In 1988 there was released a masterpiece of progressive/power metal, one that demanded to be listened to in one sitting, one that grabbed one's attention from the beginning and refused to let go until a good five minutes after the end...
...but this isn't a review of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
I know, I know, but come on, as much as I quote Ultraboris, I had to include that.
In 1988, there was an ingenious metal album with a concept that was angry, violent, and was in essence a declaration of the death sentence of the American dream.
...but this isn't a review of Metallica's …and Justice For All.
Ok, I'm done now.
In 1988 there was a dark, sinister metal album with a harrowing album cover, which not only redefined a band's career but had some lyrical statements that more than many a government official took umbrage with….
….but this isn't a review of Slayer's South of Heaven.
Or am I?
In 1988, one of the most unique concept albums was unleashed upon the music world that was so compelling and yet terrifying, a [admittedly inferior] sequel was released in the distant future to recapture some of it's magic…..
…..but this is not a review of King Diamond's "Them"
At least that one was an actual concept album.
In 1988 there was a brilliant piece of music that not only drastically changed it's genre, it was seen as a sonic assault that had savage lyrics and told compelling stories of crime, prostitution and the United States of America….
...but this isn't a review of Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back.
Oh come on now, that was a hip hop reference. That's clever shit goddammit, you didn't think of it.
In 1988 a brilliant power metal (yes Geoff Tate, it's not only metal, it's power metal) LP refined the metal landscape forever as we know it, to the point that just about every metal band of it's subgenre is required to proclaim it as inspiration. It was the total package, it had great singing, great riffs, great solos, great songs, great everything….
….but this is not a review of Helloween's Keeper of The Seven Keys Part II.
Ok, let's get to something a little more accurate.
In 1988, a medicore, overrated piece of crap soiled the metal community forever and has been spawning countless mouthbreathing pissants praising it as a top 10 classic when it really shouldn't even be in the top 100 of it's particular subgenere… They also like to claim it as "progressive" and "game-changing" when it's really just a bunch of sloppy crap thrown together to appease psuedo-intellectuals.
…but this is not a review of Voivod's Dimension Hattross.
Alright you gotta admit, I got ya with that one.
In 1988, a band that refused to be defined by trends and trappings and what the genre wants released an album in 1988 that was completely unlike anything in its genre before it. Rather than go the fantasy route, they chose to do something a little more in tune with their culture. Still, the music was menacing, it had hidden messages in its lyrics, and by all accounts its a masterwork that defies (and defines) genre, may people call it the group's shining moment….
…but this is not a review of Bathory's Blood Fire Death.
You wanna know how long I can keep this up?
in 1988, five individuals with from the west coast with attitude that can best be described in their own words as n
Queensryche was a band that I never really knew what to do with. On the one hand, they certainly weren't anything that would go on to influence metal in all the wrong ways, like Faith No More, Voivoid and Korn, but they didn't really sink it's claws into my throat like the Priests, Motorheads, Mercyful Fates and Maidens. Between Overkill giving them a spot on their "fuck you" list in the liner notes on Feel The Fire and Geoff Tate sounding way too much like Bruce Dickinson, not to mention not being all that impressed with Operation: Mindcrime when I first heard a friend play the thing front to back on his metal radio show back in 2005, I just figured Operation: Mindcrime could wait awhile. After that so-called while I figured it would just fall under "the one classic everyone likes but you don't" file for me. Really when you think about it, it's almost an unspoken rule that you as a music fan have to have something like that. NOBODY likes a guy that likes everything. Hate is an infectious component of human existence, to the point where hatred becomes a common interest used to build friendships. and if you don't have that one thing you hate, there's an instant distrust of someone. Now this is certainly not to say that I hated Queensryche, far from it. You want to talk about an album metalheads are supposed to like, even if you don't like Queesnryche, this is it.
Bruce Dickinson once said that after hearing Mindcrime in his car he pulled over and cried, thinking this is what Maiden should have made in 1988. And to be honest, I was more than a little offended by that. While there's certainly nothing wrong with an artist placing someone else's work over their own, and there's no denying there is more social relevance to contemporary society in Mindcrime then there is to Seventh Son, I don't think there's anything too Spinal Tap about a clairvoyant, or any child with an extraordinary gift given the path between good and evil. But Seventh Son was, in my opinion, infinitely more important to metal's development than Mindcrime was if for no other reason, that it was able to pull off the impossible task of combining metal with keyboards. Musically, Mindcrime did no such thing. I'm no prog expert, but calling this album progressive is just silly to me. Because of the concept? Why aren't Quadrophenia and Tommy considered prog then? I'll admit, I tend to favor interesting music over interesting lyrics, and while lately I've been developing a mindset that an album should be a total package- music; lyrics; artwork; even band photos, the fact is, while the music (especially the choruses) was much better than I remembered it being, at the end of the day, I can barely put this into my top 10 of 1988.
I suppose I'd be willing to let Mindcrime have the massive props it gets if it came out a few months or so before Abigail; if it actually was metal's first concept album. But Abigail is just too nerdy for music academia. Yet a a deaf, dumb and blind boy who finds solace in pinball and gets his cure from smashing a mirror, oh no that's perfectly fine. King Diamond's high notes? I'm sure you'd find plenty of Ryche enthusiasts who'd claim Tate can sing even higher. On this album in fact. I'd also be more forgiving if it had Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Rush or even Helloween type of musical notions to back it's story. At least with that I could reconcile it being prog-metal, rather than a series of, with one or two obvious exceptions, a series of 4-5 minute straight ahead rock songs.
So what made me finally give in and buy this? Well it breaks down 49% wanting to do that expanded opening joke (seriously, I've had that fucking thing in my back pocket since 2007, but I felt like I had no right to do it without either a] really sitting down to critically examine the thing, or b] buying it), and 51% realizing that my excuse of avoiding Queensryche because they sounded like copycats of better things was holding less and less water the more I expanded into music. Tate sounds like Dickinson? So does Michael Kiske. To Walk The Infernal Fields? Sounds like Enter The Eternal Fire. "Solid, which bares more than a passing resemblance to Rapid Fire. But that's ok, Rapid Fire owns you -Ultraboris." I avoided Testament for the longest time because Chuck Billy sounded like James Hetfield, and then I go ahead and buy The Legacy? Immolation and Incantation are great metal bands, but boy does Craig Pillard sound a lot like Ross Dolan. Pure Holocaust has the Imperial Death March riff, but it's black metal so that makes it….better? I mean fuck dude, how many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
One thing I do admire about this album is despite how critics and outside forces tend to pend this as "forward thinking metal" over the likes of bands actually doing so (Maiden, Bathory, Death, hell even Helloween was pushing traditional metal much stronger than Queensryche did) is that, make no mistake, this is a 80's metal album and Queensryche are not ashamed of it (well, maybe Tate is nowadays). Soaring choruses that you just want to scream despite not having the vocal range for it at all; brilliantly infectious guitar harmonies; groove done properly (i.e. not making you bounce up and down like a fucking hot-topic idiot). Tate's rap-like breakdown in the middle of Spreading The Disease is a hair irksome, but no-one's going to confuse it for I'm The Man and Epic.
You've noticed that up until this point I haven't talked about the actual story. There's no debate that without it we wouldn't be talking about this band today, we certainly wouldn't be putting them in the upper tiers of metal. Shit there are top 10, top 50 even top 100 metal album lists that probably laugh in Queensryche's face and will go out of their way to avoid them, but you can bet your ass that not only will this album be on there, it will be near the top. With relatively good reason. It is a damn good concept and it's almost deceptive how dark it is. It's also not afraid to be ambiguous at times and you have to respect that. And despite the music being delightfully 80s, there's nothing about the story that would make anyone who wishes to be perceived as "knowing what their talking about" call it dated. Even as I was listening to this album for the first time in years, about halfway through I remembered it's rather dark ending and thought how it fits metal's tone quite well. That's one reason I think that despite the likes of Van Halen, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple being cast to the hard rock dogs by some, no one will ever call Operation: Mindcrime "not metal." Even if Geoff Tate wants them too. Now that I think about it, has any musical concept album had any kind of happy ending?
I wanted to end this with a series of ignorant quotes I undoubtedly said about the band over the years as a way to take the piss out of myself. Unfortunately the only things I could find were how Geoff Tate made me ashamed to like Helloween, questioning Decibel Magazine's induction of Operation Mindcrime when they have yet to induct any Maiden and Priest albums (or at least convince their members to be interviewed for them), and how I apparently only liked I Don't Believe In Love. That first one is true, the second one I sort of stand by because Operation: Mindcrime isn't even extreme for it's time. That third one is simply not true anymore, hell I heard Queen of the Ryche on SiriusXM a few months ago and even that sounded awesome! 25 years after its release, 14 years after becoming a metalhead (and over a year after a split into VestRyche and ToddRyche), my qualms aside, I salute as well as thank Queensryche and Operation: Mindcrime. For not punishing me for ignoring it because it wasn't 100% original. Especially after I got into (and loved) other things that weren't 100% original.
Standout tracks that you've already heard 1000 times but you should go hear again in honor of this review: The whole album! Duh.
I Don't Believe In Love
Eyes of A Stranger
Breaking The Silence
P.S. I went to Robert Christgau's website to see what obscenely low grade he gave this album. Whatever that would have been I'd have given a half grade higher out of spite. I didn't find a review of Mindcrime, but i did find a review of the EP with a D+ grade. The same grade he gave Farewell To Kings.
Next stop…the Queensryche EP!
Final grade: Suck my taint Robert Christgau.