It has been a little over three years since Geoff Tate was very ignominiously and publicly fired from Queensrÿche, the band he had fronted for three decades. What happened next – the acrimonious verbal bitch slappings, the two versions of the band, the subsequent legal case – has been extremely well documented. Now, the latter half of 2015 sees the singer re-emerge into the spotlight in his own right, at the helm of this rather ironically monickered new project.
‘The Key’ is the first in a three-part conceptual series of albums from this new Operation: Mindcrime project. Not that Tate is any stranger to concept albums: there was the duoply of the name from which this new project takes it’s name, as well as the much overlooked and deridden ‘American Soldier’ offering from 2009. Now, let’s stop right here as, dear reader, you will have noticed the use of the word “project” instead of “band” when it comes to referring to O:M. That is simply because Tate himself makes one point exceptionally clear – “Operation: Mindcrime isn’t a band, it is a musical project of like-minded people uniting to achieve a common goal”. In this cast, the group of like-minded people involved need little or no introduction to the majority of knowledgeable hard rock fans, bringing together as O:M does bassists Dave Ellefson and John Moyer, drummers Simon Wright, Scott Mercado and Brian Tichy, guitarists Kelly Gray (who of course played alongside Tate in Queensrÿche for a number of years) and Scott Moughton, keyboardist Randy Gane (from Myth, the band Tate and Gray were in before the formation of Queensrÿche) and vocalist Mark Daly.
Given the name of the new project, and the fact that Tate has chosen to pursue the concept route once again (and the fact that the album’s brain motif is used as O:M’s Facebook avatar), comparisons with his former band are inevitable. But, that is exactly where they end.
The concept behind ‘The Key’ is a central question: what would you do if you discovered the key to changing the way we view the world, the way we look at time, the way we travel, and could essentially change the human condition – for better or for worse? Immediately, it is clear that Tate is moving forward: more Matrix than Mindcrime (the former emphasized by the use of voiceover samples throughout). It’s certainly an ambitious album. An adventurous one. It is one which harks back to Mindcrime – especially in the sequenciality of the album’s ‘chapters’ – but also takes a completely different approach.
For a start, it is a lot less claustrophobic. It is an album that breathes, especially as it progresses. It has an almost organic feel. And a feeling that Tate is not always in complete control; that he has let his assembled group of like-minded musicians go with the flow and he has been happy to join them in swimming both with and against its tide. One of its strengths is how Tate himself is prepared to take a back seat and let the music tell as much of the story as he does through his lyrics.
It is not a heavy metal album, or even a hard rock one: it is so much more than that, echoing Tate’s love of Seventies prog rock and integrating massive orchestrations (not that it’s the first time he done that!) as well as huge swathes of keyboards, saxophones, sound effects and even EDM and elongated moments of silence into the overall structure and weave of the album. Yes, there are guitar riffs – some fairly massive ones (such as on ‘Burn’ and ‘Ready To Fly’) – but their absence is often as important as their presence.
To be brutally honest, as an longstanding (and very much old school) Queensrÿche fan, I genuinely did not know what to expect from Operation: Mindcrime and ‘The Key’. I did not know if I was going to like it. I did not if I wanted to like it. As it is, I’m already looking forward to the next instalment and unlocking whatever mysteries Mr Tate has in store for us…
Choices / Burn / Re-Inventing The Future / Ready To Fly / Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room / Life Or Death / The Stranger / Hearing Voices / On Queue / An Ambush Of Sadness / Kicking In The Door / The Fall
Recommended listening: Ready To Fly
‘The Key’ is released on Frontiers Records on September 18.