4.5 out of 5 Stars!
I’ve been a fan of this Canadian band for quite some time, so have watched (and quite enjoyed) its rather lengthy transformation in developing its current sound and style.
In 1996, Mystery released its first full-length album, Theatre of the Mind (prior to this, the band had released a self-titled five-song EP, of which I have yet to hear). To me, the band seemed primarily an AOR act (not unlike Journey, thanks to singer Gary Savoie, whose voice is similar to Steve Perry’s) with periodic touches of Prog-Rock on various tracks, especially the lengthier ones. For the most part, this style continued through to the next album Destiny?, which appeared several years later, although the band appeared to be adding more Prog elements to its sound. Eventually, after Savoie left the fold and the band added Benoit David to its ranks as his replacement, they disappeared for nearly a decade, and during those missing years, Mystery really flipped things around. Therefore, on its 2007 release Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face, they seemed to have morphed into a full-fledged Prog-Rock act with only touches of its former AOR sound. 2010’s One Among the Living furthered that shift in style, until the last album to feature Benoit David, 2012’s The World is a Game, proved the final step in that lengthy (and fully successful) transformation. And to me, that album was undoubtedly the band’s most accomplished and enjoyable release to date.
Therefore, when I learned that Benoit David left the group to join Yes and the band hired yet another vocalist, I couldn’t help but wonder (with both anticipation and no small amount of dread) whether the band’s sound would change again, whether Mystery would continue down the path where it left off or if it would once again veer back toward the dominant AOR sound of its early career. Changes in vocalists are always tricky, so would the band weather the storm and maintain its style? It was (every pun intended) a complete Mystery.
And finally in 2015, the newest Mystery album became available with vocalist Jean Pageau at the mic. Thankfully—and with a huge sigh of relief on my part—it’s instantly apparent that Jean fits in splendidly. His range is as far-reaching as Benoit David’s, although his tone is a tad fuller, rounder in texture. And even better still, the band’s overall style has not changed one iota since its previous release. Indeed, it has actually improved, has been perfected even more, with the new songs being (in my estimation) the finest, most consistent collection of tracks the band has ever produced.
The album contains half a dozen songs in total, three of them in the six-to-seven minute range, and the other three lengthier, with one being nearly twenty minutes.
The album kicks off with the ten-minute title track, a high-quality piece of Prog-Rock in a similar vein to bands such as IQ, Also Eden, or Galahad. It perfectly blends both acoustic and electric instrumentation, including Mellotron, beneath a wonderfully grand and haunting vocal line. This track is expertly polished, a preview of the classy music to follow.
“If You See Her” is not only the shortest track, but an exquisite cross between Prog-Rock and AOR and probably the catchiest song Mystery has ever created. Reminding me of the band IQ in particular, the ballad’s full, rich chorus kept ringing through my head long after the album stopped playing, so deserves special praise for its memorability.
“The Last Glass of Wine” is yet another fine example of the Prog-Rock and AOR merger, the style in which this band excels. When it comes to Jean Pageau’s singing style and melody line here, vocalist Ted Leonard (and the band Enchant) somehow spring to mind.
At nineteen-and-a-half minutes, “The Willow Tree” is the album’s magnum opus, a magnificent treat for all Prog-Rock lovers. It starts with a dreamy atmosphere, mostly due to the hypnotic guitar pattern performed in the best Steve Hackett tradition, and some delightfully melodic verses. A heavier, orchestrated section eventually takes over, with each musician displaying mastery of their instruments, including terrific dual guitar solos, along with some synth leads and a complex arrangement. Afterward, the band brings us back to a reprise of the opening verses, this time with different instrumentation that somehow reminds me of Pallas, IQ, or Marillion. The song’s final section offers yet more enticing vocal lines, making this entire track a triumph of melodic Neo-Prog!
“Wall Street King” adds another slight shift in influences, with a powerful ballad played almost in the style of the Prog-Metal band Threshold. Dense, full-bodied, and moving.
At twelve-and-a-half minutes, “A Song for You” closes out the album. The introduction reminds me of bands such as Yes, Cairo, and Glass Hammer when it comes to the keyboard sounds and breaks, then a lighter section of the song, including gentle flute, kicks in with yet another beautiful vocal passage. Several shifts in rhythms, moods, and orchestration follow, all making for another breathtaking foray into Neo-Prog nirvana.
So congratulations to Mystery for not only successfully completing the ongoing transition into full-out Prog-Rock, but for also expertly selecting the new lead vocalist without altering the band’s style. For fans of Mystery (especially the previous album) who are wondering whether the band continues on its path to greatness with this new release, then fear not…this album is close to perfection. And for those unfamiliar with the band, but appreciate top-notch melodic Neo-Prog in the same realm as IQ, Galahad, Also Eden, Pallas, Arena, etc., grab this album as soon as humanly possible…and savor.