#TBT: Operation Mindcrime Helped Defined QUEENSRŸCHE as Godfathers of Progressive Metal
Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. TBT 44 hardly needs an introduction, as Queensrÿche and their landmark effort Operation: Mindcrime is a modern-day classic metal album. For it's 30th anniversary this year, I thought I would stop and take some time to reminisce about the record that changed me into a lover of the thinking man's music. Prog would look much different today without the likes of…
QUEENSRŸCHE'S OPERATION: MINDCRIME
Release Date: May 1988
Record Label: EMI
Today's subject is a difficult one for me to write about because it means a lot to me. It's impossible to be both objective and impartial about albums that have developed my preferences and cemented in the bricks of my musical foundation. But as TBT chugs along I'm making a personal vow to tackle these kinds of albums for the same reason I come here again week after week – to share my sludgy, blackened love for metal with folks who feel the same way as I do.
I was a but a teen bettering my fledgling guitar chops when I was introduced to Queensrÿche. The first lead-style solo I ever learned to play was from their single "Queen of the Rÿche":
Bitchin', right? Enthralled, I checked out their discography. When I heard the subject of today's TBT, my ears about fell off of my head. At the time, I had never, ever head anything like Operation: Mindcrime in my whole life. From the intense spoken lines brimming with mystery and intrigue, to the flourishes of melody and a strong vocal performance, I needed to know what this album was all about. I poured over liner notes and discovered that accompanying this thematic album was a live-action concert/play hybrid (which I acquired on VHS) known as Operation: Livecrime. Now, I am not alone in saying that music which is tied to memories and pivotal moments in life is just more meaningful – and that sentimental connection to the music may overshadow the music's actual quality. Revisiting this recording 15 years later, I'm confidant that is not the case for Queensrÿche and their seminal release Operation: Mindcrime. The album has sustained in vision over the last 30-some years, and it's message remains suspiciously relevant in today's political climate. Check out track "Revolution Calling":
Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album resembling an opera in it's execution. Themes of corruption, manipulation, suicide and loss unfurl over a dramatic story told by clean, expressive, beautiful song-writing. The basic gist of the plot, as Chris DeGarmo (songwriter and guitarist for Queensrÿche) quips in a 1988 interview, "A character named Dr. X has this plan of subversive revolution that he calls Operation Mind Crime. He goes about seeking out and enlisting the services of this young street punk who also happens to be a hard-core drug addict named Nikki – he chooses him to become his assassin." Check out a song depicting what it's like looking at yourself in the mirror and not recognizing who's looking back, "The Eyes of a Stranger":
I am absolutely in love with Scott Rockenfield and his drumming choices on this album, and this track is such a great example of his ability to control the mood of the song. If you haven't listened to this album before and you're a newer fan of metal, you may be initially turned off by the lack of 'crushing' riffs, vocal stylings, the over-all drama of the endeavor. By modern/2018 standards, I could see some accusing this album as toeing the line of 'cheese'. The album is stylistically very 80's (thanks to the soaring high-register male vocals, reverb channels on guitar and drum tracks, and the outfits and hair of the band in their video release Operation: Livecrime). But at the time, these elements weren't cheesy at all. What Queensrÿche was doing, was blending heavier rock with spoken word, aggressively political and harrowing lyrics reflecting on the state of social crises, and poignant musicianship from each and every element of the band. Even Eddie Jackson's bass has substantial stand-out moments carrying both melody and mood. Check out the Grammy nominated (and my favorite) track off of the album "I Don't Believe in Love":
The Washington-based group were melding rock into metal with experimental elements of both sound and word with technical acumen and intelligence. Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album with a unique approach, and it's impact helped mark Queensrÿche as one of the 'big three' founding fathers of progressive metal (with the other two being Dream Theater and Fates Warning).
An element of musicianship that stands out to me across the whole album is the skill and conviction of the lyrics sung by Geoff Tate. To express such uncommon lyrical language via complicated sentiments requires a finesse and a genuine talent. Check out track "The Mission":
It's easy to see why this incredible album was called out by Rolling Stone as number 66 of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time. I know that many of my favorite bands, and myself included, would be very different without this album as inspiration. It's just so impressive what these guys did with executing their vision through the album and subsequent touring. Queensrÿche tours world-wide with Operation: Mindcrime and the show is more than a mere performance – it is an event. And, if you're so inclined to see this event in person, Operation: Mindcrime is touring RIGHT NOW and still has upcoming dates on the West Coast!
Thanks to my Fact Man Lindsey Pitman for the help with today's article. See you all NEXT WEEK.