How do you follow up a career concept albumthat explored a perilous manned mission to Mars? If you’re the veteran rock stalwarts known as STYX, you come back down to earth in spectacular fashion to create a 15-song supersonic cyclone that encapsulates universal emotions, wrestles with top-of-mind issues, and celebrates personal triumphs over adversity in ways everyone can relate to personally. These are just some of the deep-seated feelings evoked by STYX’s 17th studio album, Crash of the Crown, which is set for release on June 18, 2021 via Alpha Dog2T/UMe on 180-gram high-grade clear and black vinyl, CD, and all major digital platforms.
Produced by Will Evankovich— the man behind the boards for the band’s previous studio masterpiece,June 2017’sThe Mission—Crash of the Crown(or COTC, for short) is a come-one, come-all clarion call that celebrates thecreative mindmeld of seven musicians-slash-brothers in arms at the top of their collectivegame. The proof can be found throughout all 45 minutes of COTC, whether it’s the wistful observationalmusings of “Reveries” —an instantly catchy song featuring STYX’s patented, always-uplifting four- and sometimes five-part harmonious vocal blend on its choruses—the unmistakable snarl of “A Monster” that’s bolstered by a whirlwind outro solo from co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, the breathe-easiersingalong mantra that permeates “Sound the Alarm,”the dark yet redemptively hopeful cautionary tale that frames “Hold Back the Darkness,”or the elegiac communal grace of “To Those.” In essence, Crash of the Crown is a modern-day sonic chronograph of the endless regenerative cycle of the rise and fall — and rise again — of our shared human experience.
STYX’s holy mission to fulfill the laser-focused visionoutlined by guitarist/vocalist and chief songwriter Tommy Shaw for Crash of the Crown was undeterred, regardless of some of the socially distancedhurdles imposed on the recording process due to this past year’s pandemic. “Absolutely no obstacles were going to get in the way of how we approached creating this album,” Shaw asserts. “And everything came out exactly the way we wanted to hear it.”
Some COTC songs had already been in the works during the days of The Mission (such as the aforementioned “Reveries”), while somewere workshopped in hotel rooms all across the continent while the band was on tour (the way “A Monster” was born and bred during a scenic tour break in British Columbia), andothers reached final fruition during the recording process itself (like the angelic vocal bridge that cements the relieved bliss of “Sound the Alarm”). The recording sessionsfor Crash of the Crownmainly took place in Shaw’s home studio in Nashville— albeit in strategic, quarantine-approved doses. “Because we connected so well as a band when we recorded The Mission, I just had to go there to make my contributions,” recounts bassist Ricky Phillips. “Tommy and Will are very clear about what they wantedfor each song, and my job is to play the best parts I can to make every song better.” Adds original STYX bassist Chuck Panozzo —who provided his signature low-end tone forthe inspirational “OurWonderful Lives” and the acute aquatic fever dream “Lost at Sea”—“I traveled over 900milesby car torecord with Will and Tommy in person. They’re both so good at getting the best bass performances out of me in the studio. Making that trip to Nashville was the highlight of my year!”
Prior to the lockdown, keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan had laid down many vocal and instrumental tracks in Nashville in the fall of 2019, including some of the synthesized flourishes that reign over theunifyingcome-together entreatyof “Common Ground” that recall The Who at their Quadrophenia peak.“And thenI also got touse some gear I never thought I’d have the chance to play on a STYX record, likeTommy’s Hammond B3 organ,” heconfirms. Gowanlater followed through with a number of additional keyboard elements (with his vintage Minimoog and Mellotron among them) and other lead and background vocal duties fromhis homebase in Toronto. Meanwhile, drummer Todd Sucherman was ensconced in Austin, having recorded all his world-class percussionin his home studio with the help of AudiomoversListento plug-in technology without compromising the quality of his playing in the least. “You know how meticulous I am when it comes to recording my drum parts,” Suchermanaffirms, “andusing Audiomovers ensured I could do everything I wanted on each track with nothing left to chance.”
The title track holds the unique distinction of featuring three lead vocalists, with JY lending his distinctive baritoneto the opening verses, Tommy heading up the heroic stacked-vocal middle section, and Lawrencetaking the lead for the final verse — another STYX first. “Perhaps the closest thing to it for mewould be how Tommy and I traded lead vocals on ‘Snowblind,’” observesJY in reference to the foreboding, concert-favorite track from STYX’s chart-topping multiplatinum 1981 release, Paradise Theatre. For his part, producer Evankovich— who co-wrote the bulk of COTC with Shaw in addition to singing and playing a multitude of instruments throughout the entire album — freely admits he washoping to coax a David Bowie-circa-“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” vocal vibe from Young, who was mostly happy to comply. “Will would sometimes ask me to do up to eight passeson various things, and I neverlike to do more than two or three,” Young recalls with a booming laugh. “But I respect Will as a producer and Tommy’s vision for the album, sowe made it work. I gave them plenty of options.”
One of Shaw’s pivotal COTC contributions comes courtesy “Our Wonderful Lives,” a song hefirst previewed acoustically during the Big Love Benefit Concertthat streamed online in January 2021— and a trackthat serves as a stirring ode to taking stock of the finer points of life amidst trying times. It’s also the first-ever STYX song to feature a banjo, an instrument Shaw has occasionally played onstage as well as on some of his own solo recordings. “I never imagined playing banjo on a STYX record,” reveals Tommy, “but as we were cutting ‘Our Wonderful Lives,’ I thought maybe a touch of Americana might work— so I auditioned it, and it felt like it belonged.” Not only that, but another, er, wonderful “Lives” surprise comes by way of the jubilant piccolo trumpet solo from guest performer Steve Patrick, which exhibits quite the deliberate Beatlesque flair.
After spending the past year on the touring sidelines because of the pandemic, STYX arebeyond eager to play as much of Crash of the Crown live as they can once they return to the road this summer. “I can’t wait to feel that group energywhen we getback on the same stage together again,” Shaw admits. “We did something extraordinary in creating COTC. It came to us so naturally, and we can’t wait to bring these songs to life the way they’re meant to be played.”
Until STYX does full justice to COTC out on the planks, we haveits 15 majestic studio tracks tocontinue taking us to new and renewed aural heights.Beyond the shadow of aroyal doubt,I hereby decree Crash of the Crownto be a timeless album for the ages. Long live the king!—Mike Mettler, Resident Styxologist& Official STYX Biographer
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Photo credit: Courtesy of Todd Gallopo and Styx
Photo credit: Jason Powell
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