Australia’s Voyager has stealthily grown into one of my favorite bands over the past five years. While I was suitably impressed by 2009s I Am the Revolution, I was utterly blown away by 2011s The Meaning of I, to which I gave an extremely rare perfect score. They have a very distinctive sound and approach to power-prog and their ear for melody and hooks is second only to Anubis Gate. Naturally, as the release of V grew near I became giddy like a school girl at a Justin Bieber kissing booth. Now I’ve spent some serious time with V and it actually comes close to my high expectations…at first. This is really a tale of two albums: the first half is one slick, smooth, memorable song after another, but the second half drops way off, becoming far more pedestrian and unremarkable. V also sacrifices heaviness for more poppish melodies and their musical palette seems less diverse than before, but when it works, it works very well. Unfortunately, that’s only about 60% of the time here.
The first six songs are all very good to great examples of power-prog as seen through Voyager‘s unique musical prism, but all are lighter and more restrained than their recent material. Opener “Hyperventilating” picks up right where The Meaning of I left off and has that same progtastic mix of smooth-as-silk vocals, offbeat riffing and melodious keyboards. It’s a strange song, but the kind Voyager does so well and it sticks in your head like a tick. Better still is “Breaking Down,” which has everything I love about this band in spades: heavy, twitchy riffing, twinkling keyboards and a big, emotional vocal performance.
Follow ups like ” A Beautiful Mistake,” “You the Shallow” and “Embrace the Limitless” are all high quality winners that will have power-prog fans in a tizzy. Then things go from nicey to dicey and while tracks like “The Domination Game” and “It’s a Wonder” are good and grow on you, it feels like something essential is missing. Others like “Peacekeeper,” “The Morning Light” and “Summer Always Comes Again” do almost nothing for me, and while they aren’t bad songs per se, they aren’t anywhere near Voyager‘s peak output and they border on filler.
The album is 54 minutes in length, but has about 36 minutes of prime, A-list material, and after the early run of great songs, the back-end really suffers by comparison. The inclusion of so many “B-Team” cuts really drags V down and instead of a short and awesome platter, we get a merely good one with chaff.
The individual performances are great and the band sounds as insanely tight as ever, though Daniel Estrin’s vocals once again steal the show. Yes, he sounds a lot like Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran), but he has a huge range and a true ear for vocal phrasing and hooks. He can give even the lesser songs a jolt of interest and he’s one of the best singers in this genre. The axe-work of Simone Dow and Scott Kay also impresses with loads of interesting riffs and emotive solos. The overall heaviness is less than it was and the nervous Voivod elements are mostly gone, but they still do fine job.
The production is once again mega-polished and clean enough to lick ice cream off of. As on The Meaning of I, it borders on sterile and mechanical, but it suits the music and hey, you don’t see many Dynamic Range scores of 9.
I certainly wish Voyager had cut some of the dead weight from V, but at least they deliver 3/4ths of a great album with some instant classics to add to their resume. Despite the middling score, I still highly recommend hearing this since the first half is so damn good and nobody can touch these cats when they’re in the groove. Oh well, it was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times??