1988, a young heroin addict named Nicky met with Sister Mary and the enigmatic Doctor X and rose through the ranks of a shadowy organisation before he was imprisoned for his deeds. This story, filled with social observations and criticisms along with fantastic vocals and cutting memories put Queensrychë on the musical map and established them as a true powerhouse. Operation Mindcrime is arguably Tate’s ‘Mona Lisa’ and given it’s either that album or ‘Empire’ which people instinctively jump to when you mention his name. Keen to retain the rights to his project and brainchild, Tate secured everything to do with O:M from Queensrychë during the messy split and now, some years later, he finally surfaces. Let’s see if Operation Mindcrime was the key to everything in the Queensryche camp.
Given how this is a Tate concept album, you know it’s going to be elaborate and intricate with a huge emphasis on vocals which performed on stage will allow Tate to ‘act the scenes they describe’ out, you only have to see footage from the ‘Mindcrime At The Moore’ concert where O:M I & II were performed in their entirety to see this. With a convoluted story to match which is only the first of three albums promised, it’s certainly deep but the premise is pretty weak – someone has this key/code which has some major significance and it’s one of those “should we keep it? should we sell it to the highest bidder? should we release it for all?” type deals… Basically a shitty modern ‘thriller’ movie where the only thrill is surviving the ordeal to the end.
Musically, it’s pretty much like that description above. Given Tate’s obsession with Mindcrime and the whole ‘power’ it had, it doesn’t really sound much like it. Sure, Tate said he wasn’t re- creating the old sound or album, but surely dipping into the sounds and styles on offer a bit more would have made the album a little more entertaining to listen to. “Re-inventing The Future” which is the lead single from the release captures the classic Queensrychë sound with its melodic hooks, hard hitting riffs and trademark vocal phrasings whilst “Burn” takes things more towards Q2K territory with its murkier and darker sound. “Life And Death” is a newer approach with some very Nine Inch Nails like vocal work and a lot of great synth moments and catchy riffs but that is about it for high points. The rest of the album is rather lacklustre. Lacking any spark to really catch the attention or involve the listener in the story, it’s more the “I am Geoff Tate, listen to me” than a conceptual piece of music which leaves you wanting more.
We all knew there would be some changes and progression from the Queensrychë sound when Tate finally felt ready to unleash his new musical vision, but despite him being (at one point) one of the best vocalists in Metal, without the likes of Chris DeGamo backing him up and creating some fantastic music, he’s just holding onto a name from the past and trying to catch up to what Queensrychë have become now. Sure, vocals may suffer over time, it happens to a lot of people and Tate’s haven’t aged as well as many would have hoped. Sounding lifeless at times or like he is really struggling to hit some of his trademark deliveries, be it higher range or moody and powerful, Operation Mindcrime aren’t re-inventing anything any time soon.
In all, “The Key” isn’t Operation Mindcrime, its Queensrychë. Tate can’t unlock this door and he’s stuck on the other side whilst his former band mates are enjoying a second lease of life and a far better sound. Tate may have been the voice of Queensrychë, but this release proves that is all he is, the real talent and impact lay with the music which his voice worked with and without them and that spark they made when the two combined, it’s nothing special in the slightest. A huge disappointment, don’t waste your time.