Since the progressive metal tag took a sharp detour in the direction of djent in recent years, it’s been a battle between the two fronts of old vs. new. One band have decided that if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em; Voyager‘s new album contains elements of both schools of prog metal. Luckily this works in their favour, and the aptly-titled fifth album “V” does pretty well in its songwriting. However, it’s when they deviate from this formula that the record truly shines.
The formula is neatly laid out in the two opening tracks, coincidentally also the singles from the album. ‘Hyperventilating’ is hyper-catchy with its insistent and bouncy chorus, and floating synth melodies that point all too clearly to the band’s love of pop and progressive metal: Duran Duran meets Seventh Wonder with a touch of Tesseract, if you will. On the flipside, the driving anthem ‘Breaking Down’ goes straight for the jugular with its piano-infused dynamic, as vocalist/keyboardist Daniel Estrin trades off with Dan Tompkins (Skyharbor/In Colour), both of whom duet gloriously on the top-notch chorus and bridge parts. So far, “V” is off to a strong start.
At the forefront of this album are Daniel Estrin‘s vocals, and he carries many of the tracks. The German-born vocalist has a sleek style of singing that at once commands attention and ingrains melodies naturally into the brain, drawing in part from singers like Roy Khan and Curt Smith, and he’s not afraid to hit those high notes either. As if that wasn’t enough the man also has quite a growl on him, which emerges to great effect in ‘Orpheus’. He also pairs off well with guest Žemyna Kuliukas, whose animated voice rounds out the 80s-suffused romp that is ‘A Beautiful Mistake’.
The two guitarists also put in fine performances; ‘You The Shallow’ is chock full of prog riffs and solos, while ‘It’s a Wonder’ shows great interplay between the guitars and Estrin‘s keyboards, with a surprise djent-fuelled section at the end. However, the tracks that excel are the ones that stretch the mould mentioned earlier – ‘Peacekeeper’ is a highlight, gaining momentum from a lone riff to a strong high-note climax during its 4:45 runtime, while ‘Seasons of an Age’ is another top track, with its ambitious chorus and strong hook to round out the album as it thumps to a halt.
That said, even when pushing boundaries not every track is a winner. ‘The Morning Light’, reworked from the début, sticks out like a sore thumb. It channels pop-power metal acts like Keldian through an even poppier prism, with lyrics including the line “Shall we dance ’til the morning light”, which jars against the other, more serious songs. Furthermore, ‘Fortune Favours the Blind’ evokes memories of the much-missed Norwegian band Conception with its passing resemblance to their ‘Gethsemane’, and while neither of these come close to plagiarism, it’s just enough to detract from the overall album experience.
As far as catchy and melodic prog metal goes, “V” is a well-crafted and enjoyable listen that sits pretty within its niche. Not everything sticks completely in the brain, but on the high quality songs Voyager strike gold and will appeal to enthusiasts of the new direction progressive metal has taken. “V” is for Very Good.