Friday, November 6, 2015

OPERATION: MINDCRIME "The Key"



(c) 2015 Frontiers Records
  1. Choices
  2. Burn
  3. Re-Inventing The Future
  4. Ready To Fly
  5. Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room
  6. Life or Death?
  7. The Stranger
  8. Hearing Voices
  9. On Queue
  10. An Ambush Of Sadness
  11. Kicking In The Door
  12. The Fall
Geoff Tate--Vocals, Keyboards, Saxaphone
Kelly Gray--Guitars, Vocals
Scott Moughton--Guitars, Vocals
Dave Ellefson--Bass
John Moyer--Bass
Mark Daly--Vocals
Randy Gane--Keyboards
Simon Wright--Drums
Scott Mercado--Drums, Dulcimer
Brian Tichy--Drums

Round Two of the Geoff Tate vs. Queensryche (Toddryche?) feud kicks off with Tate's new band/project/ensemble/ARMY, Operation: Mindcrime, releasing "The Key" on Frontiers Records.  Ten men are listed as being "members" of the group, with no fewer than seven being shown in the band photo, so O:M is obviously quite an undertaking as far as personnel goes.

On his last effort, Frequency Unknown, Tate and his band continued down the path that Queensryche had been traversing with their last few records as a united group, intermixing elements of the past with much more modern sounds.  And, probably not surprising to anyone, nothing has really changed here with The Key, although there are a few key flashes to their past that are noteworthy and will likely interest a fairly fractured fanbase of the original band.

For starters, The Key is a concept album, not unlike the original band's most well-known effort (and this band's namesake), Operation: Mindcrime.  Throughout The Key Tate intermixes spoken word parts and musical interludes to try to create a unique sonic landscape upon which to build this reportedly 3-album-long concept project about four people who invent some sort of technology that allows people to experience an alternate reality.  And, to be fair, in a couple of places, The Key actually manages to capture some of that Mindcrime magic.  One such place is on the song, Re-Inventing The Future", a track Tate co-wrote with Megadeth bassist, Dave Ellefson.  While not an out-and-out copy, this track will immediately have fans flashing back to "The Mission", interspersed with parts of "I Don't Believe In Love", particularly in the song structure and in Tate's vocal delivery.

But, as much as a track like "Re-Inventing The Future" hearkens back to the better days of classic Queensryche, a track like "The Stranger" reminds you just how far the band had strayed from their original sound before they split.  I don't even really know what to think of this song...it's just so bizarre and out of sync with the rest of the album.  It's a total curveball, even for the forward-thinking Tate, as he uses RAP-styled vocals, some odd dubstep electronica sounding music, and what I'm guessing is left-over porn vocal tracks...or really bad Halloween music...as there is this disturbing moaning going on in the song that I can't even force to fit into where I think Tate was going here.  Just truly, truly random and strange, "The Stranger" is an auto-skip when I spin this record now, guaranteed.  Just NOT a good song at all...

So with the two extremes....the really good and the REALLY bad...out of the way, what is the rest of the disc like?  Meh, it depends upon your thoughts of Frequency Unknown and, to a lesser degree, Tate's solo album, Kings and Queens....combined with elements of Queensryche albums Promised Land (which is one of my personal faves from the band), and Tribe and Hear In The Now Frontier (two albums I never play any longer).  There are a few pretty good songs here...and some not-so-hot numbers.  On the one hand you have "Hearing Voices", another track that has a lot of the past built into it musically, but with some more modern elements mixed in, producing one of the better tracks on the record.  On the other hand, however, "Burn" is a bottom-heavy rocker that holds a lot of promise musically, but Tate sounds bored singing here, coming off as rather monotone, believe it or not, and I am left shaking my head at lost chances.  "Ready To Fly" has some really cool 70's classic rock feel to it, a la Rainbow or Deep Purple, especially in the use of the keyboards, but then "Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room" gets all Pink Floyd trippy on me and totally loses my interest.  "Kicking In The Door" is one of the Promised Land -like moments I mentioned, and is a decent song, but then "Life Or Death" comes on and Tate isn't even the lead singer on it, which is just as well because even Tate in top form couldn't salvage this track.  "On Queue" sounds like the music I'm frequently stuck listening to when I'm put on hold, but the instrumental, "An Ambush Of Sadness" is actually a great piece of music that I find myself really, really liking.

Like so many other concept albums, The Key really needs to be taken in as a whole, but therein lies another problem:  this is only 1/3 of the story.  To me, a lyrics guy, the album does feel a bit incomplete, mostly because the listener is left hanging, waiting for the story to continue.  I've heard that the last song here, "The Fall" is also the beginning of Part 2, so I don't know if that means the next record will have "The Fall" on it, also (perhaps in reprise form), but it would seem an odd thing to do.  We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose.

The packaging is nicely done, as you would expect from Frontiers, with band photos, lyrics, and all the bells and whistles as far as credits, thank-you's, and liner notes.  The production has been an issue for some people, but I didn't really take issue with it, as I think Tate deliberately pushed the bass up in the mix, likely to showcase Ellefson and Moyer's contributions.  It's not razor sharp or crystal clear, but its also not the muddy slop you might think if you read some people's complaints.

Overall, The Key is very frustrating for me because, I'm not going to lie...I'm still holding out for another really great album from Tate.  I was truly hoping this might be the one, but clearly it isn't, and I don't know that I have very high hopes for parts two and three, although I know I will buy them.

Rating:  I feel so confused and, honestly, betrayed at times by this record because it teases me into believing and then kicks me in the face for sitting too close to the speakers with my hopes on display!  Rock this at 5.5, and that may be generous...or maybe unfair...I'm not really even sure.

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