Canadian melodic and symphonic progressive rock band Mystery will release their eighth studio album, Redemption, on 15th May. It has been five years since their last album, the highly-acclaimed Lies and Butterflies, and whilst the live releases Live in Poznan (2019) and Caught in the Whirlwind of Time (2020) were wonderful retrospective collections highlighting the band’s live repertoire, the anticipation associated with new studio material has been steadily growing over recent years. It is marvellous (and a great relief) to report that Redemption is an absolute progressive rock triumph and has shown that the long gestation has been well worth the wait.
The band were formed by guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Michel St-Père, back in 1986, although their debut EP was not released until 1992 and the first album only arrived in 1996. It was the lead vocals of Benoît David (and his subsequent tenure in Yes) which ignited a wider interest in the band, including the albums Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face (2007) and One Among the Living (2010). However, on a personal basis, it was the discovery of The World is a Game in 2012 that made me appreciate the sheer abundance of quality within the group – and my subsequent and oft-repeated opinion that it was a ‘mystery’ why they were not much more popular and widely-recognised as their talents deserved – especially here in the UK (although they have quite a following in the Netherlands, amongst other countries).
The replacement of Benoît with Jean Pageau as lead vocalist in 2014 could have proved a difficult transition, but 2015’s well-received Delusion Rain was a great response, and the subsequent Lies and Butterflies album saw the band develop and progress further still. By this stage the current line-up was well established, and it is this continuity that is behind the cohesion and synergy of the music. Joining Michel and Jean are Antoine Michaud (keyboards & guitars), Sylvain Moineau (guitars & keyboards), François Fournier (bass, pedals & keyboards) and Jean-Sébastien Goyette (drums), and the interplay and flexibility of this talented sextet is an integral part of their sound.
Well, that’s the background – what about the album?
Behind the Mirror starts things boldly, and it is textbook Mystery, combining all the elements you would expect from the band. It is a dramatic musical statement with a powerful and memorable guitar riff from Michel driving the song over Jean-Sebastien’s dynamic drumming, mingling with François’s rumbling bass. Jean’s clear and impassioned vocals carry the tale of a desperate flight of refugees from a troubled and ruined land, into a hopeful – although still uncertain – future.
Before the spirit is locked away
Hold on to your freedom
And walk behind the mirror.”
Michel delivers a soaring and vibrant guitar solo mid-way, as Antoine’s lush keyboards are heard to rise up from their supporting role, with Sylvain’s guitar contributing to the rich, symphonic soundscape.
What follows is a diverse collection of songs that display all of this complex and interweaving musicality within the band. Jean’s stunning vocals and Michel’s melodic and expressive guitar chords and lively solos might dominate proceedings, but the ensemble work of the other musicians provides the canvas over which these elements can shine – and with their ability to add additional acoustic guitar and layers of keyboards and synthesisers to the sound, they allow a variety of tempo and textures.
Redemption is slower and quite unsettling with Jean’s yearning, languid and apologetic vocals over a dramatic musical background that gradually builds in richness and depth as the keyboards flow over the chiming guitar patterns. The emotional, cathartic weight of the lyrics define the track wonderfully.
Until the end of times
Please forgive me
But I’ve tried with all my might.”
The Beauty and the Least has a sweeping, epic feel, the lyrics reflecting the thoughts of a young girl locked in a cycle of guilt and regret for the path she has taken, but still hopeful of a way out in the future. Whilst steeped in emotion, it avoids being over-melodramatic by the musical intricacy and melodic, flowing structure highlighted throughout. Lead guitar breaks, warm, layered keyboards, repeating themes, rich harmonies and thoughtful, empathetic vocals are all there.
In her hand she holds the pay
That ends another day.
She puts her hands in water
As if to wash the blame away
She does that everyday”
There’s a stately, dreamy tempo to begin with, but some resonating bass lines, piano and drums soon take the song into darker and more energetic realms and a wide cinematic feel before a return to the original tone and a hint of a more optimistic lyrical content.
When love will find a way
The acoustic guitar strains that ended that song now introduce Every Note, an unashamed power ballad that flows serenely whilst still gaining subtle gravitas and depth as it proceeds. Jean’s vocals are as clear and emotive as ever and show the romantic heart that lies deep within the band’s DNA.
I want to hear every prayer your heart brings”
It is with songs like this that Mystery are closest to the melodic AOR rock of the likes of Journey and Styx, but with those progressive musical touches and symphonic sweep that truly shape their vision. The interplay between acoustic and electric guitar, orchestrated keyboards, flute, sonorous bass and percussion highlights this, time and time again throughout the album.
The epic Pearls and Fire plays like a cinematic soundtrack as it recounts the personal tale of a young man called Leo, who leaves his family to embark on a life that tragically leads to the chaos and conflict of World War II and its futility and sense of loss. Opening with the distant sounds of gunfire, the music goes through majestic shifts of pace and power, twisting and turning with the narrative. Guitar and keyboards each have their moments in the sun, with some flying synthesisers and soloing. If at times the music and lyrics don’t quite integrate as fully as they might, the great ambition displayed by this song is clear to see with repeated plays, and the surprisingly uplifting echo to the music at the end is juxtaposed against the inherent sadness of the tale.
Initially, My Inspiration may appear not too dissimilar to the earlier Every Note, from a musical perspective, but the song slowly finds its own wistful character and incrementally radiates bitter-sweet warmth and positivity, with lush Genesis-style Mellotron chords aplenty, bombastic drums and a real proggy flourish to finish.
After all the things we do
Here I am longing to see you
Every day, in every way
You must be my inspiration.”
This is not music for cynics and the stony-hearted, but for the romantic souls who see the darkness of the world around them but try to rise above it all. Simply gorgeous and a real album highlight for me.
Homecoming strikes a more melancholic tone, with harmonised vocals urging for the need to move on, put the past behind us, and allow the spirit to return back home. Some exceptional guitar soloing of course, but the dynamism of the rhythm section impresses as well, as this rather spiritually tinged song drives through to the end, supported by some lovely keyboard passages.
The album has had many epic moments already, but in true Mystery style, proceedings end with the 19-minute tour-de-force Is This How the Story Ends?. This multi-faceted epic is a showcase for everything the band does so well. Rich layers of symphonic prog, memorable elements of neo-prog and driving slabs of classic rock, but with reflective interludes and vivid lyrical content too. The opening themes resemble a bold overture of instrumental splendour, with comparisons to Marillion and Transatlantic springing to mind, before contemplative vocals settle things down to conjure a dreamy atmosphere, with well-judged guitar patterns heightening the effect.
Using the metaphor of a train journey, a meditative contemplation of a life is revealed in the lyrics.
Waiting alone. Still no lights in sight
Have I missed the train or have I arrived?
Or is this how the story ends?”
Melodies and harmonies interweave seamlessly, whilst flights of fancy from guitars and keyboards soar high. There is a sense of resignation and regret throughout, but the grandeur of the music provides a satisfying finale, even if there is a hint of uncertainty in the final notes to suggest that the question in the song’s title might not been fully answered just yet.
At over 74 minutes, the album is a sumptuous and wonderfully indulgent musical statement that is worthy of listening to in its entirety – but that doesn’t mean you can’t dip into individual tracks out of sequence and get pleasure from them. It is a progressive rock ‘piece de resistance’ that rewards a generous investment of time from any discerning listener, repeated plays revealing hidden qualities and interplay not necessarily apparent on first listen. I thought Delusion Rain and Lies and Butterflies would take some beating, but Redemption has revealed musicians at their artistic peak and fully at ease with the synergy their skills and vision produce, both on stage and in the studio. This is melodic and symphonic progressive rock at its most impressive and Mystery have produced another keynote musical feast that will undoubtedly be one of the albums of the year for many, including myself.
01. Behind the Mirror (6:44)
02. Redemption (6:35)
03. The Beauty and the Least (9:16)
04. Every Note (6:01)
05. Pearls and Fire (12:43)
06. My Inspiration (8:24)
07. Homecoming (5:10)
08. Is This How the Story Ends? (19:11)
Total Time – 74:04
Jean Pageau – Vocals, Keyboards, Flute
Michel St-Père – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards
François Fournier – Bass Guitars, Taurus Pedals, Keyboards, Tambourine
Sylvain Moineau – Electric, Acoustic Guitars
Jean-Sébastien Goyette – Drums
Antoine Michaud – Keyboards, Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Jonny Maz – Additional Piano & Keyboards
Record Label: Unicorn Digital Inc.
Formats: CD, Digital
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 15th May 2023