Queensrÿche was founded in Seattle in 1981 when vocalist Geoff Tate met Chris De Garmo (guitar), Michael Wilton (guitar), Eddie Jackson (bass) and Scott Rockenfield (drums) who were in a band called The Mob at that time. Their first recorded output was a self named four track EP, released on their own 206 label in 1983. One of the tracks, called Queen of the Reich, gave the band its name and is still a live favourite to this day.
The band signed to EMI in late 1983, without ever having played live, quite contrary to another rather well known British band which landed a contract with EMI a year before by doing virtually nothing else but gigging!
The Warning, Queensrÿche's first full-length album was released in 1984, followed by the acclaimed Rage For Order in 1986. Rage For Order was on the one hand more heavier than its predecessor but it also veered away from all out metal. It was more mature in approach with more texture and dynamics, and it defined Queensrÿche's sound, which would be further explored in subsequent albums.
During the spring and summer of 1987 the band worked on their next album. Recording took place in various studios in the US, Canada and Holland and the album was finally released in the spring of 1988. Called Operation: Mindcrime, it was the band's big breakthrough, going gold in the US, and it is the subject of this instalment of Counting Out Time.
Operation:Mindcrime is considered to be one of the most brilliant concept albums of all time, holding its own musically and lyrically among such legendary albums as The Wall and Tommy. The album is musically adventurous and lyrically intelligent, staying far away from straight out metal. In the eleven years since its release, the album has lost nothing of its actuality and is still very recognizable. It tells the story of a young man named Nikki who is disgusted with the corruption in government and organized religion plaguing America. He joins an underground revolution called "Operation: Mindcrime" which is headed by the mysterious Dr. X. Though the order originally meant well, it fell into the grasp of organized crime, with Nikki in the eye of the storm. Queensrÿche has successfully brought together many complex issues in this album. On the one hand it is a sharp socio-political commentary that could have easily been written yesterday rather than eleven years ago. On the other hand it addresses complex psychological/emotional issues such as identity, love, interpersonal relations, abuse, obsessions, roles, and needs with rare insight and candour.
The album consists of fifteen separate tracks, which play as a whole. I will use an interview with lead guitarist Chris De Garmo conducted a short time after the release of the album, as a guideline through the songs.
I Remember Now
Chris De Garmo: "Our friend, Nikki, charged with several counts of murder involving members of this city's political and religious leaders, has been committed to State Hospital under heavy security. London-born nurse, Debbie, seems determined to administer the tranquilliser and give us her personal feelings regarding her patient. Hmmm? Injection completed, Nikki listens to his favourite tape and retraces his past."
This short track introduces Nikki, hospitalized and awaiting his trial. The TV is showing a news item on Nikki's recent endeavours. A low ominous keyboard sound starting almost halfway the song is the only music in this overture.
Chris de Garmo: "This is the segment where Nikki is introduced to Dr X while he is speaking at a rally and lasts just a minute."
This is a fast track with some very invigorating drumming by Scott Rockenfield, whipping up the crowd as it were! At the same time, De Garmo's and Wilton's dual guitars fill out the music. Dr X is shouting: "Do we have freedom? Do we have equality? This country is changing! It is no longer for all of the people! It is for some of the people!" The track ends with a great guitar solo by De Garmo and flows smoothlessly into the next track.
Chris De Garmo: "This is Dr X laying out his philosophy and indoctrination."
Great atmospheric drumming by Rockenfield in the first part. This is also the first track of the album where Geoff Tate can be heard singing. He is undoubtedly one of the best vocalists in the genre around. His range is incredible and he sings the parts on the album with great conviction. The last part of the track features another blistering guitar solo, supported by an equally powerful rhythmic guitar and Eddie Jackson's bass, who has no difficulty in getting himself heard among the onslaught of the two guitarists!
Chris De Garmo: "This is a call to arms and the next step after indoctrination. Dr. X is speaking to Nikki, sort of "Join me Luke Skywalker, we'll rule the world!" He orders him to bump off religious and political leaders. X is a cool, calm and sinister character who thinks he is going to right the world through violent means. His plan is brilliant in its simplicity: assassination and replacement. He calls it "Operation:Mindcrime" and Nikki is the key player. Nikki has a weakness. He likes the needle. Dr X makes sure Nikki feels good so he can do a good job. The chosen "Death Angel" is then easily manipulated through subliminal suggestion over the telephone. The password into Nikki's brain is 'mindcrime'."
The start of this song through the telephone is brilliant! I wonder how many Queensrÿche fans have this exact piece of music programmed on their answering machine! Nikki picks up the phone. It's Dr X. He whispers "mindcrime" and the song kicks in. Incredible full rhythm guitar sound form the intro of this track. Tate goes close to the limits of his vocal range on this track. Wilton and De Garmo provide another great musical interlude - their guitar duets are spot on - before the last stanza.
Chris De Garmo: "This has a crowd chanting with Nikki saying "Hey listen to me" while he does soap box preaching. He claims here that he has the answer and the vision about the future."
This track is very up-tempo, aggressive and staccato, with heavy guitar lines and special vocal effects.
Spreading The Disease
Chris De Garmo: "This song brings in the character of Mary who is a former prostitute. Mary worked the S&M shows in Times Square. At 17 she met Father William, who arranged her cloister with "Our Lady of Immaculate Pain". A new life. A different way of living. Except for her debt to him, which was expected to be paid in full, weekly, "...on the alter, like a sacrifice." When she was 18, Father William introduced her to a man named Dr X. Now she works for him. The song isn't meant to slam religion but points out people in respectable positions can still self-destruct and go wrong. It's about the manipulation of people's thinking. It's not a sexual disease. It's about corruption and the media, where the disease can be capitalism or communism."
The song starts with a very interesting drum rhythm, the song sort of comes rolling over you. The first part of the song is sung in a very lusting way by Tate as Nikki tell us how Sister Mary took good care of him and saw to it that he was wanting for nothing, which is of course to be taken in more ways than one!
A guitar solo leads into a more quiet part where, accompanied by some mechanical sounds, Tate sings a couple of my most favourite lines of the album: "Religion and sex are powerplays. Manipulate the people for the money they pay. Selling skin, selling God, the numbers look the same on their credit cards."
Chris De Garmo: "This is where Nikki has done the dirty deeds and Mary is giving him solace in a church. X has planted her to be Nikki's helper to absolve him of sins. She is being used by X to help comfort Nikki. In this song Nikki is in a candle lit room musing on all the people he has killed. He is convinced his mission will save the world and he should be proud of himself. He lights a candle for each hit and by the end of the tune he's sitting in a room full of candles. Can you imagine the scene!"
Whereas Tate is responsible for the lyrics on all the other songs, this is the exception. The Mission is all De Garmo, both musically and lyrically. This track starts of very quietly, especially compared to the previous six tracks. Acoustic guitar accompanies Tate's despairing voice. Before long though it's business as usual as the roar of the guitar twins fills your ears again.
Suite Sister Mary
Chris De Garmo: "This is the situation where Nikki and Mary come together. X is telling Nikki to kill Mary, and he doesn't want to, but X figures out Mary is becoming dangerous. Nikki and Mary try to escape."
Nikki is standing in the pouring rain as Dr X's limousine comes to a halt in front of him. The sound of thunder and rain form the backdrop to a Latin choir which combined with the echo in Tate's voice evokes a very eerie feeling in this song.
Again this track is a showcase for Tate's vocal talents. With apparent ease he evokes different emotions by subtly changing the tone of his voice.
The Needle Lies
Chris De Garmo: "Mary watches in disgust as her lover Nikki's troubled face dissolves into the leering, drooling face of the priest huffing and puffing above her. "...alter..sacrifice" something snaps inside her head. Nikki feels the coldness overtake her. He pulls away, vowing to kill Dr X and set them both free of their master's manipulations. Pulling closed the huge door behind him, he stumbles into the rainy night to keep his appointment with his "maker". This is where Nikki walks into X's lair and says he wants out. And X just laughs at him. Basically it's about the clutches of heroin that Nikki has been locked into to make him commit his crimes. The title of the song tells you not to trust drugs. To cure himself he carves into his arm "never trust the needle that lies."
The Needle Lies is a very fast piece with heavy guitar lines. It's the most straightforward metal song on the album, a bit like Powerslave era Iron Maiden.
Chris De Garmo: "After Nikki leaves, Mary is plagued by the vision of Nikki turning into Father William. As they made love on the altar, the memories came flooding back. Years filled with men who had used her, degraded and beaten her, and driven their hatred and coldness into her heart. Once, she thought Nikki was her hope. But now he seemed like all the rest. She hated him. She hated men. She hated life. "Anybody home?" Unable to shake his addiction, and feeling beaten in his confrontation with Dr X, Nikki returns. "Mary?" He finds her dead in her room."
This a short but great piece, very moody, with a great guitar solo, which is sadly much too short!
Breaking The Silence
Chris De Garmo: "This and the next song are both very remorseful. Nikki has fallen in love and has been deceived by it for the last time. He fell in love with Mary and it turned out a bad experience. This is about him running through the streets like a raving madman screaming her name."
This is also a typical Queensrÿche track, featuring lots of great rhythmic guitar playing, with the occasional guitar solo on top of it, the evocative drumming, the rumbling bass and Tate's very defining voice.
I Don't Believe In Love
Chris De Garmo: "The police arrest Nikki. The charges are: disorderly conduct, carrying a concealed weapon without a license, and resisting arrest. They know he's a junkie because of the tracks on his arms. His weapon also matches the one used in a string of recent killings. Nikki isn't making much sense now, babbling on about perverted priests, some kind of covert operation, and not believing in love."
This track starts very overpowering, great dual guitars and a driving rhythm section. There's every room for Jackson's bass in this track. Even more than in other songs he is very much present here. There's also an extended guitar solo by De Garmo. A very moody piece of acoustic guitar forms the bridge into the next track.
Waiting for 22
Chris De Garmo: "Left alone, Nikki thinks of Mary; of the night she died and why."
A guitar only piece, very sad and moody. You can just feel Nikki's despair.
My Empty Room
Chris De Garmo: "This is where Nikki is sitting in an empty room tracing Mary's figure on the wall and spacing out, wondering what he is going to do, all by himself. Who will be there to care for him and be his friend?"
A quiet piece carried by acoustic guitar and a clock (!). Nikki's despair is just dripping from Tate's voice in the second part of the song, where Nikki wonders aloud what will become of him now.
Eyes Of A Stranger
Chris De Garmo: "Charged with several murders, Nikki is committed to State Hospital to overcome his addiction. Awaiting trial, he suffers insomnia and is delirious. Searching through his past, he tries to find reasons for his actions and his weaknesses. Staring into the mirror, he sees a stranger. 6.01pm "I remember now."
This is the end going back to the beginning. The last part of the track is a medley of the whole album, revisiting themes from previous tracks. This onslaught culminates in a giant revolution vocal.
Chris De Garmo: "It ends with Nikki saying, "I remember now." The whole thing comes round in a giant circle. What happens to X? Ah, we are into the unknown here. X seems to escape doesn't he? Or can we believe Nikki's story?"
Operation:Mindcrime was performed live on the road in its entirety during the Building Empires tour in support of the follow-up album Empire, released in 1990. Footage from the tour was used to produce a live CD and video of the performance, titled "Operation: Livecrime." In early November of 1991, the two were released in a box set, which also included a special booklet containing pictures and the libretto to the concept album.
Over the years, Queensrÿche have proved themselves to be a unique entity, and Operation:Mindcrime a unique album, both a classic and a contemporary work of art whose significance will carry over effortlessly into the next millennium.
Written by Derk van Mourik
• Rough Guides
• An interview with Geoff Tate
• An interview with Chris De Garmo