Album Review: Operation: Mindcrime - 'The Key'.
It’s been a trying few years in the Queensrÿche and former Queensrÿche camps. The ugly public split of the band with singer Geoff Tate and the ensuing legal battle that, for a brief period gave the world not one, but two rival rÿches, have taken their toll, on both the brand and their tested fan base. With the band that he was ousted from eventually retaining the rights to the name and moving forward, the dust it seems has finally settled, and Tate has now forged ahead with this, his Operation: Mindcrime project. So when he asks; “if I changed the world, would it turn out the same?” on ‘Burn’, the first song proper from this, his new outfit’s first release, it seems more than a fitting musing on the new start that he’s finally embarking on.
Change the world he has, and Tate has assembled a number of musicians for the project (it’s not a ‘band’, he insists) that includes long-time associate Kelly Gray on guitar and former AC/DC and Dio sticksman Simon Wright to help him realise ‘The Key’, the first part of an ambitious concept album trilogy. Purposefully harking back to the high water mark of his career with Queensrÿche from which the band’s name is taken, ‘The Key’ claims to carry on in the tradition of that gargantuan work. The question is; does it measure up?
With the original ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ album rightly regarded as an all-time metal classic, comparisons are perhaps a little futile. However, taken as its own entity, incredibly, and against the odds, ‘The Key’ is a brilliant piece of work. What makes this all the more surprising is that it follows the woeful ‘Frequency Unknown’, an album so bad that it had its own officially sanctioned ‘how much do you hate’ it campaign. And where ‘F.U’ saw the singer reach the nadir of his career, ‘The Key’ is by contrast, a remarkable rebirth.
Buoyed by a theme that explores the acquisition of a key to changing the way we view the world, musically, ‘The Key’ is an album of depth and colour, drama and tension. Kicking off with the atmospheric preamble ‘Choices’, the scene is set in much the same way that ‘I Remember Now’ opened the original ‘Operation: Mindcrime’. The aforementioned ‘Burn’ follows, and what is immediately evident is that, essentially, this is the sound of classic Queensrÿche; where sprightly guitars, atmospheric keys, and infectious melodies are the order of the day. With echoes of ‘Jet City Woman’, ‘Re-inventing The Future’ continues on the same path, before ‘Ready To Fly’ introduces a more measured feel, where dreamscape verses meld with metronomic bass lines.
It’s the interlude pieces however that make this album feel like more than just a collection of songs. The first of these; ‘Discussions in a Smoke Filled Room’ adds another element to the sound, with sampled voices and eerie keyboards creating a palpable atmosphere. So too does ‘An Ambush Of Sadness’, which introduces violins and even a harpsicord to the sonic mix to great effect.
It’s by no means perfect however, and the latter half of the album treads water a little, with the stodgy ‘The Stranger’ and ‘Hearing Voices’ both lacking the spark that is evident elsewhere. With a change of tack however, the seductive ‘On Queue’ enchants, with a slower pace that is given added credence by Tate’s haunting saxophone. Resigned and mournsome, it’s the album’s understated standout. The closing ‘The Fall’ meanwhile, brings things to an end in epically grandiose fashion.
Where Queensrÿche’s self-titled release from 2013 at last proved a worthy follow-up to 1994’s ‘Promised Land’ – arguably their last great album – ‘The Key’ sees Geoff Tate finally doing the same. Leaving soap opera dramas and court room sagas behind to focus on the music, Tate has clearly been reenergised, making an album to silence the detractors. Operation: successful.
First published on myglobalmind.com, 18 September 2015.