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Voyager – Fearless in Love

Voyager – Fearless in Love

Voyager - Fearless in Love

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Release Date: 14 July, 2023
  • Label: Seasons of Mist
  • Musicians:
    Danny Estrin - Vocals/Keytar
    Simone Dow - Guitars
    Alex Canion - Bass
    Scott Kay - Guitars
    Ash Doodkorte - Drums
  • Favorite songs:
    Twisted, The Lamenting, Daydream, Prince of Fire
  • For Fans of:
    Leprous, Devin Townsend, VOLA, Caligula’s Horse, TesseracT, Haken, A-ha, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears

Just for fun and as an attempt at interesting, less-than-linear writing, I’m going to start this review with a little guessing game. I will make three statements; two are true, one is not. Can you guess which is which?

  1. I’m a big synth-pop fan.
  2. I’ve been following Voyager for years.
  3. I’m skeptical of metal and rock bands that go the Eurovision route.

Now, of course it would be fun to actually give you the time and space to guess, but the truth is that I have to go on with the review, which means that I will make the revelations without actually knowing what your guesses would have been.

The true statements are, believe it or not, 1 and 3.

The album that sparked what would become (I’m pretty sure) a life-long love of music was A-ha’s “Hunting High and Low“, the Norwegian band’s debut album released the very same year I was born. I wish I could say I listened to it as it dropped, but in truth I wasn’t quite that precocious. When I did discover the album a few years later, though, it was an absolute revelation. I listened to it obsessively, often multiple times a day, utterly fascinated by that magical blend of otherworldly-sounding instrumentals and near-acrobatic-yet-effortless vocals that to this day send shivers down my spine. I liked to playfully imagine I was the band’s manager and oversaw the recording of the album, a concept I have no idea how I came across at that age, but one I nonetheless find quite telling given my current relationship with music.

It’s also true that witnessing “my” music—decidedly non-commercial rock and metal in their many forms—permeating the mainstream arena through channels the likes of Eurovision gives me pause. While I strongly believe music is for everyone and gatekeeping is generally detrimental, opening the door to close-knit, niche music communities in a sudden and public way can upend the balance of things. A good example would be what Stranger Things did for Metallica and the metal scene by extension; of course it was wonderful to see metal gain perhaps unprecedented exposure and recognition, but pretty soon the newly-enriched fan base started veering towards toxic when the novelty wore off. And this was perhaps one of my biggest curiosities about post-Eurovision Voyager; what—if anything—changed?

Which brings me to the one statement that isn’t true, namely that I’ve been a long-time follower of Voyager. Truthfully, and in the name of full disclosure, I discovered them very late in the game, which has quite honestly given me bouts of impostor syndrome throughout the preparation of this review. That said, the friend who introduced me to the band was so convincing that I took a pretty thorough dive into their work preceding this album. So, to the extent that I can, I promise you this review is gonna be alright (I hope you laughed).

In thinking of Voyager in general, the first thing that comes to mind is their undeniable energy—a positive, bright energy that imbues everything around them; you feel it all the way from the stage to the screen to your headphones. It’s in who they are as people and what they translate into their music; it’s in the cheekiness of their ever-so-slightly glam stage presence and all the way to their bustling social media presence (most definitely one of the best I’ve ever seen for a metal band, Eurovision influence notwithstanding). You can’t help but be drawn in, especially when it’s sometimes such a stark contrast with the many progressive metal bands that veer towards the somber in both sound and theme. Including bands that, like Voyager themselves, also stem from Down Under.

Their signature sound quite atypically blends near-traditional progressive metal with increasingly pure, straight-from-the-80s synth-pop. Throughout their career, the balance has perhaps shifted, but never to the extent that their style became unrecognizable. Particularly with the release of “Colours in the Sun“, the progression to a more purposeful use of old-school synth-pop sounds, both instrumental and vocal, became more noticeable. A discreet shift in lyrical tone can also be perceived, with themes becoming less heavy and more nuanced. Taking all of the above into account, I would say “Fearless in Love” very much plays like a smooth continuation of its predecessor.

Voyager Band Photo

If the album had an anchor, it would be ‘Promise’. Yes, partly because of its Eurovision fame, which also makes it more likely that you would have heard it even if you don’t know much about Voyager. But mostly because, in my opinion, it’s a close-to-perfect middle ground for the album’s overall sound. It’s catchy and radio-friendly enough to draw in listeners of non-metal genres, but it still stays firmly rooted into the band’s inherent “metalness”, which culminates in that particular breakdown (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, I highly recommend you go and listen to the track asap)—a bit of a nod to loyal fans saying “we’re still us”. I really loved how that particular bit was executed.

As a whole, the album is very rich and multi-layered, so skillfully balanced that it gives you the sense you could peel away at the layers of sound for quite a while and still find functional standalone structures underneath. The scaffolding is clearly metal: Simone Dow and Scott Kay’s hefty riffs and meticulous solos; Alex Canion’s formidable bass tracks; Ash Doodkorte’s commanding drumming. There is overlap, but not overwhelm, with every instrument getting its stage time and even center-stage at key moments. The synth layer doesn’t interfere with this base structure, but gives it nuance and personality, sometimes changing the overall tone from darker to lighter, from complex metal to colorful pop reminiscent of an entirely different era in music. It’s musical time travel at its best. Or shall I say voyage?

Danny Estrin’s incredibly versatile voice brings everything together and adds extra depth with its acrobatic jumps between styles. At its core warm, deep, clear and genre-transcendent, Danny’s voice bounces between old-school synth-pop reminiscent of A-ha, Duran Duran or Depeche Mode, rich metal-infused harmonies à la Devin Townsend and operatic chest-to-falsetto leaps that might remind one of Einar Solberg, but in tenor range. And, even though between Danny and Alex the band also excels at much heavier vocals, growls are used sparingly and more as a way to punctuate a breakdown than as a style in and of itself.

If there is one criticism to be made about the vocals, it would be that they can sound overly processed at times, which even in a metal-meets-electronic setting is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, particularly when the vocalist in question is up for pretty much any singing task. Aside from the vocals, the electronic layers are very well blended and never come across as overly intrusive, although for listeners with a set preference for more traditional progressive metal it could be a touch too much synth.

The themes and moods—both musical and lyrical—vary across the album and could be described as an exercise in human nature exploration. Light vs. dark, love vs. loneliness, empowering vs. limiting, hope vs. hopelessness; all the while staying very listenable and never turning excessively bleak. Tracks such as ‘Prince of Fire’, ‘The Lamenting’ or ‘Twisted’ stick closest to progressive djent-y metal and are overall more somber and heavy, while counterpart tracks such as ‘Dreamer’, ‘Daydream’ or ‘Promise’ balance the mood with pop-y brightness. The album culminates with a beautiful almost-ballad—’Gren (Fearless in Love)’—that evokes strong Anathema’s “The Optimist” vibes with a hefty dose of magic stardust.

“Fearless in Love” is a skillfully well-balanced album, especially at this specific point in Voyager’s evolution. It is neither a departure from what their loyal fans know and love (especially using their more recent work as a baseline), nor is it restrictive for newer fans who don’t necessarily stem from a metal background. It is listenable, explorable, palatable, but in no way does it take away from what the band stands for. Not an easy balance to strike, in my opinion. If music could be seen in colors, this album—and I’d say Voyager in general—would span the whole rainbow. And I think prog needs that in the mix.

Track List:

  1. The Best Intentions
  2. Prince of Fire
  3. Ultraviolet
  4. Dreamer
  5. The Lamenting
  6. Submarine
  7. Promise
  8. Twisted
  9. Daydream
  10. Listen
  11. Gren (Fearless in Love)

About the Author

Alina (WuTheLotus)

Music fiend from Romania. Sometimes I write.

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