The foremost attribute to success and glory, whether in sports, academics, culinary arts, business, relationships and of course music, is consistency. Many famous chefs have lost their Michelin stars because they wandered off course (pun intended) or modified their ’raison-d’être’ that made them famous in the first place. Yes, be adventurous but if you alter the ingredients, please remember to rebrand it under a different name. No such mysterious concerns with Mystery, a now iconic Canadian band from Quebec that has consistently delivered a pantheon of albums that just keep their style firmly focused and honed like the shining razor blade of a rapier.
Seeing a band in a concert setting certainly helps in evaluating the personality of a band. I recently attended their home show in Montreal a month ago and that had to be one of the finest, most professional concerts I have ever attended (and I have seen many, including legends like Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Focus, King Crimson, Zappa as well as Fish, Roxy Music, IQ, the Flower Kings, PFM, and many, many others). Led by master guitarist Michel St-Pere, the first impression that hit me very hard was the genuine enthusiasm displayed by this veteran crew, not just with the audience but mostly with each other! They obviously deeply enjoy their craft, a concert that visually offers little artifice but loads of unfettered charisma. Their stylistic hallmark signature remains firmly entrenched in crafting absolutely divine melodies that impact the soul upon first listen. Having a mercurial singer in Jean Pageau, whose athletic stage gymnastics are only surpassed by a truly astonishing voice, both rich, powerful, and clear as crystal. Michel is joined on guitars by French ex-pat Sylvain Moineau who also exudes a palpable desire, keyboardist Antoine Michaud adding immense symphonic depth, Francois Fournier providing the low-end guidance, permitting beastly drummer Jean-Sebastien Goyette (a true revelation live, Quebec’s version of John Bonham, I kid you not) to pummel that bombast into celestial mode. They presented a few songs from their new album Redemption, which will now be reviewed accordingly.
No beating around the bush, as “Behind the Mirror” explodes out of the gates with a riveting display of colossal melody and rock-solid pace, with a divine chorus stamped with classic prog excellence, as all the elements explained above coalesce into this catchy, typical Mystery brand of genius. Instantaneously detectable and swiftly delectable for evermore. “Hold onto your Freedom”, indeed. A classic.
The title track just keeps the emotional pedal at full throttle, but in a gentler style, as the clanging guitar weavings intersperse within the ambitious drumbeats, as the double chorus builds gradually (I am a total sucker for that kind of dual elevation). Tectonic sonic mountains and valleys make this one hell of an emotional ride, with tormented and vibrant lyrics about salvation (“Shall I be sorry until the end of time?”). A classic.
The hauntingly magnificent “The Beauty and the Least” is the proverbial power ballad, quite reminiscent of one of my favourite Mystery tunes “The Sailor and the Mermaid”, even the titles sound like close cousins. The passion, atmosphere, and the melody (PAM) is off the charts, with a little old school Genesis mid-section led by Fournier’s bass doing a fab Mike Rutherford, acoustic guitars emulating ticking clocks, a slippery electric guitar solo, the whole just revving up into this gigantic eruption of sweltering symphonics, provided by Michaud and his keyboard arsenal. Nine minutes plus of lethal prog. A classic.
A superb, thoughtful, and sensitive love ballad appears on “Every Note”, certainly targeting hopeless romantics like yours truly. Aural divinity is to be found in another chorus that is just plain jaw-dropping in its straightforward delivery and yet convincing emotion. Pageau certainly can hit the high notes without any hesitation or holding back. It seems effortless and it is. A classic.
Another extended piece, running over a dozen minutes, “Pearls and Fire” reverts to more overreaching bravado that is their claim to fame, the lyrical content aimed now at the difficult road of male puberty when forced to live without a father figure. There is also a historic slant as the main protagonist (Leo) a goes off to war, to prove his worth and that “his father wasn’t right”. He must literally soldier on and fight. A tortuous guitar solo is illuminated by a searchlight, immune to the flak, as it builds up into a furiously wild machine. The extended instrumental work confirms the impeccable chops this band has in spades. This is exuberant, in your face, electrically powered prog. Pearls and Fire. A classic.
Back down to earth into the softness comfort of a classic love song with a heartfelt delivery, an ode to one’s muse, a romantic expression of soulful union, that special someone who has your unconditional back. Though far from a commercial sounding track, the track does offer an honest accessibility that should never be dismissed as fluff. Its carefree, inspired (sic) and impressive, as the immense and intense melody is wrapped in a perfectly executed arrangement (in prog, that generally means tons of choir mellotrons, LOL). Mystery is my inspiration. A classic.
The eventual goodbye is appearing on the horizon, so “Homecoming” serves as the reminder that soon, ‘You finally wake up from your slumber’ and return to the routine of life purified, waiting for another thrill or joy to satisfy your cravings. A classic.
The curtain drops with a 19 minute + colossus “Is This How the Story Ends?” and possesses all the characteristics of a progressive rock epic, taking its time to develop, hone, focus, swerve, rise and then dip, on a thrilling musical roller coaster. The main melody is then indelibly stamped on the proceedings so as the undoubtedly establish the backbone on which everything else holds together. This is the kind of old school prog moment, earphones firmly screwed in, where you take the booklet and follow the storyline on the lyric sheet, oblivious to the outer universe and just dream on with no restrictions or distractions. The various chapters fit into a comfortably numb pattern, like the whispering early section being a sheer delight, as the arrangement picks up steam like a locomotive that is rapidly losing its breath. Hey aqualung! Pageau certainly has the lungs to keep shoving melodic air into this furnace of a song. Raging twin guitars reign supreme as Michel crisses and Sylvain crosses with devilish precision, JS bashing mercilessly his certifiably abused kit… Enough said. A classic. This is not how the story ends , I hope and I pray.
I try to avoid repeating myself as much as possible, which is why I constantly search for synonyms in my writing style, but Redemption is an outright CLASSIC. Not a single wasted or useless second. There is ultimately no mystery here, its just Mystery.
5 Salivating Salvations