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Spotlights [Issue # 19 ]
Queensryche: Revisiting a Life of Crime

By Dean Truitt

In 1988, a relatively obscure progressive metal band from Seattle called Queensrÿche released Operation: Mindcrime, a monumental concept album immediately compared to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Who’s Quadrophenia, and Rush’s 2112.

Mindcrime’s commercial and critical success launched the quintet into the forefront of artistic metal and the band’s mainstream popularity culminated in the ubiquitous hit from the Empire record, “Silent Lucidity.” After nearly two decades, the band decided to revisit the story that put them on the musical map.

To complete an idea after an 18-year hiatus could be challenging on a number of levels. Geoff Tate, Queensrÿche’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter, was conscious of trying to reclaim the original mood of the first Mindcrime, but reveals that the second act has a different theme. He explains, “I wrote a story and then out of the storyline, realized certain subjects that I wanted to write about. Mostly the record is about a study of revenge: what that does to the character in the story, Nikki, who is jailed for 20 years. He sits in that prison and just stews on his life. He thinks about the path he could have taken in a different direction. The more he thinks about it, the more angry he gets and the more focused he gets on exacting revenge for his circumstances.”

Once Tate had a story outline in place, the band labored for 18 months in creating the appropriate music for the epic tale. He recalls, “We wanted the listener to be able to listen to them [the Mindcrime CDs] and have a familiar experience because the music is really the engine of the story. We wanted that feeling to be somewhat familiar to the audience so they felt they were coming back into the story with the second part. We took musical themes from the first one and wove them into the second. We followed a very similar way of writing and recording this record as the first one.”

After writing the material, another daunting task was to recreate the atmosphere and tone of the first installment. Since recording technology had changed radically in the time since the original Mindcrime, Tate admits that the band made tremendous effort to study the equipment and recording techniques of the original CD. He elaborates, “Jason Slater [Operation: Mindcrime II’s producer] spent a lot of time analyzing the first Mindcrime. We actually went and got the master tapes and listened to them in the studio track by track to hear how things were recorded. One thing about the original Mindcrime is that it was one of the first digital recordings ever issued on a major label. It was the infancy of digital recording. In fact, when we recorded the album and the label heard it, they made us remaster it because it was too harsh to their ears because everyone had grown up on analog tape recording, which is a much softer, mellow kind of sound. The digital recording was considered brittle and harsh and nobody could listen to it (laughs). Jason Slater and I listened to the master tapes and went so far as to find a rental company that specializes in really old, antique recording equipment. We rented a roomful of stuff that was state-of-the-art stuff back in the late ‘80s. We brought that into the studio for this album and recorded a lot of the album through that.”

The climax of the album’s conceptual storyline occurs when Nikki finally locates and confronts the menacing Dr. X, whose character is performed on the recording by Ronnie James Dio. “The Chase” opens aggressively with a condescending Dr. X scorning Nikki’s efforts to seek revenge. The interplay between the two powerful vocalists perfectly captures the sound of a mentor and protégé relationship because Dio’s and Tate’s voices resemble a father and son violently arguing. When asked about the former Black Sabbath singer’s participation, Tate beams, “In my mind, the sound of Dr. X was always Ronnie’s voice. He has this unusual, unique sound and it’s very commanding. The character of Dr. X is very demanding and controlling. He’s your elder and Ronnie is definitely one of the elder statesman and pioneers of metal. I was very pleased and honored when he agreed to be involved in the project.”

Sequels are often crass attempts at recapturing the financial rewards of a previous success, but Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime II was clearly a labor of love that completes the story arc of an astounding rock opera.

Operation: mindcrime II

Revisiting a Life of Crime Queensryche Operation: mindcrime II

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