In my voyages, very few people have listened to (or even have heard of) Queensrÿche before I tell them. I find that to be a real bummer as Queensrÿche is one of the better heavy metal bands to come out of the 80’s. That ain’t really saying much considering the barrage of (mostly) second-rate glam metal bands we were greeted with during the time period, but honestly, Queensrÿche is admittedly pretty awesome. If you need proof, look no further than the band’s 1988 release titled “Operation: Mindcrime,” which is almost unanimously regarded as their finest (literal) hour.
If you haven’t heard the band yet, their sound combines heavy metal elements such as the big guitar licks of Skid Row, the catchy hooks of Def Leppard, and the soaring vocal power of Helloween. For this album, they took it up a notch and incorporated rock opera-style storytelling techniques that are usually reserved for bands like The Who and Pink Floyd. From the mysterious opening dialogue in “I Remember Now” to the last words of “Eyes of a Stranger,” “Mindcrime’s” tracks contain a more profound meaning than one might come to expect from a metal band. Tate and company’s lyrics tell of a story revolving around protagonist Nikki, a political militant who becomes a brainwashed assassin due to Dr. X’s manipulation powers. Dr. X is the leader of an underground organization that promised revolution, but is only in it to program human pawns for their own benefit. The track “Revolution Calling,” aside from being a great all around song, explains the ways Dr. X was able to persuade Nikki enough to reel him in.
The narrative may not be the primary focus the first time around, but it is an entertaining constituent that demonstrates the amount of multilayered effort contributed by the band. As for the songs themselves, a good handful of them happen to be winners. Personal favorites of mine include the adjacent guitar-heavy anthems “Speak” and “Spreading the Disease,” which contain spot-on guitar chugging and move at a perfect tempo for doing so. Another favorite is the 11-minute epic “Suite Sister Mary.” Starting off comparatively dark and eerie, the track’s tone escalates as it goes and becomes better with each newly introduced riff.
The band’s more popular songs will also likely serve as hits for most. The pop-metal energy displayed in “Breaking The Silence” and “I Don’t Believe In Love” sounds like the kind of music that would later influences songs like “Youth Gone Wild” from Skid Row’s debut album. One widely considered as an all-time high for the band is the closing track “Eyes Of A Stranger.” While not one of my favorites, it is still a very enjoyable song with dynamics that range from triumphantly heavy to humbly clean. As an ending track, it does accurately showcase the band’s enormous talent and provides a mind-boggling, open-ended conclusion to the story.
Taken as a whole album, there are little to no patches of dull to be found on “Operation: Mindcrime.” The musicianship is astounding, the song structures are both progressive and intriguing, plus there’s a compelling plot to boot. If there is anywhere to begin in listening to Queensrÿche’s work, this is undoubtedly my recommended starting point. Just don’t expect it to get as good as you delve deeper into their catalogue, because let me tell you…it doesn’t get any better than this.
Top 3: Speak, Spreading The Disease, Suite Sister Mary