Album Title: Fearless In Love
Label: Season Of Mist
Date of Release: 14 July 2023
What better way to kick-start my writing again, than with the latest album by the band that previously pulled me out of the doldrums during the pandemic? Voyager, and specifically their kind and charismatic frontman Danny Estrin, invited me to an online show during lockdown when I was struggling to even function, let alone write. It was the catalyst to get myself back on my feet and start feeling better about life. Whilst things are nowhere near as bad currently, I have still struggled to regain my mojo for writing. Kids, the career, and social media’s concerted attempts to make it ever more difficult to succeed without endlessly deep pockets have all conspired to make my passion almost impossible to continue. However, buoyed by a myriad of lovely comments from followers, and this record, I have to give it another try.
‘Fearless In Love’ is the title of this, the eighth studio album of Voyager’s career, and first since they captured the imagination of Europe and the world with an electric performance at Eurovision 2023. Finishing in the top ten, their success was down to a blend of natural charisma and great songwriting – not bad for a progressive synth-pop metal band from Perth, Western Australia.
Their chosen song, ‘Promise’ features on ‘Fearless In Love’, alongside ‘Dreamer’, the song they penned for the 2022 competition where, had it not been for the ‘expert’ panel, they’d have graced our screens (and the world’s consciousness) much sooner. I won’t go into these in great detail as they are well-known and, in my opinion, high quality tracks, showcasing the Australians’ ability to blend instantly hummable, 80s-inspired pop with some crushing, yet slick modern prog metal, all wrapped up in a warm blanket of feel-good nostalgia.
And that’s where the remainder of the album comes in, because the remaining nine songs continue the theme, albeit with a few tweaks to Voyager’s unmistakeable and rather unique sound. The quintet have rarely stood still, sometimes gently, sometimes markedly pushing the confines, blurring the edges, and testing what’s possible within their own personal environs. ‘Fearless In Love’ is no different in this respect, being at once a different beast, whilst also offering the kind of listening experience that only they seem to be able to deliver.
I wasn’t too keen on the opening track, ‘The Best Intentions’ when I first heard it, especially the central chorus and the opening synth-heavy introduction. What I did like immediately though, was the production, particularly the warmth and the sharp clarity that was evident from the get-go. But it was the sound of the heavier guitar riffs courtesy of Scott Kay and Simone Dow that won me over fully, starting with the riff that enters at around the 45-second mark, and then later the chunky, slower, doomy tones that arrive nearer the two-minute mark. From there, I have not looked back, embracing the song, and finding myself singing along to it at every given opportunity. As with all Voyager albums before it, the magic can take a little time to be teased out, but it’s always worth that little extra effort.
The situation was different almost immediately with follow-up ‘Prince Of Fire’, the mixture of bright synths and gigantic riffs setting the track off to an immediately brilliant start. I love the repetitive nature of the vocal lines from Estrin, alongside some bruising bass work from Alex Canion. As the song develops, I’m drawn to the drumming of Ash Doodkorte which is both deft and thunderous, whilst the melodies are infectious, albeit tinged with a slight sense of melancholy.
The 80s influence come even more to the fore within ‘Ultraviolet’, a slow burning monster that’s both playful and vicious at the same time. The track features a guest appearance from Make Them Suffer vocalist Sean Harmanis who adds his Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid-like growls to the latter stages, but it is the lead guitar work at the death of the song that sends shivers down my spine, mimicking the vocals perfectly.
Unsurprisingly, given the name of the track, ‘The Lamenting’ carries with it a much melancholier vibe, aided by a descanting central chorus and a synth-drenched mid-section that’s leaves you in no doubt as to the band’s love of the sadly defunct Type O Negative. And, if that wasn’t enough, the churning, roiling closing riff is utterly fantastic, providing a suitably heavy and claustrophobic ending to a wonderful song.
In press releases and interviews around the release of ‘Fearless In Love’, Voyager were keen to suggest that the album was much more cinematic and perhaps a little more grandiose than previous records. This sentiment is not ill-placed either, with ‘Submarine’ just one of a number of tracks underlining this aspect nicely. It’s a more up-beat track overall, with a whimsical feel to it, but the richness and depth to the keys leaves you in no doubt that Voyager have deliberately sought to explore this cinematic path more purposefully than ever before. And yes, it works. The blend of 80s exuberance, metal bite, and subtle theatrical tendencies creates something rather special indeed.
The Gothic undertones elsewhere become brazen overtones within ‘Twisted’, especially the bold, ear-catching intro led by the superb voice of Estrin. Interestingly, to my ears, the chorus that emerges, complete with powerful double-pedal drumming, is arguably the closest-sounding to previous Voyager material. The lead solo is pure metal gold, all wailing and gnashing, with a killer final high note. And then…oh boy…that riff. Hands down my favourite moment on the entire album, it is groovy as hell, infectious, and as I can attest, sounds spectacular at high volume in the car. This is the kind of music for which the ‘repeat’ button was invented.
I love the way that Voyager manage to name their songs so accurately at times, with ‘Daydream’ sounding a lot lighter and airier, as if floating effortlessly through the speakers. That’s no mean feat when you consider how powerful much of the song is, let me tell you. However, unless I’m mistaken, ‘Daydream’ plunders more of an AOR vibe, mixed with a touch of classic 80s hair metal especially in the delicious chorus and associated melodies.
‘Listen’ and ‘Gren (Fearless In Love)’ close out the album, and they do so in wonderous fashion. The former is another firm favourite of mine, the guitar riffs making a big impression on me, along with the bittersweet sentiment of the track. I love it, but when Alex Canion’s bass, and then Scott Kay and Simone Dow’s lead guitars enter the fray to duel, I sense a sad vibe to the song. The closing minute where Estrin repeats the line ‘don’t I feel better now?’ alongside orchestral-style synths only underlines the sadness that I feel. It’s intoxicating, but strangely emotional, too.
The same could be said for the quasi-title track, which ends the album on an exquisite note, albeit drenched in more of that bittersweet emotion. The dreamlike qualities to the song dovetail with the heavier elements perfectly, acting as a final example of the exemplary songwriting and performances of a band at the very height of their powers. And if you wanted a final perfect example to demonstrate those grandiose cinematic elements, this is the way to do it boys and girls.
I promised myself when I made a return to reviewing music, that I’d try to write shorter reviews. Well, that didn’t really work out did it? Damn. However, I will keep this conclusion as brief as possible. Earlier in the review, I suggested that a particular riff within a particular song was the kind of music for which the ‘repeat’ button was invented. I wish to revise this: ‘Fearless In Love’, as an album, is the kind of record for which the ‘repeat’ button was invented. All of it. Every song. Every minute. I love this band, and I love these guys. I’m so grateful to have them and their spectacular, peerless music in my life.
The Score of Much Metal: 97%