Voyager: ‘Fearless in Love’ Review
Have you ever read a review like this before?
It’s a broadly positive review for the Australian prog metal band Voyager’s new album Fearless in Love, so you probably have.
Cards on the table: I didn’t care much for Voyager at all – their studio stuff has never been bad to me but it’s just never landed. Nor did I have any interest in seeing them live – it took Ihlo being announced as an opening act for their intimate London show prior to their big Eurovision appearance for me to purchase a ticket. They were only a few songs into a really rather competent, energetic – but most of all, fun – live act when it dawned on me how wrong I was.
Presumably, I came away from that gig with a slightly altered brain chemistry since from that moment on, they just clicked which leaves the question of what this slightly-less-likely-to-win-a-Darwin Award version of myself makes of Voyager’s eighth étude. Normally I’d say the jury’s still out, but they seemed impressed enough to rank them sixth in the Eurovision competition…
Press play and you’re immediately greeted with The Best Intentions, which immediately sets the scene pretty well: a bevy of synths, a softly sung lone vocal by vocalist (and immigration lawyer – things we love to see) Daniel Estrin, some pretty well-utilised harmonies coming in to increase the power and just when these vibes hit their absolute peak they carry it home with some down-tuned riffery.
This is more or less the theme for the album, but Voyager manages to balance their wide bevy of influences from synthpop to extreme metal pretty well so it doesn’t really come across as samey. The journey (or voyage, if you will) the album takes you on presents plenty of variety – single Prince of Fire does a great job at doubling down on the heaviness of the earlier track, but adds a bit more dynamic flourish and some great backing vocals from bassist Alex Canion, one of the numerous strong performances from him on this record.
The one-two punch of The Best Intentions and Prince of Fire is promptly bested by Ultraviolet, an album highlight that showcases the band firing on all cylinders. This is the most “extreme metal” song on the album, even aided by the visceral bellowing of Make Them Suffer vocalist Sean Harmanis (I didn’t suffer through this song at all so he’s clearly not doing his job properly). The absolute peak of Harmanis trading growls with a catchy Estrin hook is such a great early curveball on the record and the first of a few surprising choices to come.
Then we come to what I’m officially unofficially referring to as “the Eurovision bits” – Dreamer through Promise acts as something of a reversal of the earlier, heavier vibes – they’re still in play but take more of a backseat to some great hooks and grooves. Of course, if you know what Eurovision is you’ve probably heard at least one of these tracks – but if you haven’t, it’s the band at the peak of their pop powers. Dreamer is a great anthem that I can personally confirm destroys live to the point that this studio treatment feels somewhat pared down – a strong offering compositionally and presumably good food for the Eurovision gods.
While The Lamenting does an okay job of bridging the gap between “the Eurovision bits” it’s the aptly-titled Submarine that showcases the most depth of this subset of tracks. A welcome upbeat detour in an album of predominantly more atmospheric tracks, a strong hook carries itself well before leading into a tastefully performed guitar-keytar-guitar solo and a vocal from Canion that would make Devin Townsend blush.
Which brings us of course, to Promise. You’ve all heard this one so I won’t dwell on it too much but it does feel like a culmination in two parts – of a lot of different aspects of Voyager’s vibrant sonic palette first of all, skilfully balancing hooks and heaviness. Equally, Promise is a statement of tenacity from a band that has tried to make Eurovision every year since Australia first received an invite. It screams “we’re here, deal with it” in a way that few bands can – songs like this one and Dreamer, alongside their Eurovision performances, dutifully demonstrate that Voyager are an arena band waiting to happen.
The triple threat of Twisted, Daydream and Listen feel almost tied together thematically and do a wonderful job of adding flavour to the mix – which, speaking of, is pretty excellent. Every element falls into place beautifully – Matthew Templeman and Simon Struthers seem to really understand how to take this more anthemic form of metal and really make it pop on record. Of this final third, Twisted and Listen do quite literally the heaviest lifting but are also the record’s strongest showcases of guitar duo Simone Dow and Scott Kay, with the latter track boasting a dual guitar solo that just oozes charm. The album climaxes with its semi-titular Gren (Fearless in Love), another peak for Estrin and his vocals. The synth swirls underneath a sorrowful lyric and eventually a chuggy riff sets in to bring us home. Estrin asks us one final question before the album leaves our earholes – “so, are you with me?” and I think my answer is yes.
I’ve given a lot of my growing praise so far but I should note: this record may be Fearless but it’s not flawless – inevitably there are nitpicks. Daydream was such a groovy song that part of me was disappointed they didn’t lean into it and go fully into a funk break, and The Lamenting feels like a somewhat lost track compared to the flashier cuts either side of it. Most of all though, Fearless in Love is an album that establishes that Voyager have two extremely competent frontmen – but doesn’t fully capitalise on that outside of a few key moments (the climaxes of Submarine and Promise being the most obvious). On the inevitable ninth album I’d love to see more of a vocal split, there’s enough vocal versatility to be mined there that it just makes sense to me – and I hope it does for the band, too.
Having said that, and just overall, Fearless in Love is an impressive showcase of a long-tenured band still going strong and refining their established sound without feeling like a parody of themselves or falling into complacency. Tracks like Ultraviolet and Promise do well to demonstrate a good chunk of variety, and they really do balance their synthpop and metal influences well across this record while maintaining flair and charm. An impressive feat eight albums in. But fundamentally, this is a record with a lot of heart and personality in it and one that reveals its depth in repeat listens. In a subset of the genre where bands can sometimes sound almost mechanical these days, it’s refreshing for Voyager to put out a record that fearlessly channels the human spirit and I’m really eager to see this energy carried forward in future records.