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Of all the strange things that this decade in music has produced, pop-thrash is one I simply did not see coming. Perth outfit Voyager, however, seemed to have a head start on all of us mere mortals, combining the likes of synth-pop royalty Depeche Mode and Unknown Mortal Orchestra with the swirling elements of the legendary Dream Theatre and our own national prog-lords Karnivool. All in all, this amounts to the WA group producing a confounding yet addictive record.
The product in question is the band’s 6th LP. ‘Ghost Mile‘, an effort which comes off the back of a breakout 18-months which has seen the band traverse the globe in addition to national supports alongside Dead Letter Circus, Opeth and, confoundingly, Deftones. Such a diverse touring resume would suggest that Voyager can indeed step outside of the dreaded G-word box (‘genre’ for those playing along at home). And you’d be correct in thinking so!
Right off the bat, the opening soaring combo of ‘Ascension’ and ‘Misery Is Only Company’ present a sound ranging from the crushingly heavy and dissonant climax of the former to the bouncy grooves, poppy piano lines and engrossing melodies of the latter. The odd couple of synth-pop with contemporary metal has long been a developing aspect in the sound of Voyager, but with ‘Ghost Mile’, the band have taken things to whole other level of experimentation; what with personal favourite ‘Disconnected’ flying from pounding double kicks to rag-time piano interludes within the space of a well-overworked metronome click.
You know, for a band that felt like it was holding itself back creatively on their previous releases, it’s the unashamed Dream Theatre-like flirting between sounds and styles that make songs like ‘Disconnected’ a highly entertaining listen; a solid move that’s also pulled at other multiple points throughout this impressive record.
Moreover, whilst the band have seemingly removed their self-imposed boundaries creatively, they have well and truly thrown all caution to the wind in terms of musical technicality on this release.
First off, it’s the fine work of drummer Ashley Doodkorte. On ‘V’, his drumming was an impressive outing of groove and intensity, but some of his work here is just simply dumbfounding. The innocent sounding ‘What A Wonderful Day’ sounds straight out of the discography of the band’s upcoming Australian touring buddies The Algorithm, with straight, four-to-floor grooves quickly shifting to odd-meter syncopation, somehow anchoring a cacophony of synths and electronics together. It’s but one example of his drumming prowess, from his proficient arms to his double-lick loving feet. Then, there’s Daniel Estrin’s smooth yet icy, poppy vocals over the top of the band’s pop-prog sound that makes the entire record feel like a wonderfully confusing yet effective clash of ideas. Plus, Estrin’s Australian accent comes through nicely at times, slightly separating him from the list of other frontmen in this scene.
However, despite the legwork that the band has obviously put into their musicianship, there are times on ‘Ghost Mile‘ where Voyager overshoot the mark in terms of their songwriting. To be clear, not their instrumental skill or musical chops but rather how they use that skill to craft actual songs. Most notably on the record’s title track that, aside from some wonderful blast-beats and vocals, lacks a sense of overall direction. The same can be said for ‘A Fragile Serene’, with the song failing to build on the enormity on the opening riff and running out of steam early.
Despite those minor setbacks, the overall ambition shown on ‘Ghost Mile‘ in terms of blending styles and influences is both impressive and also more importantly, enjoyable. Some songs may end on a slightly premature note or fail to capitalise on their initial promise, but the fact remains that Voyager has produced a record that jumps from thrash metal to musical theatre to death metal in what is a much appreciated creative boost to the steadily changing Aussie prog-scene.
For the better part of 20 years, Voyager has been a band that have produced LP’s that border on the verge of sameness. ‘Ghost Mile’, however, sees the Perth band throwing all caution to the wind and mash their influences all together with both joy and enthusiasm. ‘Ghost Mile’ brings a smile to your face on a first listen, but on second, third, fourth & following listens, it’ll hit you just how clever Voyager are! The days of The Butterfly Effect and, as I know it may be hard to admit it, COG, all died with Hombake, but that hasn’t culled the exciting growth of Australian prog bands. And thankfully, we have Voyager to bring the disco ball to the party.
2. Misery Is Only Company
4. The Fragile Scene
5. To The Riverside
6. Ghost Mile
7. What A Wonderful Day
9. This Gentle Earth
10. As The City Takes The Night
‘Ghost Mile’ is out now.