by Prog Nick
They say that there are as many songs still to be written as there are grains of sand on every beach on Planet Earth. This might be so, but in the Progressive Rock community, we ask the question: how many great Prog songs are there left to write? Apparently quite a few.
Mystery have written and produced their fare share of excellent music over the years. The Canadian sextet, formed in 1986 by guitarist Michel St-Père, have previously delivered eight albums of high quality Prog and now in 2023 have released ‘Redemption’. The band’s line-up (also known as ‘The Mysterons’) has been stable since 2014 and boasts some of the most respected names in Canadian Prog: St-Père and brilliant vocalist Jean Pageau are joined by keyboardist Antoine Michaud, bassist François Fournier, second guitarist Sylvain Moineau and drummer Jean-Sébastien Goyette. Each is as accomplished as the other, and the band’s ninth studio album presents a highly attractive prospect. The sands of time have been kind to Mystery.
The composers and producer of ‘Redemption’ have certainly picked the album’s moments very carefully. It is a varied and complex package of first-class Prog that ranges from the majestic to the monolithic and from the melodic to the (pun intended) mysterious. This is as good an album as Mystery have ever delivered, with eight tracks that conjure up images of fire, mountains, starlit skies, sun rays, clouds, ladders to heaven, warfare, desolation, purification and yes, redemption. The excellence and variation of the lyrical themes aside, it is the beauty and power of the music underpinning them that make for the true distinction of this album. It is like a day at your favorite white powder beach.
Opening track ‘Behind the Mirror’ is a grandiose declaration that Canadian Prog continues to thrive, despite the tragic death of one of its torch-bearers in 2020. Pageau‘s voice (quite intentionally it seems) sounds very similar to that of his compatriot Geddy Lee in this song, and the arrangement is as adventurous as anything to be heard in Rush’s earlier years. The guitar solo is particularly ascendant, with the space between the notes holding equal importance to the notes themselves. At almost seven minutes, the opening track is a very clear declaration about the strength of the album that is to follow.
A feeling of ominous doom introduces the second and title track. As weighty as a World War I sandbag, the song is lonely, slow and threatening. The lyrics tell of massive aloneness, desperation for a ‘glimmer of hope’ and the protagonist’s apparently unsuccessful attempts at redemption. Almost monastic in parts, the song is far from cheerful, but that seriousness is what makes it great. Powerful indeed, the refrain ‘So lonely…’ will echo and ring true with all those who have felt the sting of abandonment.
A little more uplifting is ‘The Beauty and the Least’, a pictorial description of a young girl praying and writing about her little brother in a candlelit room. Goyette provides an impressive drum fill to kick off the track, and St-Père’s guitar solo makes this song very special indeed. There is an up-tempo interlude that introduces a simple but effective instrumental section with the band reaching full stride before the vocal climax. The sand in the Mystery hourglass is by now running very smoothly indeed.
‘Every Note’ is a massive high point on the album. An utterly majestic ballad with an intense but open guitar solo, it reaches its peak with one of the finest melodies of 2023. The whole band combines to create a heart-wrenching but serene production before the song’s last note literally fades away like grains of sand running through a child’s open hand.
‘Pearls and fire’ will be the favorite for many fans. It is a graphic, granular and forthright tale with straight-ahead timing, slow and fast rock shuffles and a general feeling of suspense. About a boy named Leo that leaves home to go to war, the track is a singular achievement in the album’s mission of musical storytelling. The rhythm section is particularly aggressive on this one, which rocks like granite in all its sections, as do the guitar solos and Michaud’s thrashing keyboards – perfectly bellicose.
‘My Inspiration’ has something of an AOR feel (not unlike Air Supply) and is the least Proggy moment on the album. It is ethereal and, of course, inspiring. Gentle yet powerful in this song, Pageau‘s voice is the centerpiece, especially when heard together with what one presumes is the Mysteron choir.
‘Homecoming’ continues the gentle outlook and is, with the refrain ‘Goodbye’, the most desolate moment in the protagonist’s journey, with an impressive arrangement that is massaged around an immense guitar solo. The guitarists really shine on this song, with beautifully crafted, grainy and authentic performances.
‘Is This How the Story Ends’ is a brilliant twenty-minute epic, in no small part built around Moineaue’s growling Rickenbacker sound. The line ‘Don’t Think Too Much About It’ is an excellent and memorable hook that leads into a brilliant twin lead guitar solo. The song begins with one of the most massive six-note riffs imaginable, thereafter breaks into a stunning fast section in 10/8 and then proceeds to go everywhere else, as a true epic should. The acoustic section is particularly haunting and Pageau‘s lead vocals deliver a verse that is one of the most endearing of Mystery’s already august career. It is also eminently funky in parts, due to Moineaue’s ever-present yet crisp bedrock bass. Truly progressive, this song puts to rest any doubt that Mystery are one of the current leaders of Melodic Prog, and it forms the epicentre of their status. Gut-wrenching and immense, with sweet harmonies and a frenzy of complex arrangements including harmony guitars (that are not easy to arrange or deliver), this whirlwind of a number is the perfect end to a highly impressive album. With such an intricate foundation under him, Pageau‘s impassioned vocals end up as the focal point, but this is most certainly a group effort. Superficially about a steam train vanishing into the mountains, the track is more substantively about the ravages of the music industry, and it seems in parts to be autobiographical. ‘Is This How the Story Ends’ radiates like a sundial in the desert – I cannot wait to hear this song performed live.
Great Prog requires excellent songwriting, imaginative themes, stellar vocals, brilliant guitar work (heavily relied upon by this band), intricate bass-lines and intelligent keyboard work. This album has it all. The production of ‘Redemption’ is as immense as its composition. At times as melodic as shimmering crystalline sands and at other times as heavy as silt, quality audio is the order of the day. Brave and intense, yet with great separation and sonic variation, St-Père’s production on this album may be described as near-flawless. The performances, especially from the guitarists and Pageau, are just blistering. The cover artwork is equally detailed – an interesting image of a child watering a plant that appears to be growing into a ladder to Heaven. All in all, this is a great package that is most definitely deserving of your attention.
Thirty-five years in existence, Mystery have never sounded better than this, and ‘Redemption’ has set the bar for Melodic Prog in 2023. Melody is the glue that holds the sands of this album together, and emotion is the catalyst that blows the sand into the most beautiful glass. There is no desert island here – let your wave wash over the sandcastle that Mystery have built. You will love it.
Released on May 15th, 2023 on Unicorn Digital
1. Behind the Mirror (6:46)
2. Redemption (6:36)
3. The Beauty and the Least (9:15)
4. Every Note (6:01)
5. Pearls and Fire (12:43)
6. My Inspiration (8:24)
7. Homecoming (5:10)
8. Is This How the Story Ends? (19:11)
Jean Pageau / vocals
Michel St-Pere / guitars, keyboards
Antoine Michaud / keyboards
François Fournier / bass, keyboards
Jean-Sébastien Goyette / drums
Sylvain Moineau / guitars