When Queensryche's third album, Operation: Mindcrime, was released in 1988, it drew immediate comparisons to concept albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall and the Who's Quadrophenia. The album is a thoughtful and incisive social and political commentary that tells the story of a drug addict recruited into a world of political violence and revolution. At the time, the narrative separated the band from many other heavy-metal bands, and its message remains surprisingly relevant.
In 2012, Queensryche and its longtime frontman, Geoff Tate, parted company; the break was followed by an acrimonious legal process to determine who got to use the band's name and who had the rights to it's catalogue. To date, Tate's ex-bandmates have gotten to use the name Queensryche, but Tate retains exclusive rights to perform the material from Operation: Mindcrime and its 2006 sequel, Operation: Mindcrime II. Both parties have the right to perform other material that they wrote together. Since that time, Tate has assembled a band he's calling Operation: Mindcrime — capitalizing on the name recognition with fans, and because it fits his plans of doing conceptual albums like the trilogy he began with 2015's The Key. The second installment of the trilogy is set for release in September 2016, with the final installment the following year. The band for the recordings includes longtime Queensryche collaborators Kelly Gray and Randy Gane, as well as David Ellefson, who Tate met on a plan when both were going to South America for a gig and became instant friends. Ellefson later contributed ideas for three songs spread across the trilogy.
The writing and recording of the albums happened in one big rush of creativity shortly after the court case regarding the rights to the Queensryche name and music, when Tate and his wife took a trip to Spain to get away from any reminders of what they'd just been through. Evidently, Tate felt unencumbered by any considerations but those of his own creative vision and the pace of creating for this set of songs.
“We took our backpacks and hiking boots and hiked across northern Spain,” recalls Tate. “It was 500 miles, and it took us over a month to walk the thing. Along the way I wrote the story that had been in the back of my mind based on topics I'm interested in — one of those being the idea and the definition of reality. How do we decide what reality is? It's kind of a collective decision. It's a learned decision as well. We start with our children at a young age defining what reality is. This is what the earth, the sky, a dog, a table, a chair is. In my story, these four guys come up with a technology that allows the user to see and experience reality in a completely different way — different from the way that we learn it. Because of that, there are all these implications for what that means for society. No limits on space travel; physics becomes more a language than a science. The technology causes a division within the group of four. Some of them want to take the technology and make it a product and sell it to become fabulously rich. Others in the group want to give it to the world because they think that the changes that will ensue will become so prominent that it will change the course of human history. The Key ends with the conflict between the four individuals and outlines the technology and gives a hint of what will come.”
As usual, the story features Tate's gift for grounding the ideas in a personal narrative, lending the material a human quality rather than a theoretical discourse on the ills of the current era. In that way, Tate's trilogy of albums is like the best science fiction, in that it's about today while aiming at concepts and universal human truths that will remain with us long after the current era.
The set list for this current tour will include material from across Tate's career, including a suite of songs from The Key, so for fans of the Operation: Mindcrime albums, seeing the band of the same name will be your only chance to see that music live.
Geoff Tate's Operation: Mindcrime with Sad Star Cafe and Dead Temple at 7:30 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.) on Tuesday, March 29, at the Oriental Theater, 4335 West 44th Avenue, 720-420-0030, $28, 18+.