What’s to like?
If you’re partial to a bit of metal, a bit of prog, and a dollop of pop, and enjoy hearing it all mashed up into something that’s heavy AND catchy as hell, then why not share a journey with Australian band Voyager along the Ghost Mile, in what might well turn out to be one of my favourite albums this year.
The low down
Social media throws so much stuff at us these days, and even joining a niche music group page like Prog Magazine Readers doesn’t seem to thin down the flow of new releases trying to grab your attention. So sometimes it takes an exceptional track to rise above the clamour, quicken your pulse and then stay with you for days after.
Which is as good a way as any to introduce the new album Ghost Mile from Aussie band Voyager. Their PR team have been steadily plugging the single Ascension as a taster of the album to come, and no matter how full my daily playlist got, I kept going back to Youtube just to get another hit of that song. So much so that I’ve ended up pre-ordering the album.
This is album number six from Voyager, so clearly I have a bit of catching up to do, but if like me you’re new to the band then Ghost Mile is a good starting block. The band describe their music as “heavy, progressive…very poppy and catchy, and has a sort of 80s atmosphere and ambience”, and that chimes with my reaction after watching the promo video for opening track Ascension:
As an introductory number it works really well, setting out the stall for the nine tracks that follow, so if you like the video taster for Ascension then read on….
The band have woven a theme around the album, exploring the significance of daily life on Earth compared to what’s going on in the rest of the universe, but it doesn’t appear to be a concept album. Rather, Ghost Mile works as a collection of strong songs that hang together well, either in their album running order or as a random shuffle.
And that’s where I think Voyager score big time. They’ve got the musical chops to nail the ‘djent’ sound (palm-muted guitar playing) and tricky time signatures, but whereas other bands seem to think that’s enough to get by on, Voyager take it to the next level by filtering those elements to serve the song, and not the other way round.
If the opening track is the catchy number to grab your attention, then Ghost Mile’s title track is its heavier brother, with a more overtly riff-driven arrangement. I liked the song’s structure with its combination of fast verses, interspersed with a mid-tempo chorus to give the listener a brief pause for quiet reflection, before the drums accelerate things with some very precise blast beats. The sound here is huge, and will appeal to fans of Devin Townsend. Here’s the promo video:
By complete contrast, What A Wonderful Day dials down on the epic and ramps up the dance beats. If the DJ spun this one, I wouldn’t have any hesitation in getting onto the dancefloor to groove to this one. But there’s still plenty of guitar and real drum and bass to keep it real, and it’s another string to Voyager’s bow that they can be so versatile without appearing to miss a beat. Dance-Djent anyone?
Having listened to the album several times over, the thing that impresses the most is how well Voyager put their music together. It’s dynamic, exciting, melodic and uplifting, and never strays into indulgent soloing, with the song itself being the primary focus. It’s also really well produced. The album has an openness and clarity that makes it a treat for the ears, without compromising on the depth needed for the down-tuned guitars and bass-kick drumming.
I also really like how Daniel Estrin‘s singing comes across strongly and clearly, almost like the glue that seals the finished product when all the other parts have been fitted seamlessly together. He’s got a great range which complements the more adventurous moments in the music without needing to resort to screaming, and the clarity of the soundmix means you can hear when he’s pouring heart and soul into a particular line.
The only time I feel there’s a mis-step is when bassist Alex Canion adds the occasional backing growl for added emphasis. I personally don’t have a problem with growls, and accept that for a lot of metal bands these days it comes with the territory, but the music here is so strong and melodic that the growl doesn’t add anything.
I wouldn’t let it put you off the music though – it only amounts to a fleeting couple of moments purely for effect – because the focus is very much on singing. In fact, if you want a reference point, a lot of the vocals reminded me of Tears For Fears and those uplifting harmony choruses so closely associated with Anathema.
The other band that sprang to mind is TesseracT – if you like their style of contemporary metal then I reckon you’ll get a kick out of Voyager as well. The two bands share a common musical DNA with their down-tuned guitar sound and shifting tempos, but whereas TesseracT lean more towards the proggier end of things with a mix of extended arrangements and ambient interludes, Voyager are clearly going for the more focussed catchy pop hooks. Yet they do it in a way that never feels like they’re compromising or selling their abilities short. After five albums they clearly recognise their strengths and Ghost Mile feels like a fully formed collection of songs by a band comfortable in their skin.
And I’ll bet these songs sound great live. I’ve watched a couple of videoclips of earlier tours and the band have a buzz and energy onstage, and once you hear the album it’s not much of a stretch to imagine how quickly any of these ten songs will get people on their feet. The band are in the process of arranging UK tour dates for later in the year – they’re travelling a long long way from home to share their music, so hopefully Ghost Mile will do the business, raise their profile and encourage a good turnout at their gigs.
You can keep an eye on developments at their website here:
I discovered Voyager completely out of the blue, and yet the music on Ghost Mile has quickly climbed to the top of my crowded playlist in such an invigorating way that recalls the excitement when we first discover new music in our teenage years. Ain’t life full of surprises?