Review: Traveler‘s debut is a Starbreaking smash
“BIG RIFF FUCK POWER.” – Sepulcrustacean, 2019
Streaking across the heavens, straight into the dawn, sounding like a banger and straight into your skulls, Traveler’s debut album is one of 2019’s first smash hit albums. Debuting last year with a three song promo, these fiery starbreakers burst onto the scene with a straight shooter of fast melodic riffing backing up the commanding voice of veteran Canadian metal banshee J. Priest best known nowadays as the voice of epic metal barbarians Gatekeeper. However he’d previously made a name for himself with cult favourite bewitchers Borrowed Time and even a short live stint in epic doomcult Funeral Circle. Traveler however bears few similarities to these, blazing a trail of its own comparable only in terms of the earnest intensity they bring to today’s heavy metal battlefield. Where the others are steeped in mystical and ornate atmosphere, Traveler is nothing more but nearly 40 minutes of sheer concentrated firepower aimed right at the pulsing and fervent imagination that drives the everlasting love for the magic that has kept this style alive far past its perceived date of passing.
It’s a little difficult to describe their sound in specific detail as Traveler is roughly about as straightforward as you can get for classic heavy/power metal. In a general sense the self-titled could be described as semi speed metal oriented late 80’s American style power metal. It’s energetic and lively, verse-refrain-chorus oriented, and heavily driven by muscular guitar work and atmosphere-breaching wailed singing. That’s it really. Of course, my bosses will feed me into to the giant spider pit and replace me with a near-identical clone if I leave this part of the review at that so I’ll go on a little further. For most of you Priest will be the star of the show with his explosive if soulful wail. His sky-high range and gritty tone are as memorable as ever but here he emphasizes his Rob Halford esque shrieks in contrast to a smoother baritenor wail; sheer force and articulation are not in short supply. On the technique front, a lot of comparisons will inevitably be drawn to Defenders of the Faith’s hardest hitting moments with axe-swings Matt Ries and Toryin Schadlich embedding punchy leads into compact uptempo riffing, though the fast picked attack and flourishing lead patterns at times have a similar vibe to American acts such as Liege Lord, Omen, and earlier Savatage. The rhythm section, consisting of ex-Striker bassist Steve Arnold and drummer Chad Vallier, don’t get quite as many moments to shine but be on the lookout for a number of tasty fills especially for the midpaced tracks and neat low-register licks to emerge when the guitars let up at a few key moments.
Each of the eight tracks here are all like their own little action-packed gung ho adventures and to anyone who’s spent a decent amount of time looking up 80’s metal gems it won’t be uncharted territory. That doesn’t stop it from being executed with a furiousness that’s often lacking or outright absent today. Alien Armageddon anthem “Starbreaker” encapsulates their sound perfectly, bursting right out of the gate with a series of ear-piercing screams and a simple, punchy power chord verse before a series of smoother riffs and cleaner sung notes to contrast and build into a grim, forlorn chorus. The two songs afterwards follow a similar pattern, culminating in the short instrumental blazer “Konamized” but don’t think that fire dies down when the tempo drops. “Up to You” and “Fallen Heroes” show their ear for keeping this sense of majesty at lower tempos. The former plays on a few stompy chords, layering hazy after-image harmonies as they progress into the title-referencing howl of a chorus. The latter goes to the slowest the album ever has, entering the take-out-your-lighter fistpump territory and letting Priest do much of the heavy lifting with a near constant high register banshee attack, reaching absurd and almost painful extremes with the sheer emotive power bleeding from his throat. Ending the album are perhaps its strongest tracks. “Mindless Maze” manages to be fast and powerful yet it demonstrates their strength with more thoughtful, introspective subject matter and carefully building and resolving tension, going for a chorus that’s oddly tranquil in spite of the driving guitar work. “Speed Queen” is another blazer like from the album’s first half but it works through carefully linking an infectious melody across verses and refrains, flattening itself underneath desperately forlorn cry from Priest in one of the album’s most emotionally poignant moments.
Pulling no punches but armed to the teeth, Traveler’s self-titled debut was the first album this year I really enjoyed and a promises many great things in the future for this act. It’s nothing “new” in a novelty sense yet as more and more so called NWOTHM bands that are 90% weaksauce sugar-hooks and 10% halfway memorable riffs begin clogging youtube and bandcamp, these Canadians are a refreshing listen that manages to be accessible and immediate without making any compromises. To improve, a wider degree of songwriting would definitely help them expand on their core ideas as the album’s second half displays a finesse that you wouldn’t initially expect them to possess. More room for the bass and drumming to let loose would also be a nice change of pace as we only really see what they’re capable of in fleeting glances. However these are barely even nitpicks and not much is detracted from their accomplishments here. If you’re looking for riff driven and actually-sung metal this year that never veers into thrash territory even at its most intense, Traveler is your go to band.