Just about everyone who remembers progressive music before Dream Theater was a thing could tell you what Operation: Mindcrime did for the genre as well as what it did for Queensryche’s reputation. While the following release was the one that truly pushed the band into the mainstream consciousness, this album paved the way for its success and for the fortunes of many groups that sought to follow in its footsteps. But with that said, there are several ingredients to Queensryche’s legendary concept album that its imitators never got quite right and a few more that seemed to have never crossed their minds…
While Queensryche has never been a band that stopped experimenting with their sound, this album is their first that is completely focused. While The Warning and Rage For Order respectively dealt with contrasting styles and throwing every idea against the wall to see what sticks, Operation: Mindcrime combines every idea that they have had and condenses it down to a style that is distinctly theirs. The speed runs on “Speak” and “The Needle Lies,” the epic “Suite Sister Mary,” and the various interludes may be exceptions to the rule, but every song on here operates on a steady formula of a mid-tempo pace, some well placed riffs, and an incredibly catchy chorus.
The band dynamic has also seems to have undergone a few changes with this release. Geoff Tate’s vocal prowess was originally the ace up Queensryche’s sleeve, but the other band members have all stepped up in their game. There are plenty of riffs that are just catchy as the chorus lines, the production really brings out Eddie Jackson’s bass performance, Scott Rockenfield throws out some nifty drum beats here and there, and they even let the guy bring out some of his electronic influences on “Electric Requiem.” Also worth noting is Pamela Moore’s performance as Sister Mary for she provides some effective theatrics despite only appearing in the second half of a single song.
But what really makes this album stand out is the fact that the band still hasn’t lost sight of the songwriting process. Despite having a pretty lofty concept to handle and the interludes to spar with, no segment goes on for too long and each song is an absolute classic that is just as enjoyable on its own as is in context with the others.
With that to consider, the highlights will certainly depend on the listener’s personal tastes. I’ve always found “Revolution Calling” and “Breaking The Silence” to be the most emotionally stirring though the crossover appeal of “I Don’t Believe In Love” is something that just can’t be ignored. Even the interludes manage to be entertaining as “Anarchy-X” serves as a brief but powerful prelude while “Electric Requiem” and “My Empty Room” make for memorable set pieces.
Speaking of sets, the album’s concept of the trigger-happy junkie who loses his way is one that cannot be ignored. While the Manchurian Candidate meets Romeo And Juliet plot may seem simplistic at times, the themes of individual songs are what truly sell it as each one has its own things to say about the needs for social revolution, political and religious corruption, drugs, and relationships. You may not be asking yourself who killed Mary at the album’s end but you may find yourself quoting the political rhetoric on “Speak” and “Spreading The Disease” from time to time…
A few bands like Kamelot and Savatage came close to replicating the song-oriented story formula of Operation: Mindcrime, but it is a release that cannot be topped and just might the greatest concept album that the heavy metal genre has to offer. The story might be its biggest talking point but the songwriting and band performances are what truly push it into an ethereal level. And whether you end up listening to the whole thing or just downloading its singles, I think you just might come out of it at the same level of satisfaction. Just don’t think about the subsequent attempts to cash in on its success…
“Breaking The Silence”
“I Don’t Believe In Love”
“Eyes Of A Stranger”