Styx – The Mission (Album Review)

Styx – The Mission (Album Review)

Most casual fans associate Styx with the power balladry of its classic songs such as “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Babe,” and “The Best of Times.” However, little do many listeners know that the music of the enduring American band is geared more towards the sweet complexities and architectural structures of Progressive Rock. In fact, most of its albums are best characterized by songs with complex structures, extended interludes, and orchestral instrumentation beneath strong, melodic Pop sensibilities.

Currently consisting of Chuck Panozzo (bass, backing vocals), James Young (guitar, backing and lead vocals), Tommy Shaw (guitar, lead and backing vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums), Lawrence Gowan (lead and backing vocals, keyboards), and Ricky Phillips (bass, backing vocals, guitar), Styx was formed in 1972, in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The prolific band has sixteen studio albums under its credit—from 1972’s self-titled to the latest, The Mission, which comes twelve years after the release of its predecessor, 2005’s all-covers Big Bang Theory.

Released on June 16, 2017 via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe, The Mission is a return to the concept style that defined Styx’s works in the early ’80s; in particular, 1981’s Paradise Theatre and 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. With a storyline co-written by  Shaw and longtime collaborator Will Evankovich (Shaw/Blades, The Guess Who), Shaw states, “It’s our boldest, most emblematic album since Pieces of Eight.”

This in mind, apparently The Mission tells the story of a mission to the planet Mars. “Overture” customarily and aptly opens The Mission, serving as a prelude to the classic Progressive Rock sound of the ensuing “Gone Gone Gone.” The Martian trip slows down a bit with the rock-and-rollin’ “Hundred Million Miles from Home.” Then, a so-called spatial glitch ensues—lyrically speaking—as “Trouble at the Big Show” plays next.

The following triumvirate of “Locomotive,” “Radio Silence,” and the piano-led “The Greater Good” are a change of mood and pace, coming off as typical Glam Power ballads, complete with power chords, anthemic guitar interludes, complementary keyboard melodies, vocal harmonies, and catchy choruses.

“Time May Bend” returns the passenger to the overall rhythmic adventure of the album, albeit in a gradual buildup of instruments; only to calm down again with the dramatic entry of the next track, “Ten Thousand Ways.” By this time, the initiated is most likely already imagining certain referential sonic points such as Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You, Crazy Diamond,” The Who’s “Who Are You?,” Asia’s “Countdown to Zero,” and The Alan Parsons Project’s “Sirius.”

“Red Storm” is another Progressive Rock standard – engaging and structurally multi-textured; an ear-catcher for its alternating 5/4 and 6/4 time-signatures sections. A bit of “All Systems Stable” and then there proceeds the piano-dominated piece “Khedive,” which will remind any Classical-music aficionado of similar virtuosic piano works by the likes of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. The penultimate “The Outpost” is a countdown to the real liftoff to Solar System’s red planet – initially sounding Kraftwerk-ian influenced—a homage to Styx’s very own classic hit “Mr. Roboto;” and then launching into something progressive, melodic, and metallic. Finally, Styx finishes off its latest opus with the equally symphonic “Mission to Mars.” Space exploration mission, complete!

Many of its contemporaries tend to choose the presumed safe musical direction during the so-called twilight career of veteran bands like them by releasing commercially oriented albums—but not Styx. The Mission is both a homage to and a reassertion of the band’s Progressive Rock roots. CrypticRock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.

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aLfie vera mella
aLfie vera mella

Born in 1971 in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella immigrated to Canada in 2003. He has since then been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, working fulltime at a health care institution in the city while also serving as the associate contributing editor of a local community newspaper, tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, Music, and Genres. Prior to coming to Canada, he was a registered nurse in the Philippines and worked as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and magazines, handling Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. He was also the frontman and chief songwriter of an Alternative Rock/New Wave band, Half Life Half Death, releasing an album and a handful of singles. In Canada, he formed another band, haLf man haLf eLf; they are currently working on their first album. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books; listening to music; taking care of his eight-year-old son, Evawwen; participating at various community events; and exploring the diverse cultural beauty of Canada whenever schedule permits him. He has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines and, eventually, websites. He started writing album reviews for CrypticRock in 2015. In 2016, he published Part One (Literature & Languages) of his essay series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf? His next planned literary endeavor is to publish the remaining parts of the anthology and his works on Poetry, Fantasy Fiction, and Mythology.

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