Whether it’s serendipity at work or simply good planning ahead, the arrival of Voyager’s eighth album hot on the heels of their appearance at Eurovision seems like a case of striking while the iron is in the fire. So, is Fearless In Love the album that can help the band cross over to a wider, dare we say mainstream, audience? It certainly possesses plenty of qualities that should appeal beyond the borders of the prog world, with its big choruses and accessible melodies, but those are balanced out by fiery guitar solos and slamming breakdowns.
One common criticism of progressive rock is that the genre has become retrospective, forever harking back to its heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The birth of the form was a reaction to blues-based rock, experimenting with bringing in ideas from classical music and jazz. Yet subsequent generations have brought new approaches to the form, from the arrival of prog metal in the 1980s and then progressive death metal in the 1990s.
Now, the bands who seem most likely to carry prog into the future have their own distinctive influences to draw upon that inevitably result in a different sound. Voyager belong to the rising wave of forward-thinking prog bands like Leprous and Vola, drawing upon 1980s synthpop, dance music and djent to mix in with prog rock and metal.
Further to that point, it’s easy to hear similarities in the vocal styles of Voyager’s Danny Estrin and Einar Solberg from Leprous. While Estrin doesn’t have Solberg’s falsetto range, they possess similar tones and the ability to pour their emotions into their performance. One notable difference between the Australians and both Leprous and Vola is the overall mood of their music. Solberg has used recent Leprous albums and his solo release 16 to explore depression and battling his demons, while there can be darkness and catharsis in much of Vola’s music.
Fearless In Love, by contrast, has a much more uplifting, optimistic mood overall. It’s not all lollipops and rainbows; in The Lamenting Estrin looks back over a failed relationship, and Twisted finds the vocalist, ‘seeking resolution that may never come,’ as well as seeking answers to whether he’s good enough and strong enough.
Their Eurovision entry Promise is full of yearning, venturing into early Coheed And Cambria territory with Estrin pleading, ‘Promise me you’ll hold me ’til I die.’ Yet, the song’s chorus seems designed to get an arena or festival crowd bouncing in euphoria. There’s a second point of comparison between the two bands and their latest offerings. Coheed used pop-punk producer Zakk Cervini for last year’s Vaxis II: A Window Of The Waking Mind, giving them a contemporary pop sheen to their sound, particularly in the guitars. While Voyager have stuck with their regular co-producer Matt Templeman, Fearless In Love is a step further down the road from 2019’s Colours In The Sun, allowing them to give fuller expression to those moments when they reach for their 80s electro and synthpop influences.
The band will often begin a song with a pop beat, Twisted being a fine example, starting out with a synth melody and pulsing bass line that bring to mind such 80s chart titans as Frankie Goes To Hollywood or Pet Shop Boys, before the song shifts gear with the arrival of the guitars. The two competing influences of prog metal and pop work well together in the hooky yet heavy chorus, which encapsulates Voyager’s approach in a nutshell.
The songwriting maintains a consistently high standard throughout. Submarine is a standout, akin to Devin Townsend with its densely layered production, drop-tuned guitars, and huge, anthemic chorus. Prince Of Fire shows the band’s talent for building dynamic shifts into their arrangements. By turns it moves between drop-tuned djent heaviness, open expanses where the drums and bass carry the song, and a soaring chorus. Dreamer is a dance-metal chimera, and Daydream is a feelgood summer anthem that sounds custom built for outdoor festivals.
Purists who think that anything invented after the Mellotron constitutes sacrilege may not feel attuned to Voyager’s vibe, but if prog, in the widest sense of the genre, is to have a future beyond legacy acts and not become trapped in retrospection, looking to some heyday vanishing ever further into the past, it needs fresh ideas.
And it makes sense that musicians who grew up against the cultural backdrop of the rise of electronic music since the 1980s and modern developments like djent would find ways to reflect their experiences in their creativity. Voyager may have been denied a Eurovision victory, but Fearless In Love captures a band that’s buzzing with confidence, writing the most compelling and energised music of their career.
Fearless In Love is available to buy or stream. The original vinyl edition of Fearless in Love didn't include Promise because Voyager had yet to debut the Eurovision hit when the album went into production. A forthcoming vinyl album will include Promise: out on October 27. Pre-order here.