Album Review: Operation: Mindcrime – “Resurrection”

…Alright, let me start by getting this off my chest: with the benefit of hindsight and looking back over my review of Operation: Mindcrime’s debut album, I think I might have been a bit harsh in that review. I am NOT saying that the record has grown on me at all, because it really hasn’t, but I think that I should have tried to meet the record on its own terms and avoided comparing it to Tate’s former band or the album that is the band’s namesake as much as I did, because that was not really fair on the band and it made me look like a bitter Queensryche fan who was unable to look past his dislike of what Tate has become in the last decade or so to judge the record on its own merits.

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Operation: Mindcrime, think of them as basically like Geoff Tate’s solo project when he isn’t actually engaging in it, as he is the one who really calls the shots with the band and has everything work around him, but he actually still has an active solo career (which begs the question of why he doesn’t just call Operation: Mindcrime his solo career). Originally starting out as Tate’s version of Queensryche when there were two versions of the band going around, Operation: Mindcrime ended up basically becoming its own project after Tate lost the right to tour under the Queensryche banner and was removed from the corporate side of the band as part of a settlement with the other core members of the band. Compared to the current lineup of Queensryche (which has gone in a direction more akin to their earlier sound), Operation: Mindcrime have basically continued in the direction that the band had been going in prior to the split (whether that is a good thing or not will depend on how much you enjoy the band post-Hear in the Now Frontier) and opted to create a huge, sprawling concept record that is due to span three parts, of which last year’s The Key was part one. Readers of my review of that record will recall that I thought the concept behind the trilogy was actually a rather interesting (if unoriginal) one that, unfortunately, was the only real bright spot on the record, so, needless to say, this continuation was already getting off on the wrong foot with me.

Surprisingly, though, Resurrection is actually somewhat appropriately named. Maybe this is a side effect of my expectations going in being so low that my first response to receiving the promo was to ask the other site members how much booze I’d need to get through it, but this record feels like a step up from The Key and actually feels like there is a proper attempt to do a great record here. It does have problems which I feel badly hurt it, admittedly, but, for what it’s worth, I actually didn’t dislike this record as much as I was expecting to and I feel like things have definitely moved in a positive direction.

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The band’s sound is probably going to be a bit surprising, because the point of reference that sprung to mind for me was actually Queensryche’s Promised Land. For those not familiar with the record, the sound there is basically fairly heavy progressive rock (albeit more akin to the somewhat atmospheric slower style of Pink Floyd than the technical showcases of Yes) and that is certainly the vibe I got here: at the very least, there are heavier influences in comparison to most progressive rock bands. I would stop short of actually calling it a metal album, as I think the elements are too few to really justify it (certainly, compared to other bands who dance the line between progressive metal and progressive rock like Rush, there is a noticeable lack of the heaviness and complex instrumental work that really helps to reinforce the line here, although “A Smear Campaign” certainly comes close to that line at points), but it’s a step in the right direction and it’s a sound which is actually rather interesting to hear.

The songwriting still lets the record down, though not as seriously as last time, it must be said. While the songwriting suffers from a lack of anything that really feels progressive in the technical sense (indeed, if one must draw a comparison to Promised Land, it is definitely not on a technical level, for it does not match up there), the songwriting is mostly functional and results in some interesting moments. The problem, of course, is that progressive music has never been about being mostly functional, but trying to push boundaries. This record simply isn’t doing that: at best, it is trying to use an already old sound to tell a new story, which begs the question of what exactly is being progressed (aside from the story, obviously!). While there isn’t anything that is particularly bad on here on a songwriting level, there’s nothing that I can really call GOOD either. Some songs have some potential, I’ll admit (“The Fight” in particular feels like it could have been a decent hit had it been written around the time of Promised Land), but the vast majority of this record feels like I’ve heard it done before and done better, which is a shame, because it really does feel like a step up from last time!

The instrumental performances on this record are unremarkable, though I can’t say that I feel any of the performances are weak so much as just acceptable for what the band are doing. It really says a lot that I honestly couldn’t tell if there was any changes in who was performing on the record from the music. That’s really not a good sign, because a big part of prog is finding your own sound and/or identity and this record doesn’t really succeed at either of them: if you were to put this on to someone without telling them who was playing, the likelihood is that most people would never be able to guess that this record has musicians like Simon Wright, John Moyer and David Ellefson on it. This isn’t to say that anyone does an outright bad job, but this is material which simply does not give the musicians on it a chance to put their own spins on things, with the end result that nothing feels distinctive. There’s no little touches that make you realise when a change in musician has occurred or help each individual musician to make their own mark on the music. You could have had someone as skilled as Jeff Loomis on this record and you’d never have guessed it from the music at all. All that aside, though, the performances aren’t necessarily bad in their own right, just somewhat unremarkable and simply don’t stand up to the levels one would expect from a progressive metal project.

Sadly, I think the biggest problem with this release is Tate’s voice. I will give credit that he does sound like he is trying more than usual here, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that he basically sticks to the same octave throughout the whole album and his vocal tone still feels somewhat weak, to the extent that it’s pretty easy to spot how badly his voice has deteriorated over the years even when comparing to vocalists who have also suffered from vocal degradation, like DC Cooper and Warrel Dane. Someone I know commented on Tate’s vocals nowadays sounding like they were influenced more by David Bowie in comparison to his older vocal style, which has some merit to it (Bowie himself was noted for a vocal style which could cross over with what sounded like speaking more than singing to the casual ear), but I can’t say it’s a good thing if that is what Tate is actually aiming for, because not only does it mean Tate is sacrificing his originality in favour of being an imitator, but he isn’t even doing it particularly well, as he isn’t trying to make it fit the music. He also has noticeable Auto-Tune on his vocals, which doesn’t really help Tate much because it just makes you realise how much he is relying on the studio to produce an acceptable performance.

I said it last time and I think that the sad truth is that I have to say it again: I think Operation: Mindcrime would be better off with someone else on vocals. There is a potentially great vocal performance that can be made out of the material on here, but it needs someone with a wider vocal range and better vocal tone than Tate has today to pull it off properly. As much as I want to avoid the Queensryche comparisons in this review, I think the best example I can give for what I’m trying to say would be to highlight stuff like “Operation: Mindcrime” and “The Needle Lies”, where there’s other vocal lines happening around an octave higher than the main melody in the choruses of songs and the melodies have a sense of dynamic power to them through some well chosen melody lines. This doesn’t have either of those due to Tate’s vocal deterioration and the end result feels very lacking as a result. I’m not necessarily asking Tate to hit notes like in Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor” here, but having some vocal melodies which encourage him to add a sense of dynamic flair to his performance again and adding some lower range countermelodies, if used well, would certainly help to give the band’s next record a much needed improvement to the vocals section of it and benefit the material more through giving it some extra impact. Heck, I’d actually welcome it if they overdid the vocal melodies to Blind Guardian levels on the next record, because that would actually make for some great singalongs live if done well!

The production…OK, the production is mostly fine. I do like that the bass has a significant presence in the mix of this record, but I don’t think it is really doing enough to warrant its position, as it isn’t doing anything particular complex and it can come across as rather simplistic to an inattentive ear (heck, even to my somewhat attentive ears, I genuinely don’t remember it doing anything all that interesting on this record!). The rest of the mix is fine, although I do think that Tate’s voice has a bit more prominence in the mix than perhaps is wise, considering his current vocal abilities. The sound of the record…it’s hard to say why, but something about it bugs me. There’s nothing that really stands out to me as bad about the sound on paper, but something about it seems off to me and I can’t really place what it is. The mastering is good, though: it enhances the material and doesn’t get to the extent of having a negative impact upon the sound quality.

Ultimately, while I do consider Resurrection to be a step up from The Key and a move in the right direction, it is still a weak record. There are good ideas to be found on this record, but the problem is that there’s nothing really to recommend this record for on a quality level and that, even at its best, it still comes across as merely acceptable rather than actually good. This really does fall under the “for die-hard fans only” label, if I’m completely frank: it’s not awful, but the only audience out there who might really enjoy this are those who are already huge fans of Geoff Tate’s work with Queensryche post-Hear in the Now Frontier and possibly die-hard fans of old school progressive rock in the Pink Floyd vein who also want something which is a bit heavier than the traditional style…and, frankly, I’m not convinced this will impress the latter enough to really make it worth the price of entry. That said, however, I am happy at the improvement from last time and I would certainly say that, if the band continues to improve, they might actually be able to end this trilogy off on a good note. While I can’t say that I’m actually looking forward to the conclusion of this trilogy, I’m certainly not dreading it to the extent that I was after the first part. Let’s just hope that Operation: Mindcrime have a Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge in them for their follow up and not an Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Gelt?

Resurrection will be released on the 23rd of September by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.