By Mike Mettler
Some long-gestating sonic missions are simply worth the wait. Case in point: Styx’s June 2017 studio concept album The Mission (Alpha Dog 2T/UMe), which recently entered into the 5.1 stratosphere via the 24-bit/96kHz surround sound mix found on the just-released two-disc CD + Blu-ray Edition of the album. As good and enveloping as The Mission sounds in stereo, it sounds even better in its hi-res 5.1 mix — and that’s due in no small part to the creative synergy between the record’s three chief sonic architects: Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, producer/guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich (Shaw-Blades, The Guess Who), and producer/engineer Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco, Dixie Chicks).
A good bit of The Mission’s secret sonic sauce came from how it was recorded in the first place. “The best thing about working on this record was the spirit in how Tommy and Will wanted to make it,” Jim Scott told me. “Tommy said, ‘If we want to make it sound like 1979, how do we do that? Well, we perform it and we record it like it’s 1979.’ Creating the soundscapes and putting the extra music in between the songs was born out of studio fun. It wasn’t just hanging around with these guys and figuring out how to make outer space sounds without flying into outer space with microphones — it was pure fun. And that was the best part about it — not knowing the whole story until the whole thing revealed itself.”
With the Blu-ray version, you also get 62 minutes of behind-the-scenes “Making Of” documentary footage and three videoclips — not to mention a way-cool Visualizer option that you can select to run with or without the lyrics scrolling — for 162 minutes of total runtime. I’ve subsequently added one specific sequence from The Mission in 5.1 to my go-to list of benchmark reference tracks. Namely, it’s the furious, 38-second, six-channel maelstrom that occurs during a critical juncture in “Red Storm.” If you’re literally playing along at home, this sequence appears from 30:45 to 31:23 on your Blu-ray player’s readout.
Once the Blu-ray was released out into the world’s orbit, I conducted a pair of follow-up conversations with both Shaw and Evankovich to further delve into the making of the surround sound mix of The Mission, quantify each of their respective favorite 5.1 moments, and see what these masterful Mission 5.1 maestros might like to tackle in the format next.
Read the full story on the Sound & Vision website.