If I was to look at what albums of the 80s were the most influential on metal and prog metal today, Operation: Mindcrime would be near the top of my list. The album was made by the developing talented group Queensr˙che. They had tasted success with their hit “Walk In the Shadows” from the hair metal Rage For Order in 1986, but decided to take on a huge double LP project about a young man swept up in a communistic underground society in the heart of the city (Seattle?). This was a daring prospect; the last successful concept album was Pink Floyd’s The Wall nearly a decade earlier. It was the breakthrough album for Queensr˙che; achieving recognition among metal fans, and dubbed Queensr˙che by critics as ‘the thinking man’s metal band’.
The concept begins with the spoken word intro (“I Remember Now”). This alone is enough to keep your interest in the entire album. The story begins in a hospital. A television news report plays in the background, which if you listen closely is pivotal in understanding the concept. The protagonist thinks to himself “I remember now; I remember how it started. I can’t remember yesterday---I just remember doing what they told me….”
All of the sudden we are swept into a flashback---the energetic “Anarchy X”, which sets the mood for a city on the brink of chaos; mass protests, corruption, etc. We are introduced to Nikki as a confused, perhaps overwhelmed young man (“Revolution Calling”). “I used to trust the media to tell me the truth….but now I see the payoffs everywhere I look. Who do you trust when everyone’s a crook?” The next track is sung from the perspective of the Operation, recruiting young men with “No goals (and) nothing more to learn” to do hits on corrupt politicians. Here we witness a naďve Nikki join the Operation. “Hey Nikki! You know everything that there is to do---here’s a gun: take it home, wait by the phone.” He accept the ideals of this organization with zeal, preaching revolution on the urban streets (“Speak”). In the next track (“Spreading the Disease”), we meet one of the other characters of the story, Mary, a nun of a church which is linked to the Operation’s money laundering (I assume). Nikki (a much older man the story implies) falls deeply in love with her (“The Mission”). “She is the lady that can ease my sorrow, my love for her will help me find my way.”
This is where our antagonist comes in.
Dr. X: “Kill her. That’s all you have to do.”
Nikki: “Kill Mary?”
Dr. X: “She’s a risk. Get the priest as well.”
The turning point of the story, the end of the first half, comes here, when Nikki goes to Mary’s church (“Suite Sister Mary”). With his original intent to kill her, he first kills the priest. In his confrontation with Mary, he decides to fight Dr. X. “We’re being used and fed like rats in experiments. There’s only one thing left to see….will it be him or me?”
Nikki: “I’ve had enough and I want out!!”
Dr. X: “You can’t walk away now.”
“I looked back once and all I saw was his face---smiling, the needle crying. I walked out of his room of mirrors and heard him scream ‘You’ll never get away!!!’”
A new dimension is added to our protagonist as he fights the Operation, struggling with his own drug addiction (“The Needle Lies”). The next day, Nikki returns to the church, and finds Mary dead (“Electronic Requiem”), murdered. As he splits his mind over her loss, who killed her, he goes crazy trying to convince himself that he didn’t do it. I’ll leave the concept at that.
The music here goes from hair (“Operation: Mindcrime”, “Breaking the Silence”), to thrash (“The Needle Lies”), to disturbing experimentalism (“Electronic Requiem”, “My Empty Room”). Conceptually as well as musically, O: M draws much influence from The Wall, using verbal intros (“Suite Sister Mary”, “I Remember Now”; compare to “One of My Turns”) and television noises (“I Remember Now”, “The Mission”; compare to “One of My Turns”) to help get the story across. It also has the ‘infinite’ story ending that The Wall (…where we came in?/Isn’t this…) invented. The story is wonderfully put to music. The plot is especially well dramatized by the chamber choir on the disturbing “Suite Sister Mary”, the climactic “My Empty Room”, and “Eyes of a Stranger”, which acts as the record’s resolution. The vocals throughout are amazing, especially on the 10-minute “Suite Sister Mary”, where Geoff Tate also sings the part of Mary (which actually works out quite well…). The guitars and percussion are also notably good. The harmonic solos, reminiscent of Queen, work out well with the music.
Overall, this is a landmark record and Queensr˙che’s biggest accomplishment, their Thick As A Brick. There is no prog metal band that has not been influenced by this album. Operation: Mindcrime cleared the way for such metal greats as Savatage and Dream Theater to produce their own concepts. It’s complex plot, energetic music, and daring experimentalism will preserve it’s place in the metal world forever.