We’re not talking about just any album here. We’re talking about Queensryche’s ‘tour de force’, their ‘magnum opus’ or any other cliche that denotes sheer perfection. Yes we’re talking about Operation: Mindcrime, not only Queensryche’s zenith, considered by many as the apogee of concept albums and heavy metal in general. Basically we’re talking about progressive metal nirvana.
There is a reason that the preponderance of reviewers give Operation: Mindcrime five stars. When it comes to concept albums, it is the standard to which all concept albums are compared, it has no peers. Heck I do it myself, stacking other very good concept albums against the incomparable Operation: Mindcrime.
What is a concept album? It is simply an album where each song revolves around a single concept or story.
In only their second album, Queensryche scored their breakthrough success with this most ambitious concept album, Operation: Mindcrime, which tells the story of an anarchist whose disillusionment with Reagan-era American society leads him to join a shadowy plot to assassinate corrupt leaders. The band plays fabulously and Geoff Tate does both a great acting and singing job and the music as indicated is quite ambitious, featuring, among others “Suite Sister Mary”, a ten-minute track with orchestrations by Michael Kamen.
The band released two hit singles “Eyes of a Stranger” and “I Don’t Believe In Love” from this album which is basically hard driving heavy metal except for these singles, which are both power ballads. Interspersed within the music are four suites of dialogue and several other cameos of short monologue or dialogue which help tell the story. These certainly add a nice touch in completing this great recording.
Operation Mindcrime begins in a hospital ward where a patient named Nikki after a pain shot from a nurse who calls him a bastard, recalls the recent rash of murders he perpetrated at the request of Dr. X. Nikki, you see, was a psychotic, cynical malcontent who was recruited and brainwashed by the nefarious Dr. X, a power crazed evangelical preacher, leader of ‘The Order’, to be his personal assassin.
After getting Nikki addicted to drugs, brainwashed and dependent on him for his fixes, Dr. X sends Nikki first out to kill an unnamed corrupt politician, then his girlfriend Mary (an ex hooker) and the priest who got her off the streets because they are risks.
After completing his mission but not remembering it, he finds Mary murdered and realizing what he has done, Nikki goes on a drug binge and ends up in the hospital, the victim of a self induced narcotics overdose. From there the songs vacillate to a series of recriminations and rationalizations with “Breaking the Silence” “I don’t Believe in Love” and “The Eyes of a Stranger”.
It is truly a hard choice on this album but here is my list of the four best songs:
“Spreading the Disease”
For those faint of heart you may want to stay away from this song as it’s just loaded with sex and deviancy. It is the sordid tale of Mary a prostitute, whom Nikki tries to save by getting a priest to take her off the streets. This emotive song is set to heavy double base drums at a medium/fast tempo with plenty of metal accompaniment.
“Suite Sister Mary”
A ten minute and forty second masterpiece, this ‘piece de resistance’ starts out with Dr. X ordering Nikki to go out and kill Mary and the priest after which, “Mary” starts out with a solo melodic guitar and a Choir which goes on to accompany Tate throughout the song. As on the whole album there are sound effects and dialogue thrown in such as thunder and sirens.
The music itself is again a highly emotional but variable paced number that is a wonderful confluence of rock/metal and opera.
“I don’t Believe in Love”
In this song Nikki denies his love for Mary because he cannot face the fact that he murdered her. It is a sad melancholy power ballad. It is very melodic with a varied pace, the verses being slower than the chorus. This was released as a single because it is quite accessible and it was a minor hit even though taken away from the story it loses something.
“The Eyes of a Stranger”
This is my favorite song after “Mary”, it is again very melodic varied tempo piece with a great guitar intro. Tate does some powerful singing here on the choruses. the song picks up speed as it goes on up to about a medium pace.
Another single and again a minor hit.
I have a confession to make. I don’t put much emphasis on lyrics and seldom pay much attention to them, especially when they are hard to understand. Operation: Mindcrime is the exception. The lyrics are easily understood and tell a sad if not exciting, suspenseful story. I’m sure everyone will have their own interpretation of this monumental work, in my case I visualized definite similarities to the movie Manchurian Candidate.
In this day of terrorism and runaway fanatical religion this classic album/story gains even more importance.
There are so many nuances in the epic CD that everytime I listen to it I pick up something new. If you haven’t heard Operation: Mindcrime, don’t you think it’s time.