Today’s “song to play loud” is from the height of my heavy metal phase – Queensrÿche’s opener from their 1988 album “Operation: Mindcrime”, titled “Revolution Calling”. And the opener to the opener, “Anarchy-X”. Which follows after a spoken-word/ambience opener, “I Remember Now”. 😀
If you’re confused already don’t worry. That’s how I felt too, back in 1988. One has to know that Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album that tells a story. This explains the somewhat strange list of 15 tracks, with quite a few of them being rather short interludes that connect the individual parts of the story with spoken word segments and the like.
Anarchy-X itself is a recycled track of sorts. It was originally considered for Queensrÿche’s 2nd studio album, “Rage For Order”, but then didn’t make it onto the album (if you listen to the demo version that was probably a good call, but it’s kinda hard to judge with the poor sound quality).
It’s a nice touch though that the first part of the track found its way onto “Operation: Mindcrime” as the opener to Revolution Calling. Concert goers would perhaps even recognize the soaring guitars, because the band also played that part in their live shows (like here, where it serves as an opener to “Queen of the Reich”, from their very first, self-titled EP).
Anarchy-X is enriched with some hard to make out speech fragments coming through a bullhorn, like “Do we have freedom? Do we have equality?” with the audience responding each time: “NO!” – we can assume it’s part of a speech of “Doctor X”, the mysterious person who recruits and indoctrinates the story’s main character, Nikki.
Anarchy X charges the atmosphere, and it seamlessly blends into the tension of the first 30 seconds of Revolution Calling before the actual opening track explodes with energy, into the opening guitar riff. This is an electrifying moment – like lightning from Thor’s Mjölnir when it strikes the ground! (hey, if we’re doing “rÿche” and stuff, let me add more umlauts!)
Thankfully, those who don’t know the two tracks can enjoy them “in one go” in the video below. I’m saying this because, while they’re seamlessly mixed on the CD, they’re still separately indexed and the single release of the track does not contain Anarchy-X. We have to be grateful to the uploader of this video for realizing that these two tracks are inseparable.
You can skip to the 1:30 marker in the video below where Revolution Calling proper starts, and crank up the volume – but then you’re missing out on the terrific Anarchy-X riff.
The first part of Revolution Calling’s lyrics serves as an introduction to the story of “Operation: Mindcrime”, but the rest of the text, written about 32 years ago, appears to be almost eerily timeless:
Got no love for politicians
Or that crazy scene in D.C
It’s just a power mad town
Queensrÿche also sings about the lost trust in the media, which led to the radicalization of their character “Nikki”, and has nowadays led to parts of the population living in an alternate reality:
I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
A more general critique on “the system” follows and still has the potential to make Revolution Calling the hymn for the disillusioned and disappointed, some 30 years later:
I’m tired of all this bullshit
They keep selling me on TV
About the communist plan
Today, it’s not just “bullshit they keep selling me on TV” anymore of course – it’s also sold on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram. Think of Republicans frothingly making laughable claims about Democrats wanting to establish “socialism” – the communist plan? One has to wonder: what has actually changed in 30 years, other than the bullshit multiplying?
Next, they take a swing at religion:
And all the shady preachers
Begging for my cash
Swiss bank accounts while giving their
Secretaries the slam
And then the sellouts:
They’re all in Penthouse now
Or Playboy magazine, million dollar stories to tell
I guess Warhol wasn’t wrong
Fame fifteen minutes long
Everyone’s using everybody, making the sale
They’re not in Penthouse or Playboy, but one can’t help to think of Mary Trump here, John Bolton, James Comey, and who knows else. They all have books to sell now with their “million dollar stories”… (where was Bolton’s and Comey’s patriotism when they helped and enabled Trump?)
But now the holy dollar rules everybody’s lives
Gotta make a million, doesn’t matter who dies
Whether the song is the best on “Operation: Mindcrime” is a matter of taste but it is undeniably one of the most in-your-face power rock tracks, and not just on this album. The sheer intensity is captivating. It’s a concentrate. There’s not a single thing that you could add or take away.
There’s Geoff Tate’s voice of course, which carries the song. He’s not just singing, he’s taking on the role of Nikki*, telling the story of the lead actor in the story in the first person, and he’s really living it. He snarls and screams out all the frustration and anger in a tour de force of his vocal range.
This vocal range makes it hard to sing along for the average male of course 🙂 but even just “mentally singing along” or mouthing the words one notices how guitars, bass, drums and voice combine. One doesn’t “accompany” the other. It’s all of a piece and this monolithic appearance is a big part of the track’s appeal to me.
Then there’s the writing and arrangements, moving through an alternating bath of the staccato-like hits of bass and drum in the verses, full of anger; melodic and almost melancholic pleading in the bridge (“I used to think that only America’s way, way was right”) into the simplicity of the chorus:
There’s A Revolution Calling
Revolution Calling You
The structure of verse, bridge and chorus repeats and is now ornamented with a guitar riff over the verse and dropping all instruments for a second or two, over the first “Revolution Calling!” shout. These little things add a lot to the buildup, and also reward repeat listens, during which the track only gets better: when you know what to expect and when, it’s all the more satisfying when it happens – because it’s still brilliant, every time.
A guitar solo part follows, perhaps mandatory for a heavy rock song. It’s almost like a tease, following after a short slowdown as you already expect the song to reach its final stage. After the guitar solos, the bridge is repeated – and then comes the release, with a final refrain, and Revolution Calling ends like it began: with the explosive guitar riff from the beginning that now blends into Geoff Tate’s singing, “gotta push, gotta push it on through”. It’s one final goosebump moment in the track.
Album & Band
The band was at the peak of their creativity, and able to control and express it. Maybe they tried a bit too hard on Suite Sister Mary but the entire album is damn near perfection. Musically, “Operation: Mindcrime” is without compromise. Bigger commercial success for Queensrÿche followed with the more mainstream-oriented “Empire” album in 1990 – and then I lost track of what they were doing.
Typically for a band though, members left, there were fights and even disputes over the band’s name that had to be settled in court. It’s a shame. Geoff Tate now operates as a band with the name of “Operation: Mindcrime” and Queensrÿche recruited a singer that could cover the vocal range, Crimson Glory’s Todd La Torre.
My first contact with Queensrÿche was with their 1986 album “Rage For Order” actually, which was, compared to “Mindcrime”, perhaps even touching glam-rock. The band photos certainly say “hair metal!” The music on “Rage For Order” is rich, ornate, and garnished with effects, samples and synthesizer fills, more futuristic and “noir”, but still a harbinger of the style that they maximized on “Operation: Mindcrime” and becoming way, way harder and heavier.
Both “Rage For Order” and “Operation: Mindcrime” sound, by today’s standards, tinny. Remastered editions are available but I haven’t heard them. My experience is that, unless something is severely wrong with the mastering, applying the typical “U” or “V” shaped equalizer preset to give the bass and treble a good boost while leaving the midtones alone is a good idea, and typically brings the original releases close to whatever a “remaster” might offer for the extra money.
Last not least, I learned that the umlauts that bands like Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe, and Motörhead use are called “Metal umlauts” or, and this made me laugh out loud, “röck döts”. 🤣
*) Chris DeGarmo states here that “this is X” but that doesn’t make sense: the very first verse contains the line “then I heard of Dr. X, the man with the cure” so it’s clear that this is Nikki, not X.