For Fans Of
When I recently covered Veil Of Maya’s latest single – the riffy, catchy and key-tar featuring ‘Members Only‘ – I mentioned how prog-metal today needs more colour on its canvas; more weird shit attempted and more risks taken. A band like Perth’s Voyager is exactly what I’m talking about with what exciting directions prog-metal can twist and turn these days. For those not in the know, this Australian outfit gloriously merges bright, 80’s pop and synth-wave moods with djenty subtleties and prog-metal. It’s a buttery smooth, polished-as-fuck sound where you can see your own dumb face staring back in its gleaming reflection. That was the case with 2017’s ‘Ghost Mile‘, and now they’ve upped the ante and furthered that sound with their wondrous seventh album, ‘Colours in the Sun.
Voyager isn’t the first nor the last metal band to use synths, but they pull it off better than most. Voyager sounds fully alive here, in a world where a guitar solo and a synth solo are just as important. The quintets tastefully virtuosic instrumentals race alongside the sweeping vocal melodies of frontman and keytar-enthusiast, Danny Estrin. Danny spreads his vocal wings and soars over these ten new songs with an array of colourful timbres, great vibrato, solid falsetto, and controlled range. The soothing, building, delay-heavy pop-prog soundscape of ‘Brightstar‘ sees him spearheading one of the best chorus melodies Voyager’s ever written, set over angular rhythms and well-rounded, low-tuned guitars. And the other members all lock-in under the vocalist with a powerful sense of groove and rhythm; making disjointed, odd-time rhythms and meters sounding fluid all over the LP. Especially with drummer Ashley Doodkorte on top of his game throughout; always playing for these songs yet still remaining techy. And his rhythmic twin in bassist Alex Canion does wonders on the five-string and in also providing great backing vocals for many of these songs too.
Just as every team leader ever in a corporate environment has said in order to sound smart: it’s all about balance. And Voyager’s members seem to have worked under a few of those bosses in their time, it seems. As they’ve achieved a near-perfect balance of pop and prog here. The riffs and heavier instrumentals never over-shadow the poppier moments and synthesizers, and vice-versa. This is a band infinitely sure of their vision, and ‘Colours in the Sun‘ is a glittering, rainbow palette of confidence and textures. Everything about this record is big, and Voyager isn’t about to go home.
The bending chugs, squealing harmonics and monstrous half-time grooves of ‘Saccharine Dream‘ prior to its garish guitar solo, is complemented by the dreamy synths that begin the song and it’s drifting progressive instrumental part; seeing this balance work so well. The jumpy riffs and lurching rhythms of the gorgeous ‘Severomance‘ help to tee up one of the hookiest, most romantic choruses Voyager has ever concocted. Yet right as that wonderful sunset-esque refrain hits, the band tear down its walls with a brutal instrumental; something the band returns to later on in the song for its mighty bridge section. This is a contrastive songwriting “trick” they utilize numerous times on ‘Colours in the Sun‘ – notice the similar heavier passages that follow more melodic moments on ‘Colours‘ or ‘Brightstar.’ So while it does become a very familiar move by the record’s end, I’d argue that it’s always well-implemented and quite fitting for their sound and direction.
After all, when it’s executed this well, it’s dammed hard to feel even remotely bothered by Voyager’s resonating formula. One that propels the last half of the LP onto a dizzying climax. As a shorter interlude, the happy and floating number of ‘Now Or Never‘ acts as a fine bridge to the wicked final stretch of this LP, with Danny singing in German in the outro. A last bend in the road that kicks off with the magnificent ‘Sign Of The Times‘: an insanely upbeat, catchy hit that’s now my new favourite Voyager track. It’s armed to the teeth with sweet staccato riffage from Simone Dow and Scott Kay; a killer song that highlights how strong this band’s rhythm section is. On ‘Water Over The Bridge, the in-sync guitarists creep in some blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em dissonant taps for one of the albums heaviest tunes (bar one other choice cut), one that pushes and pulls between their ’80s influences and their darker, modern metal shades. Then, with big-ass vocal layers and even bigger harmonies, the uplifting closer of ‘Runaway‘ sends it hard for 1989 and 2019 equally: pulling together grumbling bass-lines and pingy, percussive riffs in a loving, warm embrace with bubbly synths, a slick key-tar solo, and ginormous pop-anthem choruses.
As much as I fuck with this new Voyager record, there are a couple of little nitpicks that I have. The funky and piano-heavy ‘Entropy‘ is a decent number indeed, yet I always found the guest feature from Leprous’s Einar Solberg getting in the way of the overall composition. Not because he’s a bad vocalist – quite the opposite, the guy has some HUGE pipes on him – but his “aaaaaaahhhh” vocals, and how his parts have been layered over Voyager’s instrumentals and Danny’s vocals never reached what I think the band was aiming for. If there was a version of ‘Entropy‘ without his guest feature, I feel I’d choose that one in a heartbeat instead.
With sharpened, saw-tooth synths, ‘Reconnected‘ explodes with hammering riffs and pummeling double kicks for what is the fastest and most “metal” track of the whole bunch. At precisely 1:10, as it kicks into high-gear, we get this deeper growled vocal, one that adds real weight to the transition. Of course, Voyager sticks clear of screaming in their music, and I’ve always found that a strong aspect of their releases. As they stand, the songs here are all good, but with the albums heavier, more brutal moments, some added screaming wouldn’t have gone amiss; embuing certain songs with that extra layer of “oomph”; that added level of impact to elevate the songs. Like the final breakdown of the very same song, where we get some modulated vocals sung in Russian by Danny instead, or the filthier passages of ‘Water Over The Bridge,’ ‘Colours,’ or the galloping end of ‘Severomance.’ If one scream on ‘Reconnected‘ could slip in, then why not on others? It’s a small gripe, but incorporating screaming into the mix in the future (or even live) could do wonders for Voyager’s already highly compelling sound.
Not many bands are creating some of their best works seven albums deep, yet that’s exactly what Voyager have done with ‘Colours in the Sun.’ It’s a shining ten-track LP filled with as much love for synth-wave and ’80s pop as it does for heavier, modern prog-metal. Some may find it to be a little cheesy, or corny even, but I actually find that that’s half of the charm for ‘Colours in the Sun’; an inspired, immensely fun and memorable record that threads the needle between pop and prog extremely well. Outside of one or two very minor criticisms I personally found with the record – the guest feature on ‘Entropy’ and how the album could’ve used some added screamed vocals – it’s still such a vibrant, big listen that is so endearing, heavy, but also superbly hooky. ‘Severomance’ and ‘Sign of the Times’ are just two of the wonderful songs here that’ll be on heavy rotation for months to come for me. Follow this textured rainbow all the way to its end and you’ll be deeply rewarded with one of the brightest, most colourful prog-metal records of 2019.
- Saccharine Dream
- Now Or Never
- Sign of the Times
- Water Over The Bridge
‘Colours in the Sun’ is out Friday, November 1st: