed metal, but whoever is playing guitar got their tone to closely match the original shine and they even squeezed in a few actual metal riffs on songs like “One Foot In Hell.” They even upped the ante by reprising a few musical motifs, working in some orchestral elements, and having a few special guest vocalists on select tracks.
But in doing this, they seemed to forget that the original Mindcrime succeeded due to incredibly catchy songs and writing that put each member on equal standing in terms of showing off their skills. The songwriting on its sequel is rife with sluggish executions, meandering structures, and faceless instrumentals that merely set the stage for the vocal performances with very few chances to shine.
Queensryche’s first three releases showed us that this dynamic isn’t necessarily a bad thing but that idea is immediately thrown out the window when the listener realizes that the vocals on here sound like shit. All signs of deterioration that have popped up in the wake of Promised Land finally culminate to this single performance as Tate delivers his awkwardly constructed lines in a grating sneer, botches drawn out wails, abandons his lower range for dull spoken word, and generally makes one wonder how much sooner we would’ve noticed this if he hadn’t been coasting by on grunge for the last decade. Fortunately, all is not lost as Pamela Moore gives it her all as the ghost/hallucination/whatever of Sister Mary and metal master Ronnie James Dio upstages his former apprentice as Dr. X on the otherwise anticlimactic “The Chase.”
Speaking of which, it goes without saying that the story is as directionless as it is implausible. While a story featuring the loveable Nikki escaping prison and seeking revenge for Mary’s death would be a neat character study, the story we got falls flat as the brainwashed junkie is somehow paroled and goes off to die whimpering after an anticlimactic victory. It doesn’t help that going into his thought process is much more forced than it was in the original Mindcrime and that it immediately forgets about the social commentary that made its ancestor so inspiring. Seriously, this was released in the middle of the War on Terror; how did they pass up the chance to talk about that?
But with all this bitching to consider, the album’s first half actually manages to be pretty decent. In addition to “The Hands” being a legitimately good song and “Hostage” making for a decent bluesy number, other tracks like “One Foot In Hell” and “Signs Say Go” make for entertaining rockers once you get past Tate’s warbling. I also gotta give props to “Murderer?” for its excellent opening and wonder how things would’ve worked if it had been the closer instead of the twenty minutes that follow it. It wouldn’t have exactly been “Eyes Of A Stranger,” but it would’ve ended things on an intense, ambiguous note as opposed to a dull one.
In the end, Operation: Mindcrime II is one of those albums that I should hate on pure principle but isn’t totally devoid of value. It attempts to justify its existence by means of a decent start, passionate guest performances, and neat callbacks but ultimately falters due to the band’s disassociations as well as a declining creator’s misunderstanding of his own creation. Perhaps it could’ve worked if it had been released at a more favorable time or if the band members actually gave a damn, but this looks to be another case of what could’ve been. At least Ian Anderson had the good sense to release Thick As A Brick II under his own name…
“One Foot In Hell”
“Signs Say Go”