It has been over a decade, but Styx is back with a new studio record! The Mission, released in June 2017, is the first studio album from the band since 2005’s Big Bang Theory, and the first of original material since 2003’s Cyclorama.
While classic keyboardist/vocalist Dennis DeYoung is no longer with the band (and has not played with them in quite some time), the band continues to persevere in a formation that includes classic members Chuck Panozzo, Tommy Shaw, and James Young. The currently lineup also includes drummer Todd Sucherman (with the band since 1995), bassist Ricky Phillips (formerly of The Babys and Bad English, in Styx since 2003), and keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan (in the group since 1999). While the band has not made any studio albums in over a decade, this lineup has been busy touring and recording live CD/DVDs over the years.
The Mission is one of Styx’s most ambitious works to date; the record is a concept album about a mission to the planet Mars. In their glory days, concept albums were something that Styx was no stranger to, and it is great to see them return to this way of making music, even if many will dismiss the very notion of the "concept album" as outdated. But can The Mission rival the band’s work from their classic era, even with the absence of Dennis DeYoung?
The Mission was released in 2017, but just one listen to this album, and you would swear it came out in the late 70s or early 80s, during the band’s glory days. The keyboard sounds, guitar riffs, and progressive rock atmosphere make this a deliciously retro experience that proves the modern incarnation of Styx is no slouch. I will be the first to admit I had doubts when it came to the group making a new record for the first time in years. While it is not a perfect record, The Mission definitely exceeds expectations and shows that the band is far from finished.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was not following the concept’s album’s story too closely, but that was only because I got so wrapped up in the songs themselves. One of the best traits of Styx, even back in their heyday, is the fact that they are able to alternate lead vocals, which means each song can have a decidedly different tone and sound. It is no different on The Mission. The band succeeds beautifully at both creating a product uniquely their own, and something that is delightfully retro. The album is a little too long, but it doesn’t stop me from saying that this is probably the best release of studio material to have the Styx name since 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.
Progressive classic rock fans will be thrilled to experience the return of Styx; the current lineup more than proves themselves on The Mission. While opinions are bound to be divided, as there are those nitpicky fans out there that refuse to listen to anything Styx that lacks Dennis DeYoung, the end results here more than satisfy, and all fans should give it a shot. The Mission comes strongly recommended!