Issue 2006-016: Queensrÿche - Operation Mindcrime II - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Freiheit Ouverture (1:36), Convict (0:08), I'm American (2:53), One Foot In Hell (4:13), Hostage (4:30), The Hands (4:37), Speed Of Light (3:12), Signs Say Go (3:17), Re-Arrange You (3:11), The Chase (3:10), A Murderer? (4:34), Circles (2:59), If I Could Change It All (4:28), An Intentional Confrontation (2:32), A Junkie's Blues (3:42), Fear City Slide (4:58), All The Promises (5:11)
Ed Sander's Review
To be perfectly honest, when I heard that one of my favourite bands was planning to make a sequel to their legendary Operation Mindcrime album I certainly wasn't chopping at the bit to get it. As a matter of fact I thought it was a very bad idea. After my favourite, Promised Land, the band had made several disappointing albums and only with their latest effort, Tribe, were they getting somewhat near their old splendour. However, nowhere near the aforementioned Mindcrime and Promised Land. As with most movie sequels I expected the outcome to be far from the quality of the original. And as with many of the 80s bands trying to make a comeback based on their work in that decade I didn't think this was going to work either.
So when I got the album I was anxious to hear it but mainly because I wanted to prove myself wrong. Which I couldn't ... Upon first listen I thought 'boy this sucks !'. But then two thoughts crossed my mind. First of all, it had taken me a while to get into Tribe as well, as with many other albums I have ended up liking. Second, I remembered (now) Geoff Tate's words in an interview that were somewhere along the lines of 'the fans will not realise that it took them a while to get into the first Mindcrime and will expect to like the second one immediately. They should give it a fair chance'. Wise words from one of my favourite vocalists. So I decided to give the album a couple of extra chances and have played it almost every day since.
My final conclusion is that it's a grower. I have started liking parts of the album. I have also come to the conclusion that I still consider it a bad idea to do a sequel since nowhere do the band reach the same quality as on the original album and the story is not all that interesting either. We find Nikki out of jail experiencing the new speed of society 20 years after being locked up. He goes in search of Dr. X to take revenge for the killing of his love, Sister Mary, who appears in the story as the voice of Nikki's conscience. Most of the story is about Nikki's introvert struggle deciding if he should kill the doctor and thereby fall back to being nothing more than the killer he used to be. It's basically like the second half of the original album in which nothing much happens after the killing of Sister Mary.
Musically there's some interesting thoughts, like the use of a Mama-like drum machine (Speed Of Light), the return of the big choir in If I Could Change It All, the use of the melodies of Anarchy X (in A Junkie's Blues) and Eyes Of A Stranger (in The Hands). Nevertheless, most of the album suffers from the lack of good catchy melodies that made the first album so good. This especially applies to the second half of the album, where most of the songs do absolutely nothing for me. The second half of the album largely consists of duets between Tate (Nikki), Ronnie James Dio (Dr. X) and Pamela Moore (Sister Mary). As far as I'm concerned these duets often fall flat by feeling too forced. Sometimes it's more like listening to a metal version of a musical or opera where seemingly unrelated music and words are forced together. Occasionally there's a good melody line but overall it misses the necessary hooks. As such the track that will have everybody talking (The Chase, a duet between Tate and Dio) just feels like something that was flung together much too quickly. As a matter of fact that goes for most of the second half of the album.
Most of the better songs can be found in the first half, once you get past the disappointing instrumental opener, which misses the necessary power and bombast and a silly one-liner soundbite they decided to make a separate eight second track, you get some good stuff like the powerful I'm American, the catchy One Foot In Hell and the dark The Hands, all of which capture the mood of the original album quite well. Some others like Speed Of Light, with it's Kashmir-like Zeppelin riff, and Signs Say No grow upon multiple listenings, while the end of the records had a nice treat in Fear City Slide. The rest of the songs are mostly weak with the atmospheric Circles and choir in If I Could Change It All being failed attempts to copy the sound of the original. Also, the sound of some stunning guitar solos of the original is almost completely absent on this new record. And the boring album closer All The Promises is perhaps the biggest anti-climax I have ever heard on a concept album.
All in all, this album in itself has some fine tunes but overall doesn't reach the same quality as Tribe and certainly not the original Mindcrime (although a lot of people will probably disagree with me regarding Tribe). As such I would have preferred it had the band left their legendary concept album for what it was and spend their time on composing some more fine tunes in order to make a real convincing 'come back'.
Martien Koolen's Review
Finally 16 years after the success of Operation Mindcrime Seattle rockers Queensrÿche release the sequel. For all these years fans and critics have been comparing every new Queensrÿche album with OM, always stating that it was not as good as…. I can only say that I truly like newer QR albums like Hear In The Now Frontier, Q2K or Tribe; the latter being exceptionally good. However, the reviews and the criticism on those albums were extremely harsh and uncalled for, as a good rock band should move on and adapt their music to modern times, like Rush did e.g..
I can imagine that Tate & Co got sick of the Mindcrime comparisons and therefore decided to release Mindcrime II?? Now that it has been released I cannot understand the critics and the fans, as the majority do not seem to like OM II….. Having read a lot of reviews I cannot (and will not) understand comments like:
“it is not as good as OM I"...
"the new album does not have songs like Revolution Calling or Suite Sister Mary"...
"Geoff Tate’s vocals are rather mediocre"... or
"this album is a degradation of the legend as it is chaotic, uncatchy, cold and without emotion".
Give me a break, this is 2006, the music business is NOT the same as it was 16 years ago and if you listen to this album (with headphones on) very carefully and more than ONCE, then you will notice that the album grows on you. The more you hear it, the more you will love it.
Of course it is different than the “original”, but who wants to hear an exact copy of OM I, who wants to hear the same thing over and over again?? On this new album Geoff Tate still sings like a true metal god, only his high-pitched “screaming” is “omitted.” And that is just as well, because it would not fit in with the rest of the music and furthermore no singer screams like that in the year 2006, it is NOT done anymore. The music on OM II is again rather heavy and aggressive as the entire album is filled with raw guitar riffs, speedy solos and even some guitar duels. Tate is at his best in songs like Hostage, The Chase (with an amazing guest role for Ronnie James Dio as Dr.X) and All The Promises, in which the duet with Pamela Moore leads to a rather emotional and gripping end…. The album has it all, a great story line, chilling vocals, bombastic parts, guitars all over the entire album and it never really loses its momentum. Right from the start after the dark, bombastic intro Freiheit Ouverture and the audio fragment Convict (where we hear that Nikki is released from prison), songs like I’m American, Hostage and The Hands grab me just like Revolution Calling grabbed me 18 years ago….
I cannot understand people that are disappointed in this album as it is still growing after repeated listenings, and I am really looking forward to Arrow Rock on June 10 where Queensrÿche will perhaps play OM I & II in their entirety… This album should be on every prog metal lover's top 5 list of the year 2006!! Stop nagging, Queensrÿche is back with a vengeance, although in fact they have never been away, of course…..
Christos Ampatzis' Review
Eighteen years after the release of Operation: Mindcrime I, Queensrÿche are back with a sequel. Twelve years after their last good release (the excellent Promised Land), the band goes back to their most successful album concept. How did that happen? Frontman Geoff Tate says that he had begun working on a screenplay for Mindcrime and in doing so realized that there were holes in the story and vague, fuzzy areas that set the grounds and gave birth to the sequel. This enterprise on one hand guarantees publicity, mainly in metal circles, since the band had lost a big part of its die-hard fans with the disappointing releases over the past years, but on the other hand can lead to the end of Queensrÿche: a bad album when compared to the 1988 masterpiece would irreversibly stain their career.
So is the album any good? Well, a bit uninspired but not that bad, actually slightly better than I expected it to be. Smartly Queensrÿche aim again at metal audiences and they do a quite decent job in replacing the missing creative power: Chris De Garmo, who left the band back in 1997. The album is a metal album, with lots of ballads, some alternative or grunge elements, lots of strings, and overall gives the impression of a metal opera. After several listens, one can see some similarities with the first part, in recurrent riffs but also in trying to keep the sound production similar. It's not just the female vocalist Pamela Moore who reappears. Surprisingly, sampled voices (Dr. Davis, telephone please...) are missing. But let's take the tracks one by one.
Freiheit Overture is the sequel's Anarchy-X, where the strings want to play the haunting role, but the comparison is rather unfair... Drumming is pretty good here by Scott Rockenfield, unlike many parts in the album where this great master manages to remain unnoticed... Convict is just an intro for the first album single I'm American, a really speedy track that will no doubt please the metal audience. Lyrics are fine, harsh and of a more general nature, treating some more global issues than just the love of Nikki and Mary or Dr X. Surely a good single choice. The story goes on with a mediocre poser-like song, One Foot In Hell, in the spirit of Revolution Calling, although once again comparisons will probably disappoint. Hostage is a mid-tempo track with some old Queensrÿche feeling, mellow nice guitars, but a grungy ugly refrain, while The Hands is, probably, the to-be fan favourite. Borrowing from Breaking The Silence, it's a very good track with a catchy refrain and nice Tate performance that really raises expectations for the rest of the album.
The first really bad track is Speed Of Light. While the atmosphere was building up, comes this track which brings back nightmares of Sign Of The Times... At its end we have the first instance of the duets between Tate and Pamela Moore. And there is more, much more to come...Signs Say Go together with Re-arrange You speed things up once again, without being excellent tracks they are standing quite well, although Tate's high pitch one tone voice is rather irritating. And here we come to one of the most expected moments, the duet between Dio and Tate, Dio incorporating Dr.X. If I exclude the rather tiring strings, this is a good rock-opera track, with a fine performance by both monsters of rock, and indeed Dio was a very good choice for Dr.X. Things change in Murderer? though: the futuristic keyboards deceive you and leave you waiting for a Rage For Order era-like track. Instead, a tiring track with Tate shrieking aggressively in constant high-pitch and letting down all the people who remember him as a singer that can easily shift between tones and frequencies. Is it a matter of not being able to do it anymore or a matter of not willing to, I do not know.
In Circles he does not really sing, rather recites, but this moody and dark track with just a wicked distorted guitar in the background is one of the best moments of the album. If I could change it all marks the return of the saxophone and is a rather simple ballad that gets only worse when Mary comes in. It evolves to some kind of Suite Sister Mary little brother and smartly breaks into An International Confrontation, the real metal opera track of the album. To me it does nothing at all, I just do not find the duet interesting. A Junkie's Blues kicks off in a tough way but turns with an original Queensrÿche break into an atmospheric mid-tempo with Tate whispering instead of singing in order to dramatise things more. Tate+strings once again, and Geoff screams again. Memories of Anarchy-X at the track's end can save the day. The album comes to an end slowly, and the band saves the worst for last! Fear City Slide with the bad refrain, the alternative riffs and the same high pitch Tate (at one and the same tone always). Pull the trigger and spare us from All The Promises, a rather cheap ballad that leaves you with a bitter taste. At best, boring. One cannot avoid remembering the perfect exodus-closing of the 1988 Opus, Eyes Of A Stranger.
So the album is not that bad, although it does not say much to me. There are nice ideas here and there and the will to make something better than the stuff Queensrÿche did in the past 10 years, even though the negative elements of this dark era are still here and are not pushed aside. The absence of Chris De Garmo is visible in guitar solos, inspiration but also in backing vocals, which used to colour nicely the background. Geoff Tate, whose contribution to this project seems to be much higher than the one of the rest of the band and who clearly leads the song-writing, still has a great voice and still knows how to sing, but his persistence in singing at the same high pitch is tiring, and so are the more than enough duets with Pamela Moore. The abundance of strings everywhere tries to fill the gaps in the compositions and to enrich the atmosphere, unlike the first album where this was inherent in the syntheses.
What let me down more than everything though, is the fact that the band made the soundtrack to a story. This album is based on a story that they want to tell, and the rest is built on that. Mindcrime I had the story but also had songs that could stand alone. I doubt if 3-4 songs off Mindcrime II can stand outside the concept context. Moreover, the lyrics in the first part were even allegoric and apart from the story there was a philosophy, a message, a criticism on some things. This time, there is almost nothing but the story: Dr.X, Mary and Nikki, despite the band's effort to sell it as a way to point out similarities in political and social conditions between the end of the 80's and now. Ah, talking about the story, who killed Mary? Pamela Moore did.