CD Review of Operation: Mindcrime II by Queensryche

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Operation: Mindcrime II
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Rhino
Released: 2006
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There is risk involved in revisiting a classic and putting out a sequel. For the most part, sequels disappoint and rarely live up to the integrity of the original. Queensryche’s 1988 album Operation: Mindcrime is a classic, often considered one of the best concept records ever released and ranked right with the Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “Godfather II” and “Rocky II” are exceptional sequels; “Caddyshack II” and “Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice,” on the other hand, were two dreadful films that weren’t just bad but blasphemous. The risk in making Operation: Mindcrime II was probably even greater because Chris DeGarmo, one of the founding members and guitarists, was not involved as he left the Rÿche shortly after 1997’s Hear in the New Frontier was completed, only to resurface and contribute to the excellent 2003 effort Tribe before leaving again.

Mindcrime II picks up 20 years later when our favorite assassin/junkie Nikki is released from prison and must figure out whether to avenge the murder of Sister Mary (his lover and confidant) and seek out the evil svengali Dr. X, or travel down a different path. Geoff Tate, vocalist and lyricist, finds that 18 years after the original Mindcrime was produced, our current culture isn’t better, it’s probably worse. Mindcrime II cynically offers observations about our current world. In “I’m American,” Tate indicts our sense of entitlement and (over-) consumerism:

What do you believe in?
What are you living for?
Do you want what they’re selling you
Another television war?

Because I’m free
I deserve everything I can get.
I’m American.
I’m American.

Scott Rockenfield’s timekeeping is impeccable and provides the perfect complement for the busy bass playing of Eddie Jackson, while Mike Stone has settled in with Michael Wilton to create that sonic dual guitar attack. After Kelly Gray replaced DeGarmo, Stone has stepped in for Gray and assimilated well into the Queensryche soundscape. There is a lot for the ear to handle, including the orchestral arrangements of Ashif Hakik, that rugged bottom end, the harmony vocals and some crunchy, heavy guitar wizardry. There are moments where the album slows down, but for the most part it feels like a 59-minute sprint, slashing away at your ear, challenging it with those blazing guitars and Tate’s voice. “The Hands” is as good of a track as they have ever produced, and stands up even in comparison to “Eyes of a Stranger”. As a bonus, Ronnie James Dio (yep, Ronnie freakin’ James Dio) duets with Tate on “The Chase” by playing the part of Dr. X, satiating the headbanger’s vocal wet dream. If that doesn’t stand the hair up on the back of your neck, then you need to retire and go check out the Engelbert Humperdinck back catalogue. The album ends with “All the Promises,” a duet between Tate and Pamela Moore, back again as the voice of Sister Mary. Complemented by some beautiful Latin-influenced acoustic guitar, the song gives us just a tiny sense of hope through the bleakness.

Operation Mindcrime II is an excellent work on its own merit and is the perfect sequel to the original. It doesn’t sound forced or contrived and it completely hammers away at your ears without mercy (until the last song). It does not take away from the legacy of the first, but instead, enhances it.

~R. David Smola