Operation: Mindcrime II (Rhino)
by Martin Popoff
It’s quite a feat that Geoff Tate has managed to stay true to his longstanding disdain for metal (for which he’s been pilloried) and still deliver a record that is a bunch of good things, including dark, complicated, true to the spirit and tone of the original Operation Mindcrime, and above all, evocative of heaviness without being all that point-blank heavy metallic. Hell, Queensrÿche also manage a moody murkiness despite a very bright recording, a recording that – either by accident or design – captures the energetic and brisk high mid-ranges of the original ’88 album’s drum sound.
The story is set 20 years after the first one, and is just as bizarre, again involving Nikki and Sister Mary and Dr. X, and like the first one, this one is destined to be admired only from afar. Operation: Mindcrime II is metal’s Ulysses (or worse, Finnegan’s Wake): Everybody’s got one, but few have actually read it. As well, Queensrÿche manage to create a modern prog metal masterwork, but more from offering a bewildering stack of textures than weird time signatures or riffs. But have no fear, there are rockers (and more often, crunching passages) as well as guitar solos. One of the highlights is “The Chase,” which features Ronnie James Dio. The track speaks to this idea of progressive, sophisticated arrangement, plus the aforementioned heaviness, without all that much bald-faced heavy metal. The strings or keyboards or keyboard strings or whatever the hell they are, seem to arrive and hang around in too many places mid to late in the album, and I eventually found myself saddled with concept fatigue, but fortunately, songs like “Fear City Slide” arrive to impart upon this seductive sleight of hand the band’s managed, impressively crafting a sort of modern, electronic-sheened yet dark prog metal, a descriptor that also applies to the band’s misunderstood at the time but now well-regarded Rage for Order album from ’86.
Operation: Mindcrime II ends on a miasmic and out-chilled Pink Floyd note with something called “All The Promises,” Queensrÿche almost daring the chattering class to keep up the tittering about the band losing its metal compass. Simultaneously, the band can walk away, grinning like wrinkled Cheshire cats, o’er the triumph of assimilating the disparate elements of the sprawled catalogue to date along with the sprawled motivations of the five guys forced to pound this thing into place.