11 October 2015

Operation:Mindcrime - The Key

Splitting up from someone can be messy at times, especially if it goes messy.  It can be even messier if you see them with someone who is similar to you, but any awkward spilt up you have experienced is nothing compared to the level of weird it went for the breakup of Queensrÿche and their previous singer Geoff Tate.  At one point there was two versions of Queensrÿche touring with their own album claiming they were the legitimate version of the band.  It even went to court to have it sorted out, but in the end it was settled with Geoff Tate's version now operating under the name Operation:Mindcrime and the original band retaining the Queensrÿche name; this album we are reviewing here is the original Queensrÿche with singer Todd La Torre and is the second album to feature him on lead vocals.  I will be honest and say that the whole split was not good for either band and I will be reviewing both of the new releases ('Condition Hüman' by Queensrÿche & 'The Key' by Operation:Mindcrime) and using the same introduction for fairness.  I have also not listened to either 'Queensrÿche' or 'Frequency Unknown' as the bad taste in the air was really strong.  But now that it has all been sorted and everyone is happier in their new entities, now I can review their new works.   After this review, I will not be comparing both acts as they will be on their own paths then, it will be interesting how each act progressive over the coming years.  I will not compare them at the end as I am doing one at a time and that would not be fair, but let us see how 'The Key' has turned out.

'The Key' is the first in a concept album trilogy to be released by the band, involving virtual currencies, internet banking and stock trading, so Operation:Mindcrime have gone for the traditional route here.  The first song is called "Choices" and this is a gentle introduction to the album and the group itself, it takes its time to lay its foundation and it is all pinned together with those great vocals of Geoff Tate that have a warmth I have not heard in years.  It is a proper progressive rock opening that takes a few listens to sink in, so do not be put off if you do not get it on the first listen - it does take a few spins to make sense.  The second track is called "Burn" and this was actually the second single to be released from the album as well.  It is another song that does not grab me straight away, it is very minimal to be honest and it has something about it that is very compelling.  It is just something that takes a while to sink in and that is something I am happy to do, as progressive music can take a while to slip - also the bass line sounds very Tool in nature.  "Re-Inventing The Future" was the first single to be harvested from this album, the song starts with a question of giving the code to the world for free or selling it for profit.  It is an interesting concept to have that much power in your hands, the music itself is decent and solid if not spectacular.  It was the first song I heard and it as not really changed for me since hearing it in July.  It is played really well, I would not dare say it was a poorly performed number; it just has not improved since as much as other songs off the album which I have not listened to for quite as long.  "Ready To Fly" is another song about what the main protagonist is going to do, are they going to leave it all behind and risk it all or will they withdrawal from the whole project (well, you can guess the results - it would be a very short album if it was the other way round).  It is another gentle song that relies more on the gentle passages of the verse to give the chorus a sense of drama, but they do not take off as you would expect.  It drops some loud riffs every now and then, but the theme is gentle here in an early Dream Theatre way.  It is another grower, but it is still a little difficult to love.

Next is "Discussions in a Smoke Filled Room" and this segue is set up to build up the drama and hint at an upcoming attempt to sabotage the plans of the people with the key.  It builds up the synths until it merges into "Life or Death?".  I like this song a lot, it is a song with a lot of questions and is not the heaviest (or the most dramatic) song on the record.  But for some reason, all the pieces fall into place for this song and it has a confidence that is hard to ignore.  The lyrics about questions the validity of the plan and trying to escape with your life in tact is a good number for the album, musically it is in no hurry and it takes its time to unveil itself to you - one of the best songs of the album.  With a strange and looping opening, "The Stranger" is almost industrial in nature and has a harsh riff at its heart.  It does stand apart from what has previously been performed on this album, its nature and change in tempo/style makes it very distinctive.  I can see why it was another track that was released as a single, it has that obvious feel for a single.  It is also another good song from the album that makes you take attention and it is the first track to make you take notice from the very beginning.  "Hearing Voices" is back in the traditional progressive rock/metal territory and has riffs dropping off it like rain dropping off a leaf in the rain, the story has changed into a paranoid nightmare and the song itself reflects that.  When it first begins you are not too sure what is happening, then out of the noise the main riff of the song comes together and it all starts to mesh into another good song on the album ending this middle section on a very high note.

"On Queue" is a song where we are introduced to the idea that the security encryption on the key needs to be entered in the right way so that it can work, as well as everything falling on the shoulders of the person with the key and they are starting to feel even more pressure.  It has lots of computer beeps and synths in the background to this hard rock number that is another grower from Operation:Mindcrime.  It is very slow and it does not speed up at any junction, so you will have to be patient with it; that said, if you are already a fan of the original Operation:Mindcrime albums this should be ticking all of your boxes, but maybe not as quickly as you may think.  We are then introduced to another segue in the form of "An Ambush of Sadness" which has some beautiful strings and delicate guitar plucking that is very engaging from the first notes of the song.  It leads into "Kicking in the Door" which begins with a death and confusion as to what to do next, then the fear of what will happen when people coming looking for the key.  The music is still as beautiful and expands on the theme introduced on "An Ambush of Sadness" and it is very gentle on the ears, the vocals are also understated and very dignified.  They let the music lead on the song, the words do not need any more power that they already have so the performance is spot on.  Ending the album is "The Fall" and you are thrown into the dramatic ending of this album, it is another well performed song that sets up for the next album with a dramatic pause as the music aims for the dramatic and the last thing you hear is the sound of someone digging into the ground.  Once more you cannot fault the performance and once more you are left with something that grows on the audience over repeated listens, it is not an instant song once again which sort of ends the album on a consistent note.

You can tell this album is part of a story which is yet to be finished, it hints at more things to come all the way through and you come to the end of it wanting the next chapter to be told.  The performance from all of the band is of an incredibly high quality, you obviously focus on Geoff Tate as you would in any group he is the singer - but the truth is that he is keeps in very simple and does not belt out every note as if it was on fire.  This works for the benefit of the songs and shows a maturity that has grown in him.  So why have I only given this seven out of ten?  This is because it is a grower and the first part of a trilogy of record which is only just starting.  Because the songs take so long to latch onto the audience, it does take a while to connect with the music.  As I have said, it is a good album with strong performance; I will be looking forward to part two and I hope it elevates this interesting album to a higher status.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top song - The Stranger

You can purchase The Key from Amazon here

You can visit the Operation:Mindcrime website here

You can follow the activities of Operation:Mindcrime on Facebook here

You can stream The Key on Spotify here

You can stream The Key on Deezer here

You can stream The Key on Tidal here

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