Operation: Mindcrime, ‘The Key’ – Album Review
Geoff Tate’s first post-Queensryche effort, outside of 2013’s Frequency Unknown (released under the Queensryche name), is Operation: Mindcrime’s The Key. The album is the first part of a musical trilogy concept album that tells the story of four people who create a technology that helps users see an alternate reality.
For the album, Tate recruited some renowned musicians including Megadeth’s David Ellefson, Disturbed’s John Moyer, former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, Scott Mercado of Candlebox, Brian Tichy, Kelly Gray, Scott Moughton and more. Together they create a musical landscape over which the mystery unfolds.
The Key is much like Queensryche’s previous conceptual albums, including their landmark 1988 effort Operation: Mindcrime. It is chock full of spoken word passages and digital sound effects that move the plot along.
A standout song on the effort is the David Ellefson and Geoff Tate co-written song “Re-inventing the Future,” which harkens back to classic Queensryche songs “The Mission” and “I Don’t Believe In Love,” with it’s use of diminished fifth chords in the verse. “It’s interesting if you listen to all the songs I’ve ever written, you’ll find that there are connecting pieces through all of them,” Geoff Tate told us in an exclusive interview. “There are melodies that are similar or reminiscent of other tracks. You know as a writer there are chord progressions that are just part of what you do. They are things that are just embedded in your psyche and they keep showing up in different ways on different songs throughout different albums over the years.”
The story progresses through the music as we learn that the four people who created the technology are wrestling with whether to sell it to make money or to give it away to make the world a better place. The group splinters and a power struggle begins that will ultimately end badly.
Tate explained that each song on the album is written like a scene of a movie. “The Stranger,” the heaviest song on the record, introduces a new character who shakes things up. “'The Stranger’ is an assassin that’s hired by one of the opposing team, I’ll call them, who want to sell the technology and become filthy rich,” Tate said. “They hire an assassin to kill the other guy who’s leading the campaign to give the program away.” The song has the swagger of a cold calculated killer and features the head-banging Scott Moughton guitar riff.
“On Queue” is the polar opposite of “The Stranger,” with its ambient vibe. The song features a saxophone solo and is reminiscent of the band’s 1994 track “Promised Land.” In the song, the main character of the story (who is Geoff Tate) realizes his time is short and attempts to pass off the protection code of the technology. Tate told us, “It kind of has this ethereal feel to it. But with these kind of really recognized digital sounds and one of the keyboards is playing a sequence that kind of ties into the idea about the protection code.” He added, “It also has a bit of an unresolved feel at the end of it that leads you into the next track. So, I like that too because we know actually what happens and there’s a bit of a hole in the story there. So you don’t know if the protection code is safe or if it’s not, you know.”
The effort ends with a cliffhanger that will be revisited in the second installment of the trilogy. “The Fall” is the last track on the album and Tate explained, “That track is the ending of the first record and also the beginning of the second record, which I think is really cool.” He continued, “It has a bit of despondency to it because the main character is realizing that greed and self-preservation, if you look throughout history, it’s always the downfall of progress and downfall of man has always been this same thing. The singer concluded, “It kind of leaves you unsettled and that’s what I kind of envisioned for the end of the first album was to portray that feeling of uneasiness. You know, what’s going to happen next? It leaves you on the edge of your seat so to speak.”
Operation: Mindcrime’s The Key will speak to the hardcore Queensryche and Geoff Tate fans, who enjoy the challenge of listening to an album over and over to unlock the mystery and discover the stories within the story. Fans may miss Queensryche’s signature harmony guitar solos, which are completely absent on the effort. But Tate makes up for it with a superb vocal performance and with some well-written and layered songs that harken back to the sounds Queensryche laid down on 1986’s Rage For Order and on their 1988 masterpiece Operation: Mindcrime.
Tate plans to release the second installment of the trilogy within one year with the finale arriving in 2017. Operation: Mindcrime’s The Key is available now at iTunes.