Here it is – the single most highly anticipated (or dreaded, for some…) album of 2006 and indeed any other year I can remember. 16 years ago this band, well actually a slightly different incarnation of it, crafted what many (and me included) consider to be the pinnacle of Progressive Metal. For 16 years our anti-hero Nikki has been locked up in jail and now he’s free – only to be confronted by many new problems and issues. He has many questions, but are there answers?
According to the band this sequel will address some of the burning questions that’s been torturing both Nikki and the scores of fans out there, mainly the one surrounding Mary’s killer. Who did it? How did it all go down? Why did it happen? According to many out there, the identity of the killer has been known for a long time and that anyone with a sharp eye would have spotted it through the many “clues” that the band inserted in the videos accompanying the original Mindcrime album. *If you wish to find this out later and don’t want it to be spoiled, then don’t read any further!* Here are some of the main suggestions/revelations that have been put forward: Mary hung herself (check out the lyric on the first album that’s says that Mary was ‘…hanging with a rosary around her neck…’). Another theory states that right after Nikki killed the molesting Priest he fled the scene without killing Mary as he was instructed – and after the shock of what had just transpired, Mary shot herself (possibly with Nikki’s gun…). Another theory states that Doctor X showed up after Nikki left and gave Mary a gun with Nikki’s fingerprints on it, which she then proceeded to use on herself. I’m still a little unsure as to exactly how she did it, but one thing seems clear: she committed suicide (in one of the band’s videos from the OM 1 era, the word “suicide” was flashed on the screen, followed by images of Mary and Dr. X.).
With that out of the way, it is necessary to highlight what the main concept or idea(s) behind this album entail: Nikki is released from prison and thus he revels in his newfound freedom. But as time progresses he again begins to seethe over what had transpired all those years ago – he is still angry that Mary had died and now he wants to avenge her death. He reasons that the only way to do so and to reach some degree of inner peace and retribution, would be to kill the main culprit: Dr. X (who has expanded his empire tenfold during Nikki’s incarceration). He wrestles with this thought and is confronted by images of Mary – she wouldn’t want him to do it and instead wants him to learn from his past mistakes. He also worries that it might not even bring him inner peace if the evil doctor is killed, that it might just leave him in an even worse and more ‘empty’ state of mind. These are the main points of focus on the new album – to find out how everything pans out at the end, you’ll just have to grab a copy and hear for yourself. On to the music shall we…
It goes without saying, but one has to keep in mind that almost two decades has passed since the original and that these musicians have also changed, as have we - the listeners. It is very difficult to resurrect and induce the exact same feelings that the original made us feel – times have changed and we are all older and not in our teens anymore (PS – I haven’t even owned the original that long…). With that in mind one must approach this album somewhat cautiously. Like I said, anticipations are huge and we will all be disappointed if we expect this album to be exactly like the first one. For me it wasn’t just the issue of whether this album will be worthy of carrying the Mindcrime moniker, but also the Queensryche logo – after many years of disappointing material from this band, they just had to create an album that would reclaim some glory and re-instill some faith in them. Did they achieve this? Well, I am grateful to answer that key question with a YES! Not a resounding ‘yes’, but a ‘yes’ nonetheless (hey that rhymes…).
The album opens up in much the same fashion that the original did, with two consecutive instrumental pieces setting the tone and luring us in. After that, we dive headfirst into “I’m American”, one of the album’s strongest tracks. It has a heavy, driving atmosphere with a rousing chorus to boot. One thing that you’ll notice immediately is Tate’s vocals, they are not as high-pitched and “overblown” as they were in the 80s. Next up is “One Foot In Hell”, another heavy song that deals with the issue of revenge – the band successfully managed to convey the feelings of anger and desire for revenge that swirled around in Nikki’s head, in this song. From here on in the album alternates between some heavy numbers and the obligatory, more laid back moments.
I am not going to go through all the tracks, because I want the listener to experience it for themselves. With that being said I have to mention just another few tracks that really grabbed my attention. “Signs Say Go” is a very fast and dynamic number that could be to this album what “The Needle Lies” was to the original. As all of you should know, the great Ronnie James Dio plays the part of Dr. X on this album and he and Tate trade off vocal lines in the duet (or should I say duel?), “The Chase”. It is a great song, especially because of Dio’s always stellar vocal performance (as the doctor, he basically degrades and laughs at Nikki’s threats of violence against him), coupled with Tate’s more emotional and desperate vocal lines. The first real surprise of the album for me was “If I Could Change It All”. It is a ballad, with a very strong Blues-y undercurrent and strange effects in the background and it comes off sounding both sad and psychedelic at the same time. Of course it is great to hear Pamela Moore’s (who reprises her role as Mary, albeit this time as her spirit (or alternatively Nikki’s conscience…) vocals on this track, as well as a few others as well. On the track “Fear City Slide” Nikki fights his inner demos while contemplating suicide and on the closer, “All The Promises”, he reflects on his life situation and all the ordeals he’s been through over the years.
Musically this is a strong album. The production is superb IMO, managing to capture both caustic and tranquil moments when they creep up in the songs. Most of the riffs are decent, but overall, there aren’t that many of them on here that will grab you right away like those on OM 1 tracks like “The Needle Lies” and “Spreading The Disease” did. As I mentioned earlier, Tate’s vocal style was the main cause of concern for me. I know he’s now in his late 40s, but overall his delivery sounds very restrained and he doesn’t manage to evoke as much desperation and emotion like he did on the original outing. Don’t get me wrong, he is still a very capable vocalist in his own right, but I just feel as if he’s holding back a bit on here. But aside from this little hiccup this is a strong effort from a band that’s seen its popularity and stature wane ever since the dying notes of “Empire”. The guitar solos are brilliant and they are definitely on par with those found on the original, both in terms of precision and atmosphere. The keyboards and additional vocal work throughout the album are done very nicely and I don’t feel that they take away from the music in any way. I’m still a little wary of some of the strange background effects and noises that creep in some of the instrumentals and ballads, but they nevertheless add some level of mystery and “freshness” to the album.
So overall I’d have to say that this is indeed a worthy successor to the original album. It doesn’t top that one, not by a long shot, but it is a great album. And I, for one, hope that this effort will procure this band some new fans and silence their detractors.
It’s good to have the ‘ryche back!
…as Tate states in the opening liner notes: “Listen!”
Listen we will. (Online May 21, 2006)