Voyager – Fearless in Love


It’s hard to know what’s more inexplicable – that fact that Australia enters the Eurovision Song Contest each year, or that a prog-metal band signed to Season of Mist represented the Antipodean nation in this year’s competition in Liverpool? Like their fellow Aussies, Twelve Foot Ninja, the five members of Voyager approach metal with a playful sense of humour and a penchant for sophisticated pop music. They finished ninth in the Eurovision final, but it damaged none of their credibility in the prog world. Indeed, expectations for Voyager’s eighth album are high, especially considering the acclaim lauded on 2019’s Colours in the Sun LP. Can the band that often merge A-ha with Meshuggah continue the evolution of their sound with more eyes watching them?

It’s worth saying up front that the heavier side of Voyager’s music takes a backseat for large parts of this record. Those hoping to find something to match the power of 2014’s anthem, ‘Hyperventilating’, or even 2019’s signature tune, ‘Colours’, will need to look harder than usual. That’s because Daniel Estrin and co. use synthesisers to write their hooks, and they structure their vocal lines around Duran Duran templates.

Caligula’s Horse and Karnivool are no strangers to colourful art pop with shades of new wave influences, but they don’t take it to the extreme like Voyager. Opener, ‘The Best Intentions’, starts like English pop favourites, ABC, with Ty Tabor of King’s X on guitar. This time they pivot towards a Dream Theater guitar riff rather than a djent one, but the clarity of Estrin’s voice dominates the mix. A rare expedition from 80s synth-pop to 90s house music sets the scene for ‘Prince of Fire’, where the band lock in one of their more abrasive metal moments for a glorious concoction of sharp technical riffing and neon vocal uplifts. Whatever you may call it, you can’t deny it has a certain originality. 

Of course, Voyager are at their best when they sound ready to join Haken on a tour of Europe. ‘Ultraviolent’ is the one piece of undisputed genius on this record. Listen how the orgasmic guitar lick sucks you in to a quasi-porn environment as Estrin doubles down on his pensive voice arrangements like cult Australian synth-pop group, Pseudo Echo. Add Make them Suffer’s Sean Harmanis into the mix with a louder dose of seven-string distortion, and you have the outlines of the stairway to (prog metal) heaven ahead of you. By contrast, remove the drop-tuned power chords from ‘The Lamenting’ and you have a modern version of the debut Tears for Fears album from 1983. This paradox should be insurmountable after six tracks, but the song writing standard is too high to be dismissed as art school humour. You don’t write a chorus like ‘Daydream’ and model it on Ultravox’s ‘Dancing with Tears in My Eyes’ unless you have the talent to translate it from paper to mixing desk. Every metal fan can appreciate this type of music when it comes packaged with dexterous Tesseract riffing and scintillating synth rotations.

The only flaw on Fearless in Love is the band’s refusal to venture away from Duran Duran and Tears for Fears when the musicianship demands a higher level of technical metal to accentuate the contrasts. There’s a reason why Daniel Estrin cites Type O Negative as his favourite band – the coquettish goth rock of ‘Twisted’ sounds like Paradise Lost in their Depeche Mode phase, yet it still evokes Simon Le Bon in the chorus. ‘Listen’ is nothing more than a pastiche of the New Romantics through the lens of rock musicians. Haken do it much better on their latest record. Voyager need at least two crunchy metallic numbers here to match the glory of 2017’s Ghost Mile.

Fearless in Love is another strong record from Voyager, but you wonder if we might judge this LP as a sideways move in ten years’ time. The confidence levels among the band members are inspiring to the listener, and their ability to craft memorable songs will be difficult to improve on from here, yet they must not forget their roots during this stage of their evolution. No prog metal fan will disown the band after this, but they might do on the next LP if it continues its march towards new wave music from the 1980s.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 14/07/2023

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Prince of Fire, Ultraviolet, Submarine

Suggested Further Listening: Loch Vostok – Opus Ferox – The Great Escape (2021), Pseudo Echo – Autumnal Park (1984), Haken – Fauna (2023)