Chronicling the History of Queensryche's Original Lineup
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"I look around my room is filled with candles. Each one a story but it ends the same." "I remember now. I remember how it started." "I've always known that the mirror never lies."
Title: Operation: Mindcrime
I Remember Now -- (DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
Key Tracks: Eyes of a Stranger, Revolution Calling, The Mission.
Notes: If you're reading this, you're no doubt already familiar with Operation: Mindcrime. Lauded by both fans and critics, the album broke Queensr˙che through to the mainstream. In fact, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden told Maiden leader Steve Harris that Operation: Mindcrime was better than Iron Maiden's concept record Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (Harris disagreed, obviously). See http://teamrock.com/feature/2015-09-04/iron-maiden-album-by-album-in-their-own-words.
Operation: Mindcrime is approximately an hour long, and showcases Queensryche's maturity as songwriters. Released in May 1988, the record expertly combines elements of prog, hard rock, metal to support the varying emotions found in a tale about revolution, manipulation, addiction and relationships. The idea behind the concept was Geoff Tate's. While living in Montreal, the singer overheard various tidbits about revolutionary plots from seedier characters at bars. According to Tate, he was walking home one night, and found himself drawn to enter a church, and the basis for the story that would become Operation: Mindcrime came to him in a flood of imagery and ideas.
After sketching out a rough outline, including the creation of the character "Sister Mary" (who is based on a woman who was dressed as a nun at a club Tate and DeGarmo visited while on tour in Europe for Rage for Order), Tate brought the idea to the band, who were dead set against doing it. Tate eventually won over DeGarmo, however, who immersed himself into the concept, and then convinced the band to give it a shot. The idea finally clicked with all of them, and Queensr˙che started work on the project in earnest.
Operation: Mindcrimeis the tale of three central characters: Nikki, Sister Mary, and Dr. X. Nikki, a bit of drifter, hears rumblings on the street about a revolution and gets roped into becoming a hit man for Dr. X, the leader of the revolutionary movement. As the story unfolds, Nikki gets involved with Mary, a prostitute that has "reformed" and become a nun. Mary isn't nearly as "reformed," however, as she "services" the priest over her, before becoming involved with Nikki.
To test Nikki's loyalty, and growing addiction to drugs that Dr. X provides, X tasks Nikki with killing Mary, along with the priest. Nikki meets Mary, but finds himself unable to kill her. The priest is shot, and Nikki ends up finding Mary dead afterward. Nikki then finds himself on the run from the police, who have targeted Nikki as the killer of both, even though the whole operation was orchestrated by Dr. X.
As the story concludes, Nikki finds himself depressed, heartbroken over Mary, and firmly painted as a murderer, all while Dr. X continues with his life. The record ends with Nikki trying to come to grips with who he is. At the end, the listener notes that Nikki is still in a mental hospital. This leads to the inevitable question of whether the story really happened, or was it just a drug-induced dream from an insane person?
Music & Vocals
Musically, Operation: Mindcrime is firmly rooted in the twin heavy metal guitar attack of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton. The band is arguably at the height of its technical prowess here, as DeGarmo and Wilton play off one another not only in trade-off and harmonized leads, but to create huge chords as well.
"One area where DeGarmo and Wilton particularly distinguish themselves is in the orchestration of their rhythm parts," said John Walker of Dinosaur Rock Guitar. "Their approach is closest to [Judas Priest's Glen] Tipton and [K.K.] Downing's: two players using dissimilar tones and different chord inversions to separate themselves in the mix. But DeGarmo and Wilton take this approach further by combining two different chords to create one complex chord. When they do this, DeGarmo normally takes the lower part, and Wilton stacks a higher part over the top of it. This is hard to do without creating sonic mud. But by separating their sounds spatially and using different timbres, they achieve definition."
To help further that definition between the two players, the guitars of DeGarmo and Wilton are at times separated in the mix, with DeGarmo appearing in one channel, and Wilton the other (specifically on trade-off solos). Each play to their collective and individual strengths on Operation: Mindcrime, with Wilton handling some of the more aggressive leads ("Speak," "Revolution Calling," "The Needle Lies," etc.), while DeGarmo provides solos for the more emotive songs ("The Mission," "Suite Sister Mary"). The two harmonize or trade-off on most of the others.
While the guitars are a huge part of the record, don't forget the contributions of Eddie Jackson (bass) and Scott Rockenfield (drums) on Operation: Mindcrime. Both are playing arguably the most aggressive rhythms of their careers on the album, providing a steady, yet complex backdrop for the story to be told. Guitarists are often noted for helping drive the emotion of a song, but on Operation: Mindcrime, the rhythm section holds significant responsibility in this regard.
It should also be noted that the record is circular (much as how The Warning was supposed to be) in that the end fades into the introduction of the first track.
Geoff Tate gives arguably the most storied performance of his professional life on Operation: Mindcrime, both as a singer and a lyricist. Tate showcases all areas of his operatic range and a penchant for taking on character roles and delivering them with conviction. Pamela Moore lends her sultry vocals on "Suite Sister Mary," breathing life into a character that fans would praise for decades to come. Tate and Moore sing separately and in harmony on the track, providing a captivating climax to the Operation: Mindcrime story.
Regarding Pamela Moore, at the time she was working in a local music store and lending her voice to various commercials. DeGarmo heard her voice on one of those commercial, and sought her out specifically for the role of Sister Mary. Moore didn't actually sing with Geoff in the studio, however. DeGarmo and Tate explained the story to her, and handed her a tape upon arrival in Montreal. She tracked her vocals the next day. See http://anybodylistening.net/4.html for more on that.
Originally, Neil Kernon was going to produce Operation: Mindcrime, reprising the producer's role he held on Queensr˙che's previous record, Rage for Order. He got tied up with producing Dokken, however, and the band instead turned to Peter Collins, and a team of Paul Northfield and James "Jimbo" Barton to handle the production, engineering, and mixing, respectively, on the album. Michael Kamen, who did orchestration on The Warning, handled orchestration on Operation: Mindcrime as well. The record was recorded in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
The choir vocals were handled by the "Moronic Monks of Morin Heights," who doubled, in their spare time, as the staff of Le Studio in Montreal. ;-) Anthony Valentine played Dr. X, Debbie Wheeler was the hospital nurse, Mike Snyder's voice was used as the TV anchorman, and the late Scott Mateer played Father William.
The ending of "Eyes of a Stranger" on the album differs from how the band used to end it live. During live shows, Queensryche came up with a way (after they were done recording the record) to reprise "Anarchy-X" to close "Eyes of a Stranger" before the sonic montage and ending of "REVOLUTION" and "I REMEMBER NOW" lines concluded the story. Fans dubbed this added section "Anarchy-xtra." The reprise was consistently played from 1988-1997, and heightened the dramatic finale of Operation: Mindcrime, and usually, the main set of the band's shows. It was changed somewhat once DeGarmo left the group in 1997, and the current version of Queensr˙che typically does not play it.
Credit-wise, some may not know it was actually Michael Wilton that came up with the chorus to "Speak" -- "Speak the word. The word is all of us."
The album was remastered and re-released with some live bonus tracks in 2003, and then released as a 25th Anniversary box set in 2013.
1988-1989 Operation: Mindcrime Era Scrapbook