Traveler - Traveler - (9.5/10)
Published on January 19, 2019
Blinding Light…How it Burns my Eyes
Last year, I wrote glowingly of Traveler’s debut demo, consisting of 3 supremely excellent traditional metal songs, including what I considered to be undoubtedly the best trad metal song of 2018, “Starbreaker.” Traveler has wasted no time in parlaying the success and critical praise for their demo into a debut album. All three of the songs from the demo are present on the album, which, at first glance, both made sense to me and had me worried. It makes sense: that’s what demos are for! Bands record demos so that they can get some hype, feel out interest in their music, and relay that into more high-profile releases. It had me worried: What if the three demo tracks are all they have in them? What if they’re just going to fold in a bunch of filler and half-baked songs with those three amazing demo tracks, resulting in a mediocre album with extremely high highs?
Luckily, my concerns were in vain—Traveler’s debut is a towering example of modern trad and an early—strong—contender for album of the year 2019.
The album begins with what I consider Traveler’s signature song, “Starbreaker.” It’s really kind of hard to overstate how excellent this song is, with its incredibly catchy vocal melodies (“How it Burns my eyeeeeeees,” will never fail to get me stoked), cavalcade of melodic heavy metal riffs, and overall balls-out energy and power. I don’t know if there are any traditional metal songs released in the past several years that surpass what Traveler has accomplished with this song. Since I had listened to the demo tracks about 13,000 times by the time I listened to the debut, what I was really concerned about here was not whether the songs were good—I already knew they were fantastic—I was concerned about any changes to the songs from demo form, where they were basically perfect. Thankfully, Traveler does not change the production very much from the demo. The album may sound a bit more polished than the demo, but they didn’t shine these songs up to high gloss simply because this is a full-length instead of a demo. The production is still gritty while allowing room for all of the instruments—and vocals—to shine.
After the utter perfection of “Starbreaker,” we are treated to the first non-demo track, “Street Machine,” which is a driving anthem with a unique structure. The song presents a first verse and chorus—interrupted by a brief but searing solo—before centering around an epic instrumental section in the middle of the song, then doubling back to the verse and chorus. My worries faded immediately upon hearing “Street Machine” as to whether Traveler had more in them than the demo. Holy shit this song is excellent. Next we’ve got another demo track, the parable of a life lived violently, “Behind the Iron,” which features a tricky dance between chunky tremolo riffing and balletic melodic riffs—and some of the best vocal melodies on the album.
Speaking of vocal melodies, JP Abboud (Formerly of Borrowed Time and currently also of Gatekeeper) continues his reign of terror on this album. He modulates his voice all over the map depending on the circumstances, from professorial baritones to throat-shredding, Painkiller-esque screams. The man has an unbelievable voice and showcases why he is one of the best modern trad vocalists across the album.
Getting back to tracks, “Konamized” is a brief and poetic instrumental a la “Transylvania” or (funny enough) “Transylvanian Twilight” by Wolf. It’s a rip-roaring good time. “Up to You,” the shortest track with vocals on the album, puts forth some great guitar interplay between hammer-on riffs and chunky down-picked notes, followed by some awesome galloping riffs that are sure to give you mean face (that face you make when a song makes you want to pull out a laser gun and fight intergalactic crime). Might as well mention the incredible solo on “Up to You,” which is by no means out of place on this album. I am consistently amazed at the quality, style, and skill contained in Traveler’s guitar solos. Every song has at least one—and oftentimes quite a few—shockingly good solos.
“Fallen Heroes” is the only track that employs a mid-paced groove for most of the song’s duration, which gives a nice breather in the middle of a frantic album. Of course, right in the middle there is a frenzied solo section with some awe-inspiring militaristic riffs before locking back into the groove, which adds a lot of color to the song. It also sounds more inspired by poppy metal of the 80’s, another unique feature in the context of the album. The slower grooves give the drums a chance to shine more than they do on the rest of the album. The song’s also got some interesting philosophical content about what actually makes a hero and humanity’s interesting fetish with the dead and their merits. The penultimate track, “Mindless Maze,” begins with the only clean-guitars of the album, but they make their mark. The clean melodies of the electric guitars are circled by some beautiful bass soloing that lulls one into a false sense of peace before the main riff slaughters any semblance of a break. “…Maze” is a dizzying display of riffing prowess and a master-class in varying vocal lines to create a dramatic and emotional ride.
I didn’t think anything could follow “Mindless Maze,” but, shockingly, Traveler found the perfect closer in “Speed Queen,” which sounds like the love-child of late seventies Priest and Painkiller-era Priest. The chorus could easily be Rob Halford in his prime, and after the second chorus a couple chords ring out that signal something big is coming, and it does. The boys bust out the best riff that Riot forgot to write for Rock City, followed by some of the most righteous solos on the album. “Speed Queen” is like the late 70’s were teleported to space and given a makeover by aliens traveling at light-speed to another galaxy.
FYI, this is the demo version. No new version of Starbreaker is available that I know of yet…
Though I’ve focused mostly on the riffing and vocals, the bass and drums play an integral role in this album. The bass tone is extremely aggressive, a metallic battering ram jumbling beneath the riffs on every song. I didn’t think the drumming was all that special on the demo, but listening with renewed ears to this album, the drums are filled with beautiful cymbal flourishes and subtle shifts that change the tone of songs on a dime. The rhythm section is essential to the sound of this heavy metal behemoth.
Everything about this album is phenomenal. Every song has several adrenaline-pumping vocal lines, an avalanche of riffs, complementary bass work, and propulsive drums. I doubt anyone could possibly be disappointed with what Traveler have produced here after their promising demo. This feels like a band who took their influences, honored them, and created something that feels both familiar and completely new at the same time. They completely live up to the hype, creating what I believe is destined to be a modern trad classic.