The controversial Queensryche split and aftermath was one that shook the very foundation of the progressive metal genre and divided the band’s cult following, which surprisingly remained somewhat intact following the line of increasingly depressive subpar albums released prior to the introduction of Todd La Torre from Crimson Glory as the replacement for original vocalist Geoff Tate.
The move came as the result of Tate’s egotistical control over Queensryche, which left core musicians Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield sitting on the sidelines so Tate could work with a revolving door of hired hands in the studio, not to mention a wave of physical altercations onstage and even more bizarre statements following said events.
The arrogance continued when Tate was fired from Queensryche, only to form his own version of the band around himself and release the poorly received “Frequency Unknown” album with the infamous “F.U.” on the cover artwork. When Tate would later lose his share of the Queensryche name after a grueling and public court battle, it was still surprising that a vocalist that many heavy metal advocates grew up admiring took the low road and decided to rename his incarnation of Queensryche to Operation: Mindcrime.
Perhaps it can be attributed to losing his official association to the Queensryche brand, or maybe it’s being enclosed in an environment where he can work solely on his own musical concepts, however Tate has now returned with the premiere installment from Operation: Mindcrime which is bound to surprise dedicated listeners. ‘The Key’ proves to be Tate’s finest studio presentation in decades, exploring varietal sonic landscapes highlighted by an emotive vocal performance that was seemingly lost over the course of time.
Selections such as the lead single “Re-Inventing The Future” and “Ready To Fly” invoke strong resemblances to songs from Queensryche’s respected past, however it’s the moments where Tate and company step outside of that previously explored territory which are the most rewarding. The soaring vocal melodies which course throughout the opening number “Choices” invoke memories of Pink Floyd, leading into the fierce, grooving metal themes of “Burn.”
Such departures aren’t always so frequently rewarding, as we find on the disruptive vulgar plate of rap metal on “The Stranger” which shows Tate spitting out cold rhymes like “I’m the best/ Fuck the rest.” Although the production value and concrete array of rhythm guitar work courtesy of Kelly Gray just redeems this track, it could easily pass for a ‘Dedicated to Chaos’ outtake and should have remained in a similar state of abandon.
Even so, there are more exceptional selections to be found throughout ‘The Key’ than avoidable ones. Take for example the pairing of “Kicking in the Door,” a melodic selection that serves a prelude to a ‘Promised Land’ style riff rocker “The Fall,” which instead features a particular emphasis on orchestral arrangements, lung busting high notes and jazz saxophone matted onto a futuristic frame.
It’s highly debatable whether or not Tate should have continued under a different name and left behind any association to the Queensryche brand, and likely will remain a popular topic for years to come. What is certain is that the debut album from Operation: Mindcrime far surpasses any predetermined expectations, even aside from a few forgettable recordings. It’s this performance which provides hope for both Tate’s career as a vocalist and the forthcoming trilogy under the Operation: Mindcrime brand, and as such arrives warmly recommended to those listeners who remain fans of the indigenous 1988 concept album.