Coming off the heels of the Trapped Under Ice compilation, Traveler released their debut self-titled album on February 22nd. The timing could not be more perfect, in similar fashion to the quality of this LP. Dig in to some sci-fi retro heavy metal madness.
I’m calling it right now, 2019 will be the year for modern traditional heavy metal. The Canadian Trapped Under Ice compilation released earlier in January and kicked this wave in motion, I believe. The Temple of Mystery Records release got a pretty welcoming reception, even outside of the Great White North. While the compilation did feature some more established bands, the majority seemed to be newcomers with smaller discographies. Luckily for us, discography size doesn’t correlate with music quality, and a lot of these bands will probably make use of their publicity by releasing more material this year.
Traveler was one of these bands, with only a mere demo and two-track split released prior to the full-length in question (their split with Finnish heavy metal group Coroner consisted of three tracks that made it to the album we’re reviewing, so they really only have one additional song). Based in Calgary, they share territory of black/thrash inquisitors Blackrat as well as the blackened Goathammer, two other bands I recommend from the region. But enough of them, its time to talk about the new Traveler.
People seem to be talking a lot about this release, and for good reason. Traveler consists of eight traditional heavy metal anthems which work together to attain a cohesive focus on quality as well as diversity.
On the discussion of diversity, the band have certainly honed in on their sound with this full-length, however they incorporate a fairly long list of different sonic elements that help to shake things up. Traveler break apart from the opening trio of songs with “Konamized,” a fun instrumental jam. There’s also some slower numbers on here, a whole lot of fast ones, and even some melodic guitar doodling to help open a track or two.
All of this is built on top of a sturdy base of strong song quality and impeccable vocals, of course. One of the highlights here is certainly Jean-Pierre Abboud’s singing display. Operating with prowess, control, and equal ferocity when required, I don’t think I could have asked for much more within the vocal department. There’s really a best of both worlds here, with Abboud hitting the mark with appropriate intensity when the instrumentation speeds up a bit, while he also produces catchy, more high-pitched choruses as an offset.
I believe that the song choruses deserve a discussion, so I’ll elaborate on that. Unfortunately, the opening three numbers, “Starbreaker,” “Street Machine,” and “Behind The Iron,” all suffer from chorus repetition and a general repetition of song structure. The issue certainly isn’t drastic, especially since the group’s songwriting couldn’t be closer to on point, but I could see this triple opening grouping growing stale after a few listens. Luckily, there’s enough variance to be found within the rest of the tracks. I believe that the group is aware of this fault, at least judging by the peculiar placement of the stereotypical two-minute instrumental track, “Konamized.” Instrumentals like these are usually placed right before the closing number, which is a trend that by all means isn’t a hard rule, but there was definitely careful thought put into its placement.
Another redeeming factor lies behind the chorus style as well as its calculated payoff. The choruses often operate via repetition of the relative song title, which usually is a turn off when overused and is generally a symptom of laziness, but the manner by which the choruses were choreographed here makes up for the potential negatives. Again going back to Abboud, his high-pitched screams are incredibly addictive, and he uses the technique pretty much every time the song title is sung during the chorus payoff.
Furthermore, the band seems to enjoy injecting a catchy riff into the chorus section, which can be seen on “Street Machine,” as well as a few other numbers. These two factors condition the listener to look forward to the chorus, which is traditionally the whole point of a chorus, but since metal is an untraditional genre, this element is often overlooked. Of course, we’re listening to traditional heavy metal, so choruses are big here. Good work.
“Speed Queen,” the album’s closing track, is probably one of my favourite numbers on this release. Actually, I’m pretty sure the song is a reference to Deep Purple’s “Speed King,” but I’m not quite sure. It opens with blistering fashion, and slowly cools down into a prolonged bluesy lead guitar solo over the course of it’s six-minute runtime. Its a nice closing number that doesn’t sacrifice song quality for wrapping up the album in an elegant manner, but it still feels like a closing track.
The album does get a little similar sounding within its similar sounding portions. I mentioned diversity earlier in the review, and Traveler does contain a slew of different elements, but when the songs wind back to Traveler’s traditional heavy metal core, they seem to sound somewhat interchangeable at times. This is a minor qualm, however, but I also haven’t listened to the album all that excessively, so it might be a symptom of a larger inherent flaw. I’ll let you decide, although it wouldn’t deter me from ordering a physical copy, as the release is still very solid.
Ultimately, Traveler is a strong and memorable debut from our Calgarian boys. I was a little harsh on this one, but I really do recommend it for any fans of traditional heavy metal. Let’s see how contemporary efforts within the subgenre will compare within the coming year.