Trying to do a concept record with both musical appeal and lyrical substance is a daunting feat. Writing a sequel to an album considered by many to be the greatest concept record of all time is an even more trying task. The members of Queensryche faced these trying tasks, as well as having to shake off their last decade of music, which hasn’t live up to the quality of their greatest works, including 1994′s Promised Land. In many ways, revisiting the brilliance of Operation Mindcrime could stand as the ballsiest move in this band’s career, or, if the sequel was pathetic, it could mark career suicide. Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.
In reality, Operation Mindcrime II will be judged on two levels – story and music. Looking at the story, it’s the continuation of the story of Nikki. Now 20 years older and released from Prison, Mindcrime II takes you on yet another bizarre tale of deceit, murder, plotting and general evil. It weaves in and out of storylines flawlessly, calculating two moves ahead of one’s normal though process with each and every track. Without detailing the story (you’ll have to buy the record if you really want to know), it’s safe to say that Mindcrime II does a masterful job at revisiting the original epic.
Musically, those looking for a continuation of the original Mindcrime‘s musical landscape need to keep looking. The band has been successful in recreating much of the old-school sonic dirge, but musically this is a far different record than was expected. For the first time in memory, Queensryche has truly built a full landscape of sound instead of individual numbers. Many of the tracks, such “The Chase”, are peppered with ambient keyboard and string combinations. Further, there are peaks and valleys on this release: Many songs, including “If I Could Change It All” or “All The Promises,” are ballads. A large number of songs are mid-tempo rockers as well; it’s almost as if their conception might have come during the TRIBE writing periods. Tracks such as “Speed Of Light” really emphasize this point. This is not saying that any of it is bad. More to the point, the sequel simply doesn’t have the sonic force of the original.
When considering the sound, you have to start with vocalist Geoff Tate. Gone are the days when he could shatter glass with his high-pitched squeal. Today, he has settled into a rich, full tone that is a bit lower than his early voice, but shows greater strength when soaring over the band’s melodies. Tate sounds particularly great on rockers such as “I’m American” and “Murderer?”.
As for the band, it has really put it together this time out. Axemen Mike Stone and Michael Wilton provide a thick, driving wall of guitar throughout, which powers many of the songs. They riff it up hard on tracks like “Signs Say Go,” pushing them hard against the killer underbelly created by bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield.
One of the most interesting songs on the CD is “The Chase,” which features a duet between Tate and Ronnie James Dio (as the bragging Dr. X). It’s a unique combination of two of rock’s greatest all-time vocalists, yet neither singer truly dominates the song.
As a band, Queensryche is as solid as it’s been in years. As a record, Operation Mindcrime II is a success.
RATING – 8/10 – It’s a relative impossibility that Queensryche could ever surpass the brilliance it created the first time around. Too much time has passed: Whereas the original likely sprung from a magical, collective inspiration, the band’s musical ideas are now conceived and planned. Still, there is no denying that the band’s latest release is the best work it has done in more than a decade. An appropriate sequel to their best-ever work, Operation Mindcrime II delivers as most had hoped it would.