Celebrating Styx’s most cosmically vibrant studio album, The Mission, which was released five years ago today on June 16, 2017.
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
band photos by Jason Powell
“The planets truly aligned for The Mission, and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s our boldest, most emblematic album since Pieces of Eight.” —Tommy Shaw
Happy fifth birthday to The Mission! The facts about it are as follows: Styx’s 16th studio album, The Mission, was released exactly five years ago today on June 16, 2017 via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe on CD, 180-gram vinyl, and download via various digital services, and it’s since taken its rightful place in the pantheon of unquestionably great great great Styx albums of all time.
In a comment made exclusively to Styxworld to mark this most majestic occasion, vocalist/guitarist/co-pilot Tommy Shaw observed, “We’re so proud of The Mission. Everyone shines on this album, and with the 5.1 surround version that was released in 2018, there’s another opportunity for fans to take the trip all over again in the 5.1 environment. And I hope our fans find all the subtle things hidden in the album/CD/Blu-ray graphics too. Here’s a hint: Check the Martian landscape!” (And here’s hoping we get a full-bore Dolby Atmos surround mix of The Mission in the not-too-distant future as well!)
Over the course of the first five years of the album’s public life, Tommy has noted specifically on many an occasion in interviews, on social media, and from the live stage that the Styx family wants everyone to hear The Mission from start to finish by following their strongly suggested “no shuffling!” policy. In fact, you’ve probably heard Tommy say something to the effect of “Take the whole trip uninterrupted!” before he introduced one of The Mission’s key tracks, “Radio Silence,” in many of Styx’s pre-pandemic live sets over the past few years.
As noted in this space some 60 months ago in my official capacity as the chief information officer of the Global Space Exploration Program (or GSEP for short), I wrote that the “sonically sweet” The Mission is Styx’s “most ambitious, most challenging, and most rewarding release to date” — and that’s not just hype, either. The album has that rarefied timeless quality to it that makes it feel as if you’ve known it forever, yet still feels like it’s brand-spanking new. I was able to experience Mission songs in various stages of progress — and always on headphones, to keep the sonics hush-hush from anyone else in the vicinity — as they were being created behind closed doors over their 2-plus-year gestation period, with the ensuing end result being a career-defining work, to say the least.
To that end, The Mission is an aurally adventurous 43-minute thrill ride that chronicles the trials, tribulations, and ultimate triumphs of the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033 onboard a spacecraft with the more-than-likely familiar name of Khedive. From the hopeful drive of “Gone Gone Gone” to the stargazing machinations of “Locomotive” to the rough-riding blaze of glory that permeates the hard-charging “Red Storm” (a benchmark track in 5.1, btw!) to the elegiac optimism of the closing track “Mission to Mars,” The Mission succeeds in delivering the greater good from a band that continues to fire on all cylinders, now 50 years after signing their first recording contract back in 1972. (And you can quote me on that — all of it.)
Here are some more cool techie facts about the making of The Mission: The album was recorded at Blackbird Studios, The Shop, and 6 Studio Amontillado in Nashville. The storyline was written by Tommy Shaw and Will Evankovich. Will is also the album’s producer — and, as of the summer of 2021, is officially a fulltime member of the band. Jim Scott (Foo Fighters, Tom Petty, Tedeschi Trucks Band) did the mixing at his own Plyrz Studio in Valencia, California, and Richard Dodd (Jason Aldean, Melissa Etheridge) handled the mastering in Nashville. Engineering was handled by Will, Alan Hertz, and Sean Badum. Additional engineering was done by JR Taylor, the assistant mixing engineer was Kevin Dean, and additional editing was done by Derek Sharp.
The liner notes were written by yours truly, Mike Mettler, and the in-studio photography was done by, of course, our main man Jason Powell. Finally, the amazing album artwork and overall design was done by Todd Gallopo of meat and potatoes, inc. — much of it being completed before he even heard one note of the album’s music, which goes to show just how in tune he was with the overall Mission concept.
There is, of course, a much different story for how Todd put together the intricate artwork for Styx's most excellent 17th studio album, June 2021’s Crash of the Crown — and we will discuss the first anniversary of that truly stellar release in just a few short days from now. In the meantime, here are some insightful comments about the project at hand from the men who made The Mission to tide us over in our collectively earthbound meantime. Light it up, let’s get this show on the road. . .
Tommy Shaw (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, and vocals): The planets truly aligned for The Mission, and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s our boldest, most emblematic album since Pieces of Eight.
James “JY” Young (electric guitar and vocals; the co-founding guitarist/vocalist sings lead on “Trouble at the Big Show”): In the 40th anniversary year of our release of our biggest-selling album of all time [July 1977’s] The Grand Illusion, it just seemed truly appropriate to save our new studio album until that year. Needless to say, I’m very excited about it.
Lawrence Gowan (piano, B3 organ, synthesizers, and, vocals; the keyboard maestro sings lead on “Gone Gone Gone,” “The Outpost,” et al): The album feels simultaneously comfortable and new. It’s both entertaining and charming, and a natural progression of our sound.
Will Evankovich (producer and storyline co-author): The Mission is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to be a part of something unique and special that’s happening in real time right in front of you. It is one of those albums that musically and cosmically showed you the next right thing to do every step of the way. I will forever be grateful and proud of what we did in this body of art.
Chuck Panozzo (bass guitar; the co-founding bassist lends his signature low-end sound to “Hundred Million Miles From Home”): The Mission is a sincere and honest representation of how Styx built upon where we were in the 20th century in order to go somewhere new in the 21st century.
Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion, and Waterphone): There’s a lot of great ear candy on this album. It’s what you get when great ideas come together and everyone works on them as a team.
Ricky Phillips (bass guitar): The Mission was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m proud to be a part of it.