by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime II

It's quite a feat that Geoff Tate has managed to stay true to his longstanding disdain for metal (for which he's been pilloried) and still deliver a record that is a bunch of good things, including dark, complicated, true to the spirit and tone of the original Mindcrime, and above all evocative of heaviness without being all that point-blank heavy metallic. Hell, Queensryche also manage a moody murkiness despite a very bright recording, a recording that - either by accident or design - captures the energetic and brisk high midranges of the original '88 album's drum sound. The story is set 20 years after the first one, and is just as bizarre as the first one, involving again Nikki and Sister Mary and Dr. X, and like the first one, this one is destined to be admired but only from afar, Mindcrime being metal's Ulysses (or worse, Finnegan's Wake) - everybody's got one but few have actually read it. As well, Queensryche manage to create a modern prog metal masterwork, but more from offering a bewildering stack of textures versus weird time signatures or even riffs. But have no fear, there are rockers (and more often, crunching passages) as well as guitar solos. One of the highlights is The Chase, which features Ronnie James Dio, the track also speaking to this idea of progressive, sophisticated arrangement plus the aforementioned heaviness without all that much bald-faced heavy metal. The strings or keyboards or keyboard strings or whatever the hell they are, seem to arrive and hang around in too many places mid to late in the album, and I eventually found myself saddled with concept fatigue, but fortunately, songs like Fear City Slide arrive to impart upon the listener this seductive sleight of hand the band's managed, Queensryche impressively crafting a sort of modern, electronic-sheened yet dark prog metal, a descriptor that also applies to the band's misunderstood at the time but now well-regarded Rage For Order album from '86. Ends on a miasmic and out-chilled Pink Floyd note with something called All The Promises, Queensryche almost daring the chattering classes to keep up the tittering about the band losing its metal compass. Simultaneously, the band can walk away, grinning like wrinkled Cheshire cats, o'er the triumph of assimilating the disparate elements of the sprawled catalogue to date along with the sprawled motivations of the five guys forced to pound this thing into place.
Rating 8.5

Savage Circus - Dreamland Manner
(Century Media)

If you like your Blind Guardian-esque metal without the swooping highs and lows and feats of derring-do, then look to the cheeky audacity of its drummer and now former drummer Thomen "The Omen" Stauch to deliver the pure and blurry tincture. Stacking this thing like a baseball team going for the pennant late in the season, Stauch enlists Iron Savior technician Piet Sielck and two guys from Swedish band Persuader to make a statement, that being, Blind Guardian wasn't rocking fast enough to keep him from snoozing off on the stool. Underscoring the comparative, one of the Persuaders was vocalist Jens Carlsson, who sounds like a slightly less arcane Hansi. Then the bunch endeavors to clone the classic mid-years Blind Guardian anthems of Stratovarius anthem-like velocity. The Hysteria-meets-ProTools production, the lightning-quick picking, the Surroundsound vocal arrangements (solo mixed with "choirs" at will, all over), the epic melodies... it's all here and relentless and exhilarating - I'm feeling some concern while reviewing this at the height of my morning coffee high. Savage Circus is a stupid name, but that's the only stumble here, unless of course you find the whole thing toweringly unimaginative or, I dunno... redundant. I thought Doctor Butcher served a purpose, namely re-heavying Savatage, but reconstituting old Blind Guardian... hell, Dreamland Manner serves to highlight the (personally more favourable) fecund creativity and earthiness of the new Blind Guardian.
Rating 7.5

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