Here it is, Queensrÿche have returned, 18 years later, to the scene of their greatest triumph commercially and critically, Operation: Mindcrime, with a sequel, appropriately monikered Operation: Mindcrime II. Queensrÿche still retains four of its five original members -- vocalist Geoff Tate, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfeld (guitarist Mike Stone joined as a permanent member in 2005). There are fine arguments on both sides of an issue like this -- messing with a bona fide rock classic by recording a sequel -- all of them are basically irrelevant once the project has been realized; but in this case, the debate will rage regardless. First there's the story: It picks up with junkie hitman Nikki, recently released from prison, haunted constantly by the death and memory of his lover, Mary, a former teenage prostitute turned nun, and this shadowy presence of Dr. X, Nikki's employer. The story of Operation: Mindcrime ended with "Who Killed Mary?" The story picks up with the identity of the killer revealed and Nikki's obsession with revenge on Operation: Mindcrime II. Cool eh? Maybe, maybe not; it depends on your point of view. In any case the most startling thing about II is its sound: pure 1980s heavy metal. The band went back to exploring the kinds of technology used on the first segment and basically revisited it, retuned the guitars to A., and let it rip. Shockingly, it doesn't sound cheesy at all. In fact, it's so balls-out crunchy and stacked -- especially the way those duplicate lead guitars sound on "The Hands" -- it sort of feels as if the records were recorded back to back; the intent and objective here has definitely been achieved. The argument is why you would want to create a second chapter of something and have it sound so much like the first. Okay, there's the music and the story. Tate and company are to be credited here; the story is seamless, though it's 20 years later. Tate looks at the current political and social landscape and can only say that "everything moves faster now/living at the speed of light," other than that, it's the same -- which is why a sequel was predicated in the first place. The band were still under the first Bush regime when the original was released. And despite eight years of Clinton, they find themselves under a Bush regime once more -- a regime perhaps more Draconian and certainly far more secretive than its predecessors. In any case, the historical reality reflects the aesthetic one for the purposes of Tate and company.
There are some new factors on II: Michael Kamen is not on-board as the string arranger this time out; Ashif Hakik is. This set's producer is Jason Slater (who also produced hit records for Smash Mouth and Good Charlotte) who also recorded and mixed II with Hakik, Christina Wolfe, and Mitch Doran on-board for help. There are guests vocalists here, of course, including Pamela Moore, Miranda Tate, and the voice of Dr. X: Ronnie James Dio! Despite the sheer ambition and focus on the music and the story, here; despite the slamming, tough-minded metal and sheer rock dynamics at work, added to the enjoyment of listening to this all the way through as an album by Queensrÿche, the question must be asked: Does it measure up to the original? Not quite. However, the reasons for this have little to do with inspiration or execution; they have more to do with budget.. II is a fitting sequel musically -- and story-wise -- to as classic a work of popular art as you're likely to find, and it does wrap up the story tidily -- though some fans were content with the end left in question as it was originally. As a band, Queensrÿche rock harder now than they have in years; they are absolutely on fire here. Operation: Mindcrime II is a great step back in order to move things forward.