I remember now, I remember how it started and it sounded better than this

Queesnryche were always going to be on a loser with 'Operation Mindcrime II'. Trying to produce a sequel to one of the cornerstones of metal, especially conceptual metal, initially cries 'Sell out'. Many would see it as an attempt to kick-start a flagging career. The more cynical of us would see this move as a cash in, a blatant attempt to make even more money off the back of arguably one of the finest albums of all time. There will be those amongst the Queensryche fan base who, for the reasons mentioned, won't give this album the time of day. Some followers will give it a half-hearted listen expecting to hear Operation: Mindcrime once again, but they will no doubt find themselves bitterly disappointed for the simple reason that it isn't 'Operation: Mindcrime'.

The band rightfully enjoyed their share of success in the eighties and early nineties. It was their brand of innovative, imaginative and at times progressive brand of music, rather than trends and bandwagons that earned them their accolades. After 1993's 'Promise Land' album Queensryche seemed to lose their way, venturing further from their experimental metal roots, favouring a more formulaic pop/rock style of writing. Their fans lost interest, not because the subsequent albums were bad but because they weren't playing the type of edgy music everyone had originally fallen in love with. From a personal point of view I think 'Operation: Mindcrime' should have been left alone to claim its rightful place in the halls of classic recordings. But I couldn't have a sense of joy and dread at the prospect of a sequel. Joy because it suggests a return to what Queensryche's innovative best, and dread for fear it would drag the name 'Mindcrime' through the detritus. The bottom line was, 'Nothing less than perfect will do'.

'Operation: Mindcrime II' is an album with two faces, two faces so opposite the feeling of ambivalency is at times overwhelming. One face is hateful, the other face is of pure joy, it's Janus in musical form. Queensryche have answered their nay sayers in the best way, and that's by writing a worthy sequel to part one. Of course it's not going to be as good as part one, of course it's not going to be as memorable, but what 'Operation: Mindcrime II' is, is a band who have found a little bit of the passion and inventiveness they oozed all those years ago. There are some great songs on this album. 'I'm American,' 'The Chase,' 'Re-arrange You,' are all out of Queensryche's top draw incorporating an energy and excitement lacking in their music for almost fifteen years. 'One foot in hell' is another quality cut, and although dressed with a weak chorus, is similar in feel to the song Operation: Mindcrime. In fact almost all the songs on this sequel are excellent, only 'Speed of Light' and 'Fear city slide' suggest a song too many and come across as padding as the album tries desperately to reach the hour mark.

The highlight of 'Operation: Mindcrime II' is the four song heart of the album. 'Sign says no,' 'Re-arrange You,' 'The Chase,' and 'Murderer,' are captivating in their delivery, giving real punch just when the album needs it. 'If I Could Change It All' is gorgeous ballad with Geoff Tate silver larynx sounding better than ever. The return of Pamela Moore as Sister Mary is a master stroke, as the chemistry between Tate and Moore is evident in songs such as 'A Murderer' and 'If I Could Change It All'. The immortal Ronnie James Dio appears briefly on 'The Chase' as the voice for Doctor X. To hear Dio and Tate, arguably two of metal's finest voices, locked in a vocal skirmish is something only dreams are made of. Instead of the rousing 'Eyes of a Stranger,' '...Mindcrime II' is quietly signed off with the acoustic driven 'All the Promises', a fitting end to an emotional rollercoaster of a story. This recording perhaps misses an epic track to hold it all together, whereas 'Suite Sister Mary' acted as the 'spine' of the original, the sequel lacks that back-bone giving the album a feel of a collection of songs rather than a concept.

The sound effects, scenes, between song links and storytelling have all been omitted this time around to the album's detraction. This gives the story a lack of depth and character so prevalent in its predecessor. 'The Chase' albeit a good song, ends abruptly just as the track is at its rocking best. The CD booklet contains and introduction written by Geoff Tate yet it's only included in the booklet. I feel a haunting piece of music with narration, similar in feel to 'I Remember Now' would have built the beginning of the album much better than the generic 'Freiheit Ouverture' and the lame 'Convict'. All of these little details give the impression that the album, in comparison to its predecessor, requires finishing off. It's like looking at a black and white pencil drawing of the Mona Lisa, or the Venus D'milo with all her limbs intact.

With all the nit picking aside, where 'Operation Mindcrime II' really falls down is its production. How on earth this professional recording got passed the quality control is anyone's guess. From start to finish the whole recording sounds like a demo. The guitars are the weediest I have ever heard on a professional album and have a tone that when turned up loud physically hurt your ears with it's mid range scratch. Mike Wilton and Mike Stone engage in some excellent guitar harmonies and axe duelling but their impact is lost by the trashiness of the tone. The bass is almost non-existent and it sounds as if Scott Rockenfield has raided his Mum's best Tupperware collection for his snare drum. As it stands the album is virtually un-listenable due to the dreadful production work, this is deeply frustrating because the quality of the songs on offer makes you want to listen to the album. I'm not sure if Queensryche had run of out money or were trying to get that 80s feel, either way it's turned what could have a been a gem of a record into something flat and horrid.

With a solid production job, such as the sound quality for the Tribe album, 'Operation: Mindcrime' could have been another landmark album for the band. The quality in the song-writing is there for everyone to hear. Even with the lack of depth and unfinished feel to some of the songs there is no doubt that this is the album 'Ryche fans have been waiting for since Promise Land. But this is a 2-bit demo recording, a travesty to the name 'Mindcrime,' and if the band had any sense of what was right and wrong, they'd take a leaf out of Nevermore's book and go and re-mix the whole damn thing. 'Operation: Mindcrime' or not, Queensryche have, musically speaking of course, come up with the goods, but what they've done with them can be simply described as one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of rock and metal. With their up and coming tour consisting of parts one and two played in their entirety, I hope they release a live version of part two, for only then will we get the full impact of this collection. Frustrating.