First off, Operation: Mindcrime are not a band. It may look that way but this is Geoff Tate’s solo career with a bunch of hired hands under a band name. Nothing wrong with that, many bands are like that, but this project is all about Tate, he’s the singer, frontman, leader and the one that calls all the shots. Why am I writing this then? Well, the fact that Tate is the captain of this ship might worry some people. Why? Well, his old band Queensrÿche were really close to going under when Tate did what he felt like with that band. The last few Queensrÿche albums were also more or less Tate’s solo albums, written and recorded by him and producer Jason Slater and the rest of the guys hardly played a note on them. Those are albums that has few fans around the world, because, well, most of them are really bad and they nearly cost Queensrÿche its career. Also, the first album that Tate made with his own version of Queensrÿche, Frequency Unknown, only proved what many fans had feared, Tate had completely lost it musically. When Tate decided to name his new outfit after his former band’s most popular and best-selling album, it was clear that he wouldn’t leave Queensrÿche completely – the way I see it, to take a name like that is to paint yourself into a corner somewhat. Why not just let the past be past and just start over? Well, be that as it may, Tate’s new career is in full bloom and last year, the band released their debut album The Key, an album that came with a lot of low expectations for many people, including me. The reviews of that album were mixed, but to me that record was a pleasant surprise. Not by any means a masterpiece, but it was without a doubt the best record Tate had sung on since his glory Queensrÿche days. The new album is part two of a trilogy story that started with the last record, a story that is somewhat kept in the dark. I haven’t been able to find out exactly what the trilogy saga is about, but it looks like it’s some kind of modern apocalyptic story about the internet and technology. Musically, Tate has been on a somewhat experimental journey for quite some time now and even though I find it’s ok to experiment here and there, it only gets annoying when the experimental bit takes over. The Key could have even been better if he had concentrated on the music and the melodies instead of recording weird stuff just for the sake of being weird. So I was hoping that this time, most of that stuff would have been out of his system and the actual songs would be the focal point. It would be so awesome if Tate just could prove that he still has a killer album in him.
The title track that opens the album is an intro and on a record based on a story, an intro is expected. I guess they’re trying to paint a musical picture and create a theatrical vibe with it, but the intro is all about synthesizers, electronica and strange sounds, but it fails to add any visually at all. Second song “When All Falls Away” is a two and half minute long instrumental, a bit on the progressive and jazzy side but there’s no memorable melody so it kinda fails right there. “A Moment In Time” is even more confusing, a 30 seconds long piece with only keyboards and some vocals, too short to make any impact at all. Next up. “Through The Noize” is a one minute long “song” with only a synth and Tate’s vocals and again it goes nowhere and now I’m starting to lose patience with this record. Four songs in and not one real song, nothing that makes you grasp what it’s all about, just a bunch of experimental sounds and melodies that passes by in one ear and out the other. It’s with song number five, “”Left For Dead”, that we get first real song. It has a real Queensrÿche sounding rhythm mixed with some electronica and a dark atmosphere with a slightly commercial melody which makes the song quite catchy. Any good, then? Well, yeah, it actually is, I like it. “Miles Away” (a title Tate has already used on Queensrÿche’s Hear In The Now Frontier (1997)) starts with a big drum beat and a heavy riff, keyboards and bass are upfront in the mix but the melody isn’t memorable enough for the song to lift and I can’t really grasp it. Mostly it sounds like something from Queensrÿche’s Dedicated To Chaos (2009) only not as crap. “Healing My Wounds” is a dark and atmospheric jazz and blues influenced tune with a floating rhythm, but it feels like the song just keeps going without ever taking off properly. It’s not bad, it just is.
“The Fight”, however, is awesome. It’s a ballad where the acoustic guitars are upfront and the foundation of the song. It’s still rhythmic and the melody is very memorable and it’s definitely a song that proves that Tate still can write a moving ballad. “Taking On The World” is the album’s first video (and single, I guess) and it’s easy to figure out why. It’s an uptempo hard rock song with a very catchy pop melody. Fact is, the tune sticks immediately and the chorus really nails itself to the brain after just one listen. The song also contains guest vocals from Tim “Ripper” Owens (ex- Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Blaze Bayley (Blaze, Ex- Iron Maiden, Wolfsbane) – very cool indeed. “Invincible” is a very Queensrÿche sounding song, over seven minutes long, heavy and progressive, yet very memorable and melodic. I’m also getting an early 80’s AOR vibe from the keyboard sound – and it really fits – great song! “A Smear Campaign” is a heavy, very headbanging-friendly song that also comes with a chunk of pure rock ‘n’ roll in it, mixed with some classic Queensrÿche arrangements and a saxophone. The sound or the arrangement reminds me somewhat of Promised Land (1994) although this tune is a bit tough to get the hang of. It’s not bad, but it won’t really lift. “Into The Hands Of The World” sounds like a mix of Metallica’s “Until It Sleeps” and “Enter Sandman” in the beginning, but is mostly an attempt to be progressive, big and epic, but it’s only weird, unnecessarily experimental and messy without any structure. The chorus has some catchiness to it, but that’s it. The ending with “Live From My Machine” however, is superb. What we get here is a big, epic, progressive metal ballad, heavy and dark with an almost overwhelming atmosphere and melodies that grows into your mind as the song goes along. I find musical connections to bands like Queensrÿche, Dream Theater and Fates Warning as well – easily the best song on the album.
As a whole, the second effort from Tate’s Operation: Mindcrime is uneven – the debut was clearly better and more even. To pull a stunt like starting an album with four short pieces of music is probably an attempt on being theatrical or cinematic and creating some kind of atmosphere, but it’s only annoying, especially when none of the snippets adds anything to the whole picture. But there are some really great songs on this record that shows that Tate still got it, but on the other hand we’re given some really dull stuff and again, sometimes it feels like the band is just trying to be experimental for the sake of being weird and different. On the production side things look a lot brighter. The sound scape is big, clean and the instruments are separated gracefully, but at the same time they’re all united, if that makes any sense. With The Key, I thought that Tate and his comrades were on their way back on track again, but this album takes them a few steps back which is a shame. Hopefully Tate & co will concentrate on the actual songs and the melodies for the third and final part of his story and make it a really good album – the good songs on this album proves that he / they still have the ability to do so.
Other Operation: Mindcrime reviews:
2. When All Falls Away
3. A Moment In Time
4. Through The Noize
5. Left For Dead
6. Miles Away
7. Healing My Wounds
8. The Fight
9. Taking On The World
11. A Smear Campaign
12. Which Side Your On
13. Into The Hands Of The World
14. Live From My Machine