Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What's Good and Bad about Operation: Mindcrime II

When Queensryche announced plans to release a sequel to their third album, "Operation: Mindcrime," a mixture of fear and excitement gripped those who believe Mindscrime was the pinnacle of progressive metal concept albums. Why mess with a stunning achievement? Especially after the band's inventiveness and quality had diminished over the years. Would the album tarnish the previous masterpiece?

Briefly, yes. But I'm disappointed that the sequel (aptly if unimaginatively named "Operation: Mindcrime II") has gotten such a tough reception. There are some things to like about this album. I'll try to recount what these are while giving an honest assessment of the less successful aspects of the album.

First, the music is more aggressive and powerful than the few preceding releases (especially the awful "Hear in the Now Frontier"). Perhaps it was the return to the conflict-laden storyline, but whatever the cause, the album simply rocks harder than most of their later albums. A welcome development. Songs like "Signs Say Go" and "Re-Arrange You" are fast and heavy. Often as a band ages, they slow down and write mostly bland, mid-tempo songs.

There are a few of those unfortunate snores, and what is worse, they come right in a row: "Hostage," "The Hands," and "Speed of Light" are back to back to back.  Luckily the album picks up right at the end of "Speed of Light" and is fantastic after that.  The only other weak spot is "Circles," which is three minutes of wasted space.  It's one of those songs that a band puts on the album to set a reflective mood, but there's not enough melody to keep it interesting (songs like "Waiting for 22" and "My Empty Room" on the first Operation: Mindcrime album are instrinsically interesting on a musical level in addition to their dramatic rationale).

Some people have complained that the storytelling on this sequel is weak.  I agree that not much happens; the plot is thin, but the album is more about the psychological journey of the main character.  I'll take it for what it's worth.  One of the more dramatic moments includes "The Chase," in which the mighty Ronnie James Dio does a stunning turn as Dr. X.  Geoff Tate is a masterful singer, but Dio sings with a clarity and grace that powers the song.

The final song, "All the Promises," does a great job closing out the album.  It's an emotionally powerful duet between the incomparable Pamela Moore (reprising her role as Sister Mary) and Geoff Tate.  The guitar solo is somehow both eerie and bluesy at the same time.  It winds down in a sad and beautiful way.  There are enough pleasures on this album to justify buying it, and way more than enough to justify its existence.

So, while it's true that "this is no Operation: Mincrime," it is a very good album and one that progressive metal fans should have in their collection.

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