To set the scene for this epic tale of space adventures, the mostly-instrumental Overture really digs back into Styx history for inspiration with Gowan's flurry of retro-sounding keyboard melodies and a few effect-heavy vocal sections. It is quite short, but segues perfectly into Gone Gone Gone, the album's first true song. Gowan takes the vocals on this song as the song is driven by Shaw and Young's tough guitar rhythms and the odd burst of progressive organ playing from Gowan himself. One thing that is clear right away is how similar the sound of this song is to the band's classic late 1970s sound. The vocal harmonies in the chorus are spot on, with plenty of high notes, and the 'pomp rock fused with progressive influences' sound sound as fresh as it did when The Grand Illusion came out in 1977. Gone Gone Gone is a short but explosive piece, but it really makes it mark. Hundred Million Miles from Home is sung by Shaw, and is a more mid-paced affair with Beatle-esque vocal melodies and a snaking groove throughout which is partly provided by founding member Chuck Panozzo's bassline. Panozzo has not been a full member of the band now for quite a few years for health reasons, but his talents are used well on this song and it is great to see that he can still cut it. The song's chorus is another catchy moment, but is less overt than the previous number. It is no less powerful however, and is a strong effort. Young takes the lead on Trouble at the Big Show which has a Hendrix-esque main riff that is drenched in wah and attitude. Young has always been the weakest vocalist of the band for me, but he does well here with his low voice which contrasts well with Gowan's soaring backing vocals during the atmospheric chorus. The lead guitar work, presumably also courtesy of Young, is great too and really cuts through Sucherman's bluesy shuffle with ease. Locomotive is another Shaw number and it really takes the listener back to the 1970s with an atmospheric intro with lots of retro-sounding keyboards and a prominent acoustic guitar pattern. Shaw's voice has not deteriorated at all throughout the years and he sounds as great as he did when he first joined the band. Many singers' voices suffer over the years, but Shaw sounds as clear as he always did. The song gradually builds up over it's five minute length and slowly adds layers with tougher bursts of bluesy guitar riffing and Hammond organ. The guitar solo is excellent too, and has real classic prog feel to it with lots of carefully constructed phrases and emotional note-bends. This song draws comparisons with the Styx oldie Man in the Wilderness, and it is easy to see why. If any listener was not already convinced that this new Styx album was a winner, then the awesome Radio Silence should be all that is required for someone to form that view. Shaw takes the lead again, and the song starts out slowly with spacey keyboards and a somewhat mournful vocal performance that gradually builds up towards a stratospheric chorus with some of the band's trademark vocal harmonies. The mix of acoustic and electric guitars throughout is also something that Styx employed a lot in the past, so this touch really helps to turn the clocks back. Towards the end the song moves into a tougher hard rock section with a earth-shaking Hammond organ backing and some Queen-esque lead guitars. A final reprise of the chorus really hits home just how good the song is, and this could well be the best individual song the band have done since the efforts on 1978's Pieces of Eight.
The Greater Good is a duet between Gowan and Shaw, and the former gets things off to a good start with a theatrical piano line and effortless vocals. Gowan has the rockier voice of the two, with a slightly gravelly tone, so he can conjure up more power, but the contrast between his voice and Shaw's lighter more melodic tone works well here with the two alternating parts throughout as the piano constantly providing a strong musical backing. There is another great guitar solo here too that really explodes out of nowhere and hits the spot. The album's second half has more of a progressive feel with little musical interludes and a more spacey feel. Time May Bend and Ten Thousand Ways seem to morph into one song, with Gowan singing the former in his melodramatic way as Sucherman's drums crash around him and he lays into his retro-sounding synths for a huge sound. A schizophrenic guitar solo adds to this feel perfectly, which sits atop the odd drum pattern to create a great contrast with the song's decent chorus. Ten Thousand Ways acts as a coda to Time May Bend, and is dominated by rolling piano and a repeated vocal line which is sung by the group in harmony. Red Storm is the album's progressive epic at just over six minutes in length. Shaw once again takes the lead and his songwriting style really shines through here with lots of tricky acoustic guitar melodies early on with a chiming piano backing. The band's progressive influences really shine through here as the song is much heavier on atmosphere and feel than riffing. The acoustic guitars are a constant presence, and Shaw's vocals constantly shine with his clean, high singing style suiting the song's vibe perfectly. Plenty of the Styx harmonies are used throughout, especially during the small choruses, but mostly Shaw is left to sing alone. The drumming towards the song's second half is excellent, with a section that almost includes a drum solo under the music before the song launches into a slightly heavier section that includes a dual-guitar solo and Phillips' rumbling bassline. Styx have not sounded this inspired for a while, and as the song fades out during Gowan's keyboard solo you really have to marvel at the band's sudden burst of creativity. All System's Stable is a tiny interlude which leads into Gowan's piano showcase Khedive which is a chance for him to show off his classically-influenced playing. The song is mostly instrumental, save for a few effects-heavy vocal lines, and is largely focused on Gowan. Some more of the Queen-esque guitar lines come in towards the end however, but this appearance is only fleeting and it is soon back to the rolling piano melodies which come to abrupt halt before the album moves into the penultimate song The Outpost. This is Gowan's last vocal effort on the album and again builds up slowly with his keyboards dominating, but soon the guitars kick in for what is probably my favourite chorus on the album. Styx have always written great choruses but this is a real winner with a triumphant feel and plenty of big vocal harmonies. Some of the heavier riffs here even have a bit of a Dream Theater vibe, which is fleeting but very fun. Shaw takes the lead on the album's closing number Mission to Mars which again makes good use of Beatle-esque melodies and plenty of acoustic guitars. Given the more atmospheric pieces that have filled the latter part of this album, this more carefree piece seems to make the come full circle which works really nicely. Overall, The Mission is easily the best Styx album for decades. No-one was expecting a new album from Styx after all these years and even when it was announced I doubt many were expecting it to be this good. It is quite rare that I am this surprised by new music, but this is one of my favourite releases of the year already and I can see myself playing this one to death!
The album was released on 16th June 2017 via Universal Music Enterprises. Below is the band's promotional video for Gone Gone Gone.