Another month, another retro band dropping an album on our doorstep. Do we need more retro bands? Actually, we need more of every kind of band, if they’re capable of writing great songs. That will be the key here, as local (to me) boys Traveler aim to blow the lid off the retro/proto scene with eight songs of caffeine-injected, high-energy metallic romps down memory lane. In this case, if that lane had a name, it would be Manilla Road (see what I did there?). Traveler is the band’s eponymous debut, and follows last year’s incredibly rough yet promising three song demo. Those songs are present here, re-recorded “with real drums!” as the band says, but still on a shoestring budget.1 The question posed here is, will the songs be strong enough to make us want to keep coming back to the well?
Yes and no. Every song here is a high-energy, no-holds-barred, no-shits-given attack on our ears, like the aforementioned Manilla Road production ethos combined with the up-tempo material of Dawnbringer. In fact, Jean-Pierre Abboud sounds remarkably similar to Chris Black, and the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the songs is stellar. Opening track “Starbreaker,” one of the reworked demo songs, is a pure, old-school NWOBHM gallop complete with twin guitar harmonies and Abboud’s killer vocals. There’s no let-up anywhere on Traveler, either. “Street Machine” is reminiscent rhythmically of early Iron Maiden, and “Behind the Iron” even reminds one of “Back in the Village.” Not bad comparisons, and even with the production and performances being rough around the edges, the songs have a certain charisma and charm about them—we can’t help but enjoy listening.
Later on in the album, Traveler do bring some attempts at dynamics into play. “Fallen Heroes” could be considered a mid-paced song, led by a simple, harmonized riff. Abboud still attacks the lyrics with verve and aplomb, and the pace picks up beautifully in the middle of the song, as though the band can’t help but go full tilt eventually. “Mindless Maze” features a token slow, clean guitar intro, yet blasts onwards after a minute. At over six minutes, it could be considered the album’s epic track. And as if the energy on these first seven songs hasn’t been enough, closing track “Speed Queen” ups the ante, delivering a near-thrash breakneck cut to bring proceedings to an end.
The songs here on Traveler are close to great throughout, suffering only from questionable production choices and length. Only two of these eight cuts are under four and a half minutes (one being a brief instrumental flurry), and when they’re all high energy metallic jackhammers, they can outlive their joy just slightly. It’s a messy, raucous, and glorious low-budget recording, and while that’s fine, one still has to produce carefully. Often on Traveler we find Abboud’s vocals vying for space in the midrange frequencies with the rhythm guitars. This could be cleaned up while maintaining the proto-metal ascetic.
What stands out consistently with Traveler is the energy and joy in Abboud’s vocals, the taut, go-for-it, rhythm section, and the blistering solos. Listening to this 40-minute blast of energy leaves me exhausted yet smiling; the band’s vigor is infectious. The song writing is strong, and shows that with a tweak here and a tightening there, Traveler could be onto something on their next album. If you’re looking for a band with the proto-metal style and feel of Manilla Road, the up-tempo energy of early Iron Maiden, and the Dawnbringer take on the whole retro scene, Traveler might just be your thing.