Voyager are in a pretty darn good mood. As the Australian prog metallers speak down the phone from their home city Perth, you can hear guitarist Simone Dow’s infectious, bellowing belly laugh from the other side of the world as it picks up like gusts of wind, setting off her bandmates, too.
They have every right to be feeling jolly. They’re on the cusp of releasing the best album of their career, Ghost Mile. It seems, after six records and a slew of line-up changes, the band have finally found their groove.
“With each album it’s definitely been more and more of a band writing exercise, whereas it never used to be like that,” Dow says. “We’re writing in the jam room now, all five of us together. We’ve got the same line-up again, and it’s very cohesive.”
The only mainstay in Voyager since their inception in 1999 has been singer and keyboard player Daniel Estrin. “I used to be the youngest member of the band, but now I’m the oldest,” he quips.
Take a listen to the eye-wateringly compelling and catchy Ghost Mile and you can tell that Voyager have grown up. It’s focused and firm, leaning towards contemporary tech riffs for its gruffer moments, but still slathering itself with all the luminescent melody in the world.
Stomping lead track Ascension sounds defiantly massive as it juxtaposes snarly, pointed riffs with Estrin’s lofty, wouldn’t-sound-out-of-place-in-the-80s vocals, while What A Wonderful Day is an intriguing cocktail of electronic flourishes that exemplifies how Voyager aren’t ones to shy away from more typical song structures. Disconnected, meanwhile, explodes with snarling machine gun guitar work that actually wouldn’t sound out of place on a Meshuggah record.
Voyager’s line-up – completed by Scott Kay on guitar, drummer Ashley Doodkorte and bassist Alex Canion – has remained in place since their last album V, and you can tell, with their sound evolving organically after the record’s release in 2014.
The tech crew who worked on that album remained on board too, and the sound is truly fit for mainstream consumption, with its hues crisp and clear, booming and bright. It’s clinical without feeling colourless.
“I think it’s a natural progression from where we left off, and we seem to have been doing that with our last few albums,” Estrin says. “Just taking the main elements and building on that, and I’d say this is probably our most modern one to date. I think in terms of some of the things we’re trying, it’s also probably our most daring one. There are some pretty different things on there.”
“I don’t think it’s really a forced change, it just happened naturally, from what we’d been listening to,” Kay adds. “We’d been listening to a lot less of just heavy music in general, and as a group, listening to all kinds of other stuff. I think that’s kind of seeped its way into what we’re doing. It’s less of a strictly metal record – there’s all these different elements to it.”
Some of the influences swirling in the buzzing minds of Voyager during the writing of Ghost Mile included the likes of the djent-leaning Periphery and TesseracT, but there was ambient and indie too.
It’s a contrast to Voyager’s earliest material, which erred on the side of power metal, while later releases promoted a modern-day theatricality linked more with the likes of arena mainstays Avenged Sevenfold. Largely gone, too, is the gothic look which permeated some old promotional photos.
“I compare it to Pantera, because they started as a power metal band and went into a completely different direction,” Estrin says. “There are some similarities. Voyager started very much out of a genesis of power metal and progressive metal, and I think it’s come a long way from there. That wasn’t a conscious thing, it was a natural progression. It’s become what it has today.
“You can tell, even on the first few albums, there are some elements of what we’re doing now. But one thing that will never change is the catchy choruses, the big anthemic poppy top that Voyager is used to. We’ve combined that more with the heavy grooves and complex riffage underneath, to appease the prog fans and to make it more fun to play because otherwise you’d just be playing boring pop songs, and who wants to do that?”
The band quickly gained traction worldwide despite hailing from Australia, as they landed slots at the likes of the ProgPower festivals and were snapped up by Dutch label DVS.
They had to cut their teeth, though, playing local gigs alongside acts from genres like grindcore and death metal because of the compact size of the country’s scene at the time.
“It was almost a struggle to make an impact in Australia,” Estrin reflects. “Being an Australian band in the early days was really to our advantage, and we had a bit of a cult status I guess all over the world. The scene in Australia was really small back in the day. I guess we were sort of pioneers in starting it, and making melodic and progressive music that little bit more accessible. Now, I wouldn’t say it’s mainstream, but it’s a very healthy scene.”
This time around, Voyager are self-releasing their album, and perhaps highlighting how today’s industry is forcing musicians to explore new revenue streams, they launched a successful PledgeMusic campaign to offer fans pre-orders alongside unique items, such as signed gig banners and handwritten lyrics.
“I don’t see it as being too different to what the old funding model was, it’s just that we’re doing this without a label fronting money for pressing and everything like that,” Kay says.
“I don’t think labels front money anymore these days,” Estrin adds. “I think it’s very rare. It definitely changes the band’s need to approach things. But also, it’s a huge new world of opportunities that we didn’t have before the internet. I think gone are the days of Bon Jovi and the private jets of the 80s and massive record deals. I think it’s a completely different paradigm, a completely different framework in which we’re working.”
Despite the band hurtling down a more adventurous path in the last few years, Estrin knows that some naysayers still argue against Voyager being called prog. While he admits that might be because “we don’t have 17⁄8 time signatures going through the whole thing”, the Aussies have plenty going for them in the thinking-outside-the-box stakes.
It’s left-leaning music which isn’t afraid to take twists or turns, despite often tunnelling down the well-trodden, melody-ridden route of ‘verse, chorus, verse’.
“I don’t mind the progressive label,” the vocalist adds. “We are progressive in many ways – we’re constantly evolving musically and we do have a lot of complexity in our songs. It’s kind of like ABBA. They write amazing pop songs, but when you dissect them, they’re extremely complex inside. They have their complexity, to make their songs interesting, but also have that catchy pop element. If that’s progressive, I don’t know? Are ABBA a prog band? Possibly…”
“I guess what makes us experimental, if you want to call us that, is our willingness to try things and just be open-minded with ideas and see where they go,” adds Kay. “I wouldn’t say there’s any conscious effort to be deliberately experimental or different. It just seems to be a matter of the sum of our parts coming together and producing whatever it is that comes out.”
There is much to be optimistic about in the Voyager camp right now. They’ve been promoting their record on Australia’s live circuit alongside wacky electronic prog metallers The Algorithm, and you would expect a full global assault to follow.
It’s likely that those attending the Ghost Mile shows will leave high on life, heart lifted. And, most tellingly, stuck with Voyager songs rattling around their head for days.
“You want a hook,” Dow says. “That’s what grabs you when you listen to a band, either a catchy vocal hook or guitar lick. Then you’ve got bands like Meshuggah… they’re fantastic, but there’s not anything that’s hooky that’s going on. There’s a lot of fantastic bands that are like tech death, but I can’t listen to that all the time, because it’s just riff after riff after riff.
“I think what we’ve got special is the music that we write. It gets stuck in your head. Maybe that’s annoying to some people, but I think it’s a good trait to have.”
Ghost Mile is out now on IAV Records. See www.voyager-australia.com for more information.