Hey, Time…Slow down, dammit.
While scrolling through my Facebook feed, on May 3, I saw a post from Queensryche guitarist Michael Wilton stating that the band’s 3rd album, Operation: Mindcrime was thirty years old. What the hell? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was sitting up in the rafters of the Ottawa Civic Centre (I’m Canadian, not a typo), now the TD Place Arena, watching QR open for Metallica on the latter’s …And Justice For All tour? Wasn’t it just a couple years later that I saw Operation: Mindcrime performed in it’s entirety at the same venue?
I had heard of Queensryche before that night, April 6, 1989, (thank you setlist.fm) but didn’t know much. I had seen their videos for Take Hold of the Flame and Queen of the Reich on Canada’s version of MTV, Much Music. I had also seen and loved Gonna Get Close to You from their previous album Rage For Order. It was a strange grouping of bands for that tour. Metallica’s fans, at that time at least, couldn’t care less for anyone not named James, Lars, Kirk or Jason. And here was Queensryche, who had just released a fairly different album in Rage For Order, trudging through their set and basically just killing it. They proved that they belonged among the heavyweights of hard rock. That show turned me into a big QR fan, and I’ve remained with them ever since. Here’s the setlist from that night:
APR 6 1989
Queensrÿche Setlist at Ottawa Civic Centre,
Ottawa, ON, Canada
Tour: Operation: Mindcrime Tour
Queen of the Reich
Spreading the Disease
Take Hold of the Flame
The Needle Lies
Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)
Eyes of a Stranger
The story behind Operation: Mindcrime has been noted hundreds of times, so I’ll spare you the recap. If you want to know more, click here to refresh your memory. For me, it was always more about the music than the story. Don’t get me wrong, the story is cool, but as a beginner guitar player at that time, I was more interested in the musical aspects of the album, and I feel that that is something that often gets overlooked due to the storyline playing out over the instruments.
Guitarists Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo flat out ROCK on this album, well all their albums really, but this one is their true goosebump inducing tour de force. The guitars on Speak alone are worth the price of the CD. There’s not a weak guitar moment on Mindcrime and that’s pretty rare. The beautiful intro to Suite Sister Mary, the crunchy bah dah duh daaaaaa intro of the title track, (not to mention Eddie Jackson’s incredible little bass fill), the sexy acoustic to start off The Mission, which then kicks in to a very cool electric riff. The list goes on and on. On every song, the guitars play for the song, not to show off their shred capabilities.
The solos for every song are masterful. Not once does the listener get bored of the ten trillion notes that many guitarists in the 80s were spewing out with every solo, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love shred guitar as much as the next guitarist, but there’s something to be said for a solo that just sings, a la The Mission. The solos in each and every song seemed, to me at least, to be an extension of the story of Nikki and Mary. You could feel the tension, the depression and the troubles of the characters with every solo.
Gotta throw a little love to the rhythm section, as well. Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield lay down some serious groove on Mindcrime. Why Rockenfield is not mentioned in the top hard rock drummers of the era is beyond me. His drums sound like cannon fire and he, like DeGarmo and Wilton, is all about the song. For drummers, Electric Requiem is an example of how the drums can tell the story in a song. There’s more to just pounding the skins, and Rockenfield is a great storyteller with his sticks. Jackson, meanwhile is as steady as they come. Little off time notes dropped in here and there make this dude fun to listen too. Nothing incredibly flashy, but it doesn’t have to be. It works.
For those who care, I do have a couple favorites on Operation: Mindcrime. Suite Sister Mary, with the wonderful Pamela Moore as Mary, is the pinnacle for me on this one. “Kill her. That’s all you have to do.” “Kill Mary?” She’s a risk. And get the Priest as well.” DeGarmo’s intro to this is the highlight of the whole album for me. I remember listening to this for the first time, in the dark. The mood of this song, with Mary saying “What are you doing out in the rain? I’ve been waiting for you. Come in.” It freaked me out. It gave me chills. The choir, the guitar when the song kicks in, Geoff Tate’s voice, the background vocals…Good Lord this song is incredible. And that solo is a perfect example of the emotion of the story. If you haven’t seen this one performed live before, do yourself a favor and check out the video below.
My other favorite is Speak. Wilton’s intro guitar is mind boggling to me. The palm muted rhythm during the verses, the power of the drums. Brilliant.
And finally, while I love every second of this album, check out 1:30-1:41 of The Needle Lies. That right there, is fine chemistry between everybody on stage. Holy crap.
So, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m a fan of Operation: Mindcrime. I rank it up there with the greats of all concept albums, The Wall included. Hell, screw concept albums, I rank it right up there among the greatest hard rock albums of all-time. Little did I know that night in Ottawa, that the next day I would buy an album that has stayed with me wherever I have gone, an album that still gives me chills 30 years later and an album that makes me both want to practice my guitar and smash it at the same time.
Happy birthday, Operation: Mindcrime. I’ll do this again for your 40th.
And congratulations and thank you to Queensryche for releasing this masterpiece. Much appreciated.
I REMEMBER NOW