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Monday, 26 October 2015

Reviews: Queensryche, Operation Mindcrime (Reviews By Nick)

Queensryche: Condition Human (Century Media)

Having been a big Queensryche fan for about eight years or so, it was needless to say that when all the hooha and kerfuffle broke out around the band three years back I was both gutted and concerned. Thankfully the band found the perfect replacement in Todd LaTorre, who on first listening live last year, I found him to sound almost exactly like Tate, but with that little more edge. He is easily able to roll off all of the bands greatest hits and quite frankly I was blown away by his voice. However now is the time to see what LaTorre and the gang are really made of with their new offering Condition Human.

In this case I'm not going to go through the album track by track as I'm sad to say it would be a bit of waste of time. After a few listens this album has one big downfall, and it’s a damn shame. The majority of the songs served up on Condition Human all have the same theme... Revolution is coming my friends, yup you better believe it. At least eight of the tracks on this twelve song album continue with this theme and no matter how good you are, this just isn't sustainable. I'm pretty sure this theme rings a few bells from previous offerings too? What's more annoying about this album is that the track Just Us offers us a beautiful ballad that pulls together everything that is good about Queensryche old and new, similarly Hourglass in a more rocky manner. This just left me thinking... why can't we have more of this?

Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship on this album is brilliant as always and I'd expect nothing less from such experienced pro's. Throw LaTorre's spine tingly good voice into the mix and if you're not paying too much attention to the foundation of the songs, it sounds just great. Rockenfield's drums at times are simply majestic and Wilton and Lundgren throw out the sharp high pitched riffs we have come to know and love from Queensryche. Ironically this album is the opposite to Tate's new offering with Mindcrime: throw it on in the background and you'll no doubt find yourself walking around the room air banding with a little smile on your face, but, sit down and listen to it properly, and the cracks in the albums foundation are clear to hear. I'm unsure as to the reasoning for this, either the band got a little lazy and were keen to get a release out at the same time as Mindcrime (understandable) or are they hanging on too tightly to the past of Queensryche? Either way, to make your "new project" stand out, something a lot more stronger and dare I say brave was needed here. It’s a good listen, but it could have been so much better 7/10.

Operation:Mindcrime: The Key (Frontiers Music)

So as you people may or not know, me... I'm a BIG Queensryche fan, and possibly an even bigger Tate fan. For me there are few better voices out there, past present and hopefully future! So, needless to say this album has been eagerly awaited by myself. Since its announcement of production Tate has stated from the off that The Key is to be the first of a trilogy. A concept piece, The Key ushers in work that Tate has been sitting on for a few years now. It will be difficult not to compare this against Tate's outstanding work with Queensryche, but I'll do my best. We'll see if it's all been worth the wait! Without any spoilers the concept of the album in its most basic is; A man discovers "something", realizes that this "thing" could change the world for both good or bad, man wrestles with his conscious to decide if he should destroy said "thing", sell said "thing" or release said thing himself for free. Okay, got it?

Opening track Choices immediately throws back to late 80s/90s Queensryche with an audio cut, reminiscent of album Empires and Mindcrime itself. However what follows is more of an atmospheric narrated opening which sets the scene of the story nicely. The next track and second single Burn again kicks in with another audio cut, which is interrupted by a a heavy thudding grungy riff filled with bass and deep melody. Throughout Burn the tone remains dark and almost melancholic, with very proggy solos thrown in by guitarist Kelly Gray. Reinventing The Future is the first single from The Key and is probably the most anthemic track on the album. Probably the closest thing we get to Queensryche on The Key, this track picks up the pace with a lot bouncier riff and faster paced drums, the prog theme stays firmly put however, with stronger vocals from Tate here and a brief but succulent solo again, supported by a Nick favourite emphasized bass line, kindly donated by Disturbed's John Moyer.

Ready To Fly and Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room return to the slower atmospheric stylings of Choices, the synthesized voice of Tate adds to the futuristic theme that The Key tries to convey. The stand out element during these two tracks however, is the precise and almost dramatic drumming of Simon Wright. At this point the story that Mindecrime are trying to convey is starting to well and truly take shape, that is until track six; Life or Death? which has a very random appearance from Mark Daly (The Voodoos) on vocals. This really threw me initially as his voice, although good, deep and gravely... just doesn't fit into the atmosphere or character of the album, the song itself is also very different to what has been offered thus far in the album. Very rocky, bouncy and lively and upbeat, contrary to the previous five tracks. As a stand alone the track is solid, but it really does halt the charade of the album and stick out like a sore thumb.

The Stranger and Hearing Voice really hit you in the face with more deep bass filled grunge. They are angry emotive songs, both musically and lyrically, also chocked with scurrying tight riffs. Tate is really able to highlight the franticness in the characters decisions across these tracks. The smashing percussion adds another futuristic twist to the story with the industrial edge of its sound, which is immediately halted in its tracks with some sophistication by On Queue and the interlude An Ambush Of Sadness. On Queue builds up beautifully to a great vocal and solo crescendo courtesy of Tate and Gray. Kicking In The Door and The Fall return the album to back where it started musically. Atmospheric proggy music laced with Tate's voice as he brings the first part of his tale to an end. The Fall does this nicely by finishing with a musical wall of sound that builds and builds with well placed layers slowly drowning out Tate's vocals in an almost mystical way, leaving us waiting for the next album to see what becomes of him... it really is a nice touch.

The Key is a very much new direction for Tate and his crew, on one hand, unlike their previous offering this feels as if it has been thought through and some care and love has been put into it. However on the other, the fact that the stand out track is very much that of a Queensryche song suggests that there is probably something missing from The Key that makes this album Mindcrime's own. A concept album, although a concept album, needs an identity musically as well as the story it tries to convey... The Key hops about in its stylings, a little lost at times. After listening a few times, I have come to the decision that I really do like this album, its different, filled with grungy bass and a new sort of prog I've not quite heard before, so I do look forward to the following two parts to accompany it. Hopefully Mindcrime will have found their identity by then. Nonetheless, I feel this is not an album you can just throw on and listen to in the background (unlike Queensryche for instance), it's an album you have to understand and give your time to and work at, which I feel may be difficult to convey live. As a result I can see The Key taking a bit of a hit by critics, probably for all the wrong reasons, which is a shame 8/10

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