I’d like to set the stage for this review with a haunting story from my past, which many Queensrÿche fans are likely familiar with. As a new college student who only knew the glory days of that band, I spent hours blasting the self-titled EP and Operation: Mindcrime while speeding to and from classes at my local community college. One fine spring day in 2006, I naively threw the brand new, much anticipated Operation: Mindcrime II into my personal CD player, which was rigged up via cassette adapter to my ’88 Cavalier’s stereo (my generation’s version of the 8 track). It was the beginning of the most striking musical betrayal in my tenure as a young metalhead, and to be honest, I have remained only peripherally up to speed with the court proceedings and inter-band politics between the original Queensrÿche and Tate’s new Operation: Mindcrime as relationships (and Tate’s musical sanity) spiraled into decline. Hence, The New Reality is my first concerted exposure to Tate’s post-Queensrÿche work.
My first impression of the third in Tate’s trilogy of “concept albums” is that it’s more of a personal soapbox on personal and societal issues than it is truly a story – this after reading lyrics and checking out Tate’s interviews and social media posts throughout the last few years. It’s very hard to tell by listening, as the lyrics are so colloquial and the music itself feels more like half-ambient atmospheric prog rock than anything else. There’s certainly little metal to be found on A New Reality for any longer than brief glimpses, though flashes of the vocal and guitar work here and there do actually remind me of Hear In the Now Frontier-era Queensrÿche. For much of the album, the guitar takes on a condimental role in favor of keyboard, various synth and electronic sound samples, and even a saxophone feature in “The Fear”. Single “Wake Me Up” is the closest thing to a traditional prog rock/metal song, its layered lead and rhythm guitars not unpleasant and reminiscent at times of Porcupine Tree. Too, it features the closest thing to dedicated singing that Geoff Tate offers throughout the whole album, and is probably the most worthwhile selection – though it is sullied by Tate’s ugliest of obsessions…
…His dreadful, sung-spoken vocals. These began to rear their hideous heads in earnest back on American Soldier, as I recall, and The New Reality is absolutely infested with them. When writing his own material, it seems that Tate is given to making his vocals almost solely syllabic rather than melismatic – and when combining this with his tendency to add spoken and even rap-like sections to his songs, he assumes a persona that is more that of a “vocal performer” than that of a singer. Tate has said that his goal is to tell stories with these concept albums, and so I suppose this practice might help further that aim, if you’re okay with a singer who doesn’t want to sing. I, however, prefer my storytelling in other contexts, and just find all of this ranting to be distracting.
Pulling anything of real value from The New Reality is difficult. So many of the compositions are awash in various electronic effects and half-completed motivic ideas that this album is more of an hour long pageant of quasi-musical eccentricity than a coherent musical composition. Bizarrely placed orchestrations leap in at arbitrary moments, weird phasing infects several tracks, and the variety and appearance of random sound effects knows no bounds. Top this off with Tate opening “The New Reality” with what sounds like a late-night attempt to evacuate his bowels, accidentally captured on microphone, and you’ll be as puzzled as I am.
The New Reality offers up a lot of noise and even a few sneezes of something loosely recognizable as progressive rock. By and large, however, one is forced to conclude that when judged as a piece of music intended for consumption and enjoyment, this is the equivalent of week-old headcheese: you don’t recognize the bits, the texture is entirely too squishy, and probably its been sitting around in someone’s (or something’s) head a little too long to be appetizing to the general public. The lesson here, ladies and gents, if none of you learned it well before this unfortunate reviewer, is that Operation: Mindcrime is now a mere peculiarity unlikely to be accessible to most of the rock and metal world, and frustrating because of the prior accomplishments and potential talent of its individual members.