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'The Key'
(Frontiers Music)
Release Date: Monday 21st September 2015

Johnny Main

johnny main

operation mindcrime

As you're probably aware, in the last twelve months, Geoff Tate endured a very public (and at times bitter) battle with the other members of Queensrÿche, the band he fronted for thirty years, over the band name after he was ejected from the band in 2012.

Both parties fought aggressively to retain the Queensrÿche name with Tate losing out in the end. It wasn't a complete loss for him, however, as he retained the rights to perform (arguably) their most famous work – 1988s 'Operation: Mindcrime' album in its entirety (something Queensrÿche are no longer allowed to do) and to use the "Operation Mindcrime" name as he chooses.

With that in mind, Tate has unveiled 'The Key', the debut album from the Operation Mindcrime "musical project", which works as an extension to his already existing solo career. Quite how the band works live has yet to be decided, if indeed the band will ever tour, but in the studio Tate enlisted the help of bass player John Moyer (from Disturbed), ex-AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, ex-Ozzy Osbourne drummer Brian Tichy along with long-time collaborators Kelly Gray and Randy Gane to bring their skills to a new way of working.

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This release isn't Tate's first release since leaving Queensrÿche, as he released the 'Frequency Unknown' album, under the "Queensrÿche" banner, in 2013 to very mixed reviews. The album was recorded and released in a rush so as to capitalise on the Queensrÿche name before the court case over the band naming rights began, and this shows in the finished product which is very patchy both lyrically and musically, and can be a difficult listen at times. More "Frequently Unlistenable" than anything Tate has produced in the past, it's an album that's remained very much gathering dust on the shelf in my office ever since.

First and foremost it's important to point out that this new Operation Mindcrime release isn't treading on the toes of the original 'Operation:Mindcrime' album (or it's much inferior sequel, released in 2006). 'The Key' is very much a concept album – the first of three connected ones, apparently – with the song writing dominated by Tate along with Gane and Gray. Not having being created by a band in a conventional sense, it's simply a gathering of musicians who participated on the album and whether the same players appear on any subsequent releases has still not confirmed at this stage.

Tate's been given a lot of bad rap over the last couple of years from some quarters, but let's put that aside and focus on the most important thing at this point in time – the music. The central story of 'The Key' is not simply told within this single album, in fact this first album merely sets up and introduces the basic story elements. The story itself isn't laid out in a typically straightforward narrative fashion either, but is instead intermixed between the three albums. With 'The Key' providing the set up, one would think that the second will continue with the conflict between the characters before there is some kind of resolution identified on the final album.

operation mindcrime

I wasn't really sure what to expect after the uneasy listening experience afforded to me by the 'Frequency Unknown' album but I listened to 'The Key' with an open mind and it's actually a vast improvement on Tate's previous solo efforts and, let's be honest, the last couple of Queensrÿche albums on which he participated too.

Tate's voice itself hasn't sounded this good for years and he really puts on a great performance reminding the listener of his rich history as the frontman of one of the biggest Metal bands in the world during their heyday in the Eighties and Nineties. His voice is strong and commanding and he puts in an especially passionate performance during 'Burn' where the lyrics seem to be aimed at his previous Queensrÿche band mates.

Overall, though, the musicianship is very good. With the calibre of musicians involved in the recording, this isn't a great surprise I guess, but everyone gets their moment in the spotlight – sometimes, in the case of keyboard Randy Gane, a little too much as the keyboards seem to dominate more then their fair share of tracks.

'Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room' owes something of a debt to Pink Floyd's 'Don't Leave Me Now', but it's a very accomplished piece whilst Tate once again shows his prowess on the saxophone during 'On Queue', which is about as close as it gets to a ballad on the album. For me, 'The Stranger' is amongst the heaviest guitar driven tracks and I hope more tracks like this appear on the next two releases.

The album ends with 'The Fall' which slowly builds and builds during the intro until the track limps into life in what is a disappointing finale. More of a mid-paced than fast finale, the song doesn't seem to make the overall story any clearer, so I only hope the subsequent albums don't muddy the waters any further. Overall, though, it's a good sounding album with some good tracks, which are hindered by a less than coherent storyline.

You can see the video for 'Re-Inventing the Future' here:

'The Key' Tracklist:
Re-Inventing The Future
Ready To Fly
Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room
Life Or Death?
The Stranger
Hearing Voice
On Queue
An Ambush Of Sadness
Kicking In The Door
The Fall

Operation: Mindcrime are:
Geoff Tate – Vocals
Kelly Gray – Guitars
Scott Moughton – Guitars
John Moyer – Bass Guitar
Randy Gane – Keyboards
Simon Wright – Drums
Brian Tichy – Drums

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