I remember my very first introduction to Queensryche. I was an avid rocker chick at age twelve, believe it or not. Living in and listening to radio in Cincinnati, OH didn’t expose me to a lot of the music I was craving. But, low and behold, I happened upon a college station being broadcast from the University of Miami/Oxford, OH campus that had a kickin’ syndicated Sunday night program called “Massive Metal for the Masses.” Ahhh… my prayers were answered! They played everything from early Metallica like “Whiplash” (loved the intro – “Anesthesia Pulling Teeth” – Cliff’s bass lines would bring chills down my spine) to Slayer (scared the daylights outta me!). They even started playing a brand new single called “Queen of the Reich” from a little band outta Seattle who were in the midst of promoting their self-titled four-song EP.
“Queen of the Reich” was a song that made you stop dead in your tracks and forget whatever it was you were doing at the time. The opening operatic scream followed by the incendiary, motor-pulsed guitars and deafening drums was a brand new sound that raised many an eyebrow. Mine included. “There is no escape. It’s the ending of your precious life. Your soul slipped away. It belongs to the Queen of the Reich.” Geoff Tate’s vibrato practically ripped your heart right out of your chest. I’d never heard anything like it… and I wanted to hear more. So when I finally found the EP on vinyl at a little hole-in-the-wall record store, I scooped it up as quickly as I could. Never mind the EP’s first single, the remaining three songs – “Nightrider,” “Blinded,” and one of my personal favorites “The Lady Wore Black” – were, simply put, metal masterpieces. The anguished howling on “Blinded” coupled with the soaring, out-of-sensible octave-ranged vocals just blew my mind.
So, as you can tell, I have tremendous respect for the gentlemen who call themselves Queensryche. I followed their career as they moved on to release Warning, their first full-length album and witnessed countless local vocalists try their best to recreate “Take Hold Of The Flame.” I watched as they screamed their lungs out, but alas, just couldn’t get their vocals to soar to heights undetected except by the neighborhood dogs like Tate can.
Next came Rage For Order. I remember hearing the first little snippet of “Walk In The Shadows.” My boyfriend at the time, who was also a big fan, picked up RFO the day it was released and played the album’s first track for me over the phone the day I returned from vacation. Their sound on RFO had changed from Warning but in a most welcomed way. They didn’t lose site of their roots, but were more technologically focused in their approach and, thus, developed the recognizable uniqueness that is Queensryche. To this day RFO is still one of my favorite recordings.
Now on to the cream-of-the-crop rock opera, if you will, known as Operation Mindcrime. Released in 1988, the politically charged Mindcrime, was, for me, my Pink Floyd The Wall since I was quite the youngin’ – 9 years old – when The Wall made its debut. The album’s opening – “Dr. Davis telephone please. Dr. Davis.” along with the nurse impatiently questioning her patient – “Hello? Hel-llllooooo? Perhaps you need another shot?” was played for me for the first time in a limo on my way to prom. Now how’s THAT for a memory? “I remember now. I remember how it started. I can’t remember yesterday. I just remember doing what they told me, told me, told me…” was followed by a marching military time code snare with guitars in full step surrounded by harmoniously haunting guitars. The opening set the tone of the entire album and it didn’t let go of its grip until you heard the final word – “Revolution.”
That same year Ryche toured, opening for Metallica when I saw them, and performed only a few songs off Mindcrime. Before the show I lined up at a record store close to the venue to meet the men of Queensryche. I brought my vinyl copy of Mindcrime and stood in line for quite some time, eventually making it to the front of the line where I found myself face to face with Chris DeGarmo who asked me what I thought of the new album. I remember telling him, “I only have one word for you… brilliant.” He seemed genuinely pleased by that response, signed my vinyl copy, and passed it along to the other four members of the band. Cool!
In 1991 when Ryche toured the complete theatrical production of Mindcrime, I missed the show entirely. They came to town the same night I got married and even though I seriously considered attending in my wedding dress, I felt it was important to keep my flight to Disney World that evening and focus on my new husband and honeymoon. Instead, I purchased Video Livecrime when it became available but still wanted a chance to fully experience the live theatrical presentation. For years I figured that was never going to be a possibility until the guys decided it was time to tour Mindcrime again… fifteen years after its release. BIG smile!
Excited, I joined a few thousand other Rycheans on a Saturday night to bear witness to what I have dubbed “Mindcrime Rewind.” Pulling into the parking lot and walking up to the venue was like walking down memory lane. Each vehicle that passed blared its favorite Ryche tune, some from decades past, bringing back waves of memories for me. Various Ryche T-shirts lined the hallways inside the venue and there was an overlying feeling of anticipation. Soon the lights dimmed and five men made their way to the darkened stage whilst an anxious crowd roared enthusiastically. The band launched into RFO’s “The Whisper” as their first tune of the evening. “Voices are calling me back. Back to the day”- appropriate words echoed by the eager audience as Tate took center stage. And that was only the beginning. The band played through many favorites in their first set including “Take Hold of the Flame,” “Empire,” “Last Time in Paris,” a rendition of “The Lady Wore Black,” and even brought out a full string section for the ever popular “Silent Lucidity.”
After an intermission, the stage opened up for the second act – a complete multimedia theatrical production of Mindcrime. The show began when a suspicious-looking guy in a hooded jacket and gobs of black eyeliner rushed the stage screaming into a megaphone. Security surrounded the “perp” and ultimately hauled him off the stage. Later we are introduced to this character again, an actor portraying Nikki, the story’s main character who suffers through his existence and finds himself on a mission where he is pushed into doing things against his will.
Seeing the show in such an intimate setting allowed me to experience the proverbial crunch crunch of the surround sound system rattling through my bones and it was better than anything I had expected. From the animated hospital opening and images of Dr. X shown on the display behind the band, to real live actors portraying Nikki and Sister Mary, a prostitute turned holy- prostitute to Father William, a Priest who “saved her from the streets” and “takes her once a week on the alter like a sacrifice,” the live show was an exciting spectacle that had every audience member totally entranced and pumping his/her fists in the air much like they were saluting Hitler’s regime. This is, after all, rock n’ roll, baby.
The live show completely mirrored the recorded Mindcrime up until “Spreading the Disease” when Pamela Moore, a.k.a. Sister Mary, took to singing the song’s second verse. Ms. Moore is very much an intricate part of the Mindcrime storyline and after hearing her sing live alongside the vocal supremecies of Tate, it is clear she is an amazing vocalist in her own right. Of course, her claim to fame were her shining vocals in “Suite Sister Mary,” a track that began with the familiar image of Dr. X on the display and the sound of falling rain surrounding the audience. “Kill her. That’s all you have to do.” “Kill Mary?” Nikki questions. “She’s a risk, and get the priest as well.” To me, the gut-wrenching climax of the song’s live performance is highlighted when Sister Mary is center stage, arms outstretched in her all-white flowing gown and Tate on his knees in front of her in an almost “begging for forgiveness” stance. So chillingly memorable.
After witnessing Mary’s suicide with the blood-splattered display behind her, Nikki’s confusion and anguish, and, later Tate’s straight jacket performance of “Eyes of a Stranger,” where he is finally whisked off stage in a wheelchair almost taking on the mental characteristics of Nikki, the theatrical production of Mindcrime was so overwhelmingly enjoyable I am almost happy that I did not witness its dramatic debut back in 1990/91. From the approving roar of the audience, I think others in the audience felt the same way. Whether they were reliving memories of the first tour or viewing a much loved masterpiece of music for the very first time, it didn’t matter. They came, they saw, and they were satisfied.
As the show came to a close we were all treated to a bit ‘o Mindcrime II, which is expected to be released in 2005. All I know is I must keep up with my Rychean duties – keeping up with my collection by purchasing, and hopefully devouring, Mindcrime II.