Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime 30 Years Later

In the spectrum of Rock music, the concept album has become a standard for many bands/artists. If one was to research the greatest concept albums in the history of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, Queensrÿche’s masterwork, Operation: Mindcrime, triumphantly tops most lists next to classics such as Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Rush’s 2112, and King Diamond’s Abigail. 

Released Tuesday, May 3, 1988, on EMI Records and Produced by Peter Collins, Operation: Mindcrime would unquestionably go on to be Queensrÿche’s finest hour, eventually reaching platinum status and helping the band attain worldwide success. Before breaking down the mind-blowing saga behind Operation: Mindcrime, it is paramount to explore the musical evolution of Queensrÿche, and the progression which lead the band to conceive their most definitive album to date.

Hailing from Bellevue, Washington, Queensrÿche’s classic lineup originally formed in 1982, and consisted of Vocalist Geoff Tate, Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, Bassist Eddie Jackson, and Drummer Scott Rockenfield. Years later, Rock fans would come to know Queensrÿche as a Progressive Rock act, however this was not always the case. In 1983, Queensrÿche released a five-song, self-titled EP showcasing the band very much as a Hard Rock/Heavy Metal outfit with Tate’s soaring vocals offering the genre a fresh new sound. As Queensrÿche’s first full-length studio album, 1984’s The Warning lightly touched on the band’s dexterity to take risks, musically showing signs of a more Progressive feel yet still keeping the band in the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal category.

Taking the music to a new level, their next album, 1986’s Rage for Order, saw Queensrÿche fully immerse themselves into the world of Progressive musical tendencies, done so well it was like nothing else in music at the time. Having said this, Queensrÿche was now ready to take on a much taller venture on Operation: Mindcrime, and gift fans a stunning concept album that is still being talked about three decades after it’s inception. Along with the music, the video collection for Operation: Mindcrime graphically plays out dramatic visuals that bring this unreal story to life.

The songs of Operation: Mindcrime speak of a world filled with turmoil and rebellion toward government and authority. Operation: Mindcrime reveals a young man named Nikki who is leading a troubled life of heroin addiction and political resistance. Heading down the wrong path, Nikki is coerced into becoming an assassin for a political and religious incendiary known as Dr. X, who is committed to the revolution. Using Nikki’s weakness as power, Dr. X manipulates Nikki’s drug addiction in order to get him to carry out the murders of whomever is considered a risk to the revolution. In the midst of this chaotic agenda, through Dr. X, Nikki meets Father William. A shady Priest, Father William introduces Nikki to Sister Mary, a former prostitute turned Nun, for whom Nikki develops a fondness as he begins to question the life he has chosen.

So vividly, Operation: Mindcrime opens with the interlude “I Remember Now,” portraying Nikki laying in a hospital bed, nearly comatose, as he begins to recollect a series of terrible events which rendered him near death (“I remember now, I remember how it started, I can’t remember yesterday, I just remember doing what they told me”). The interlude, “Anarchy-X” ushers in “Revolution Calling” and “Operation: Mindcrime,” both which boast as the calling card for mutiny. Next, “Speak” portrays revolution as the ultimate way to bring change before “Spreading The Disease” conveys Father William and Sister Mary’s tale of prostitution and exploitation.

In ballad form,”The Mission” describes the murder of a religious leader and Nikki’s torment from committing such an act. Thereafter, the album’s most profound track, the epic “Suite Sister Mary” begins with the ominous voice of Dr. X. Feeling they are a risk, Dr. X orders Nikki to kill Sister Mary and Father William. Here, in a brilliant ten-minute Rock Opera, Tate, portraying Nikki, belts out the trials of this burden alongside guest vocalist, Singer-Songwriter Pamela Moore, who is breathtaking as Sister Mary. At this juncture, the songs allude that Father William and Sister Mary have been killed, but it is unclear if Nikki actually committed these crimes.

A fast paced rocker, “The Needle Lies” carries out an emphatic message about drug use. “Electric Requiem” interludes in a mind-numbing state before the catchy yet sad “Breaking The Silence” and “I Don’t Believe In Love” depict Nikki as a now broken man who is being accused of a crime he may have committed, but is unable to remember.

The subtle guitar instrumental, “Waiting For 22,” perfectly leads this journey into its final course. Bleak, “My Empty Room” describes Nikki’s dismal state after losing Sister Mary. In simply the most expressive and climactic number, Operation: Mindcrime draws to a close with “Eyes Of A Stranger” as Tate’s staggering vocals passionately articulate every ounce of meaning from each poetic lyric (“People always turn away from the eyes of a stranger”). By the album’s end, we are left with one cliffhanger: who killed Sister Mary? Would we ever find out or was this to forever remain a mystery?

A critical and commercial success, fans loved Operation: Mindcrime, and as Queensrÿche achieved even bigger success with their next album, 1990’s Empire, the supporting tour featured Queensrÿche performing Operation: Mindcrime in it’s entirety which left audiences amazed.

Then, in 2006, after years of speculation on whether or not it would ever happen, Queensrÿche released the sequel Operation: Mindcrime II to a mixed reception from fans and critics. The second act still left fans in the dark over who killed Sister Mary. For years, fans debated whether it was Nikki, Dr. X, or someone else, while many fans felt the mystery was more exciting than actually knowing the truth. Finally, in 2007, Queensrÿche’s live album and concert DVD Mindcrime at the Moore would reveal Sister Mary committed suicide after Dr. X threatened to murder Nikki, thus ending years of debate.

After three decades, fans all over the world continue to hold Operation: Mindcrime in high regard as the genius album remains a pivotal moment in the band’s legacy. Though Queensrÿche and Tate sadly parted ways in 2012, both Tate’s band, Operation: Mindcrime, as well as Queensrÿche with Todd La Torre on vocals, respectively continue to enthrall audiences through this powerful music performing it live to elate crowds the world over. And why not, it is in fact one of the best concept albums of all-time.

Purchase Operation: Mindcrime

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  • Operation Mindcrime is without a doubt my all time favorite album. To find out that it was released on my birthday was just a bonus. My son’s middle name is Tate,named after Geoff Tate.If I live to be 100 I can’t imagine that I won’t be listening to it still! I Always felt that Operation Mindcrime was pure Genius.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.Loved it!
    Tami Munsee (May 3,1965)

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