Kerrang #188 May 1988 (4/5)
IT'S LATE. My cocoa's cold, the rest of the family have gone to bed and the mice are tucked up tidy, warm and asleep. I've been sitting by my stereo system for hours playing the new Queensryche album over and over again. 'Operation:Mindcrime', you see, is an ambitious and fascinating record. It is also highly confusing, but we'll come back to that later. In the meantime, let's throw away the note-book and shake some action instead.
Just over a year ago I met up with Geoff Tate and Chris DeGarmo over a spot of lunch. During our discussion we touched on the subject of future recording plans. It seemed almost certain from their guarded comments that Neil Kernon, the producer of the magnificent 'Rage For Order' opus, would once again take charge of Queensryche's controlled chaos. They had been pleased with his previous work and, more importantly, he had shown great empathy with their ambitious plans for the future. As I understood it, Kernon was virtually turning into the band's unofficial sixth member.
Strange then that somewhere down the line the task of production went elsewhere. It passed, in fact, to Peter Collins, a man whose experienced hands had previously been anointed with Gary Moore and, perhaps more importantly, Rush. Later that year (1987) news filtered through to Kerrang! that Queensryche had commenced work on their new album and rumour suggested that it was to be a project of immense complexity. We sat back in our swivel chairs, stuck ballpoint pens behind our ears and entered into the age-old game of idle speculation.
Musically, we countered, Queensryche had surely taken their lot as far as it was reasonably possible. How many layers of guitars could you record before matters would turn full circle? Rhythmically, they had already strayed beyond even our wildest expectations, so no room for manoeuvre there. What could they possibly be hiding up their sleeves? Someone, and I'll be honest enough to say that it wasn't me, argued that maybe we were looking in the wrong window. What would be the likelihood of them stringing a set of songs together utilising one main storyline? How about the notion of a concept? Yeah, we all nodded like woodpeckers, that's what they're up to, they're making a bloody concept album!
Sure enough rumour soon turned to FACT and in no time at all the basis of the storyline crept out. Something about the exploitation of human resources which goes to make up international capitalism. Yeah, I'd studied a tiny piece of sociology at school, touched on various themes and perspectives, learned how the state is controlled rigidly by the bourgeoisie: Neo-Marxist theory, right?
As far as I can detect, the storyline features three central characters: Nikki, a streetwise punk who turns his grievances and frustrations into active rebellion; Dr X (played by British actor Anthony Valentine - remember 'Colditz'?), a sinister doctor who recruits Nikki into a web of underground activity; and finally Sister Mary, a one-time vice gal turned nun, yet still utterly corrupt and evil. Together these characters form the basis of a fine storyline (interweaving scenes in the manner of a screenplay) reflecting how corrupt our (or is it purely American?) society has become.
The story is resolutely antifascist and smashes a firm fist in the face of such populist topics as media corruption, religion (highly apt in view of US evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's recent revelations), poverty, seedy sex, repression and monetarism. It is highly socio-political and one wonders if that in itself may be enough to clinch the continued support of their existing fan base and turn on a whole lot more. I mean, look what that approach did for Rush!
But there are some flaws. The storyline isn't that complete and I could've done with a shade less potent lyricism. Also, there appear to be some obvious missing pieces, like a patchwork of random thought if the truth be known. I suspect, however, that the band have deliberately left these gaps, perhaps to plug with future recordings? Who knows?
In addition, there are approximately three songs on the album that bear little significant relationship to the storyline. 'I Don't Believe In Love' and 'Breaking The Silence' are perhaps the two obvious ones, and it occurs to me that perhaps this material was written prior to the concept being fully realised. Alternatively, there's the possibility that they ran out of recording time and included these songs in a frantic effort to finish the project quickly.
But what about the music? The militant strains of 'Rage For Order' blasted Metal into the twentieth century. Utilising complex rhythms and massive amounts of ranting guitar, Queensryche carved a name for themselves as the ultimate rock 'n roll band. Always in overdrive, they thundered from start to finish, packing punches and mastering mutant rock, bringing it sharply into another twilight dimension. Really, it was like listening to music in 3D!
With 'Operation:Mindcrime' little has changed, except that their songs are much, much better. Production, a somewhat touchy point, is clean and massively vague, reminiscent, in fact, of latter-day Rush -a result, I suspect, of Peter Collins' involvement. There's a total of fifteen separate tracks, two of which are instrumentals and one a spoken introduction.
Every song is a monstrous achievement, fitted out with customary blustering guitar and potent high octane vocals, Geoff Tate's voice finally developing a unique character, playing each role with impeccable precision, I won't even begin to make reference to choice cuts, they're all equally magnificent. Loud and dogmatic, there can be no doubt that Queensryche are the ultimate in mental Metal.
For existing fans this album will be a revelation. However, if you have never heard Queensryche before I suggest you lay off this album, go back a step, pick up on 'Rage For Order' and then progress to 'Operation: Mindcrime'. Needless to say that whatever route you take you'll be sure to return blown away.