The cover neatly portrays the dystopia theme - with a lot f angry looking people - fists raised, above them a woman with her mouth open in a silent scream. Across the middle, a skull superimposed over a heart graph. All in stark black, white, yellow or red, which gives it the look of an old paperback book. Inside, the lyris are all rammed together one song into another, in a nice black against white font that makes them easy to read, even though you do have to squint a little.
The album opens with "I Remember Now" in which our protagonist, whose name is Nikki, in hospital. The nurse gives him a cursory glance-over, berates him for being and declares that "perhaps you need another shot". In the background, the radio mutters something about how the police have a suspect in custody regarding something political.
"Sweet dreams, you bastard."The nurse mutters, as she leaves him to his memories.
We then rip into the powerful "Revolution Calling". Disappointed in the state of contemporary society, and all the corruption, riots are brewing.
In the middle of this, Nikki received a phonecall from the mysterious Doctor X:
"...the Man with the cure"Addicted to drugs, and with nothing more to lose, Nikkie is lured in to joining "Operation: Mindcrime" as an assassin, a combination of mind control and his addiction transforming him into a puppet. This is a catchy and powerful track.
Outside, the riots continue and the people "Speak". A somewhat more progressive number, with a sinister edge.
We are introduced to Mary in "Spreading the Disease" - a prostitute who is saved from the street by a rather corrupt priest named Father William. There is an edge of anger to it.
"... take her every night... on the altar like a sacrifice.."
"The Mission" starts with Nikki seeking forgiveness for his crimes, and finding solace in friendship with Mary. With slow, haunting and maudlin desperation, then becomes fused with anger and determination. However, Dr X sees Mary as a threat to Nikki's continual obenience and thus he lays down a challenge:
"Kill her, that's all you've got to do."
"She's a risk. And get the priest as well."
Nikki sets out to complete his task in the haunted "Suite Sister Mary" - Beginning with ominous choirs and low, despairing vocals. Nikki does not wish to kill the only friend he has. He kills the priest easily enough, but Mary is another matter entirely. This is a song of desperate choices. It climaxes into a confrontation, a duet of two voices, entangled in a bitter, desperate debate. It is probably the most epic and complex song on the album, with choirs and drama.
Unable to kill her, the two conspire to depart the organisation.
But "The Needle Lies" and there can be no escape for Nikki. When he returns to Dr X, stating his decision, he is mocked and scorned,
"...the Needle keeps calling me back..."In this fast paced, almost pure speed metal number. Solid riffs, straightforward structure.
Confused, conflicted and in a sense of frustrated rage (as reflected by the music), Nikki storms off to find Mary.
She is dead. He cradles her body in "Electric Requiem". Wonders - did he kill her?
His mind is a turmoil, confusion. He runs through the streets calling her name. "Breaking the Silence" with his screaming.
"...look for your face in the neon light, you never answer me...."This song has an almost anthemic feel.
Alas, his rather public performance attracts the attention of the police, and he is caught, subdued, a gun discovered on his person. Immediately, blame for the death of Mary (and the priest) falls to him and he is thrust into jail, bemoaning "I Don't Believe in Love":
"...it's never worth the pain that you feel..."Another desperate, pleading song. I remember screaming along with this song in the more angst-ridden parts of my youth. The rapid tempo beat adds the frantic feel - like the soul is being ripped apart with your denial.
"Waiting for 22" is a mournful guitar instrument, a song of wanting, longing, and waiting, waiting for your fate to be decided. Waiting for all the blame to be laid upon your head. The guitar not-so-gently weeps.
And then the clock ticking marks the hours. The hours spent waiting in "My Empty Room".
Finally, dragged away and convicted of murder and political insurgence, Nikki is thrown into prison, where
"...every night my dreams return to haunt me..."He has lost himself - and now he only sees the "Eyes of a Stranger". A melancholic, but powerful conclusion to this album.
So, who actually did kill Mary?
Well, a search on google revealed the probable answer to me. So, if you feel the urge to find out - you can do that too.
This is probably Queensryche's finest album - it's a rock opera, and one of similar grand style and plot to Savatage's many. Indeed, it may have inspired some of Savatage's (I'm not sure at which point they began doing concept albums, I guess I'll find out with my "research" here). The storyline is interesting, the songs dramatic and varying and overall it is an outstanding album.
So I shall rate it 9/10.