In the realm of intelligent prog-metal, Voyager has been one of my favorites since 2009s I Am the Revolution. Their ability to blend traditional metal ideas with extraneous elements from death, power and djent always impressed me, but their ear for catchy, tight writing really made them stand out. Nowhere was this more apparent than on 2011s The Meaning of I, which earned a very rare 5.0 rating from yours truly. I still spin that album regularly and marvel at how diverse and addicting it remains 6 years later. I was somewhat let down by followup V, but it was still a solid album in its own right with some remarkable songs. I hoped the band would rebound and release another classic platter of thoughtfully oddball material, and while their sixth album, Ghost Mile isn’t quite their best work to date, it’s an exceptionally, entertaining and unusual album full of twists, turns and quirks.
“Ascension” eases you into the album with a calming, sedate version of Voyager that sounds, dare I say, mature. The soothing sounds get increasingly jangled and proggy as things progress, the band’s many quirks surface, and before you know it, sweet melodic plucking gives way to creepy black metal riffing and death roars appear alongside Daniel Estrin’s crystal clear vocals. What strikes you is how effectively they herd all these cat-like disparate elements into a cohesive song that ends up so catchy and unforced. That’s always been their specialty and they’ve lost nothing off their fastball. “Misery is Only Company” is a classic Voyager tune, full of vocal hooks akin to Tears for Fears and ear wormy melodies with just enough edge and heaviness to keep it urgent. If the chorus isn’t stuck in your head after one spin, you need a new head.
“The Fragile Serene” is almost like a heavy Yes song and Estrin’s vocals actually get very close to Jon Anderson’s at times. The title track is an odd, moody and convoluted tune mixing indie rock, djent and even blastbeats. As heavy as the music can get at times, it’s so melodic and accessible, it’s a remarkable feat of engineering. “What a Wonderful Day” goes way offbeat with what sounds like a progged-up re-imagining of Louis Armstrong‘s classic “What a Wonderful world.” It’s a cheery, relentlessly upbeat song but manages to work death roars in at unexpected times for added WTF? The album closes out very strong with moody rockers, “This Gentle Earth (1981)” and “As the City Takes the Night;” the former dabbles in radio ready indie rock for an irresistible anthem, while the latter has a darker, melancholy vibe.
While the album works very well as a whole, “Disconnected” is a bit underwhelming, though far from a skippable track. At a tight 44 minutes, Ghost Mile is a very agile, fast-moving spin and the diverse material gives a sheen of unpredictability and keeps interest high. As usual, the band employs a hyper-clear, sterile production with every instrument clearly audible, but the guitars could stand to be dialed back a bit in the mix. Would more grit and nastiness in the sound add something? I’m not so sure with these guys, as it just wouldn’t suit their unique approach.
With the same line-up as on V, this is a very tight, cohesive unit and it shows. Their style leap frogs from genre to genre and their skill and precision makes the stop-start approach feel less disjointed than it might in less talented hands. Daniel Estrin continues to evolve and grow as a vocalist and he’s easily one of my favorite singers, with a voice that cuts through the music like a plasma saw. His range and versatility seems to improve with each release and he can adapt to almost any style of music. Simone Dow and Scott Kay continue to impress with their razor-sharp riffing, slick transitions and memorable melodies. The band is like a finely tuned machine and you get the impression they could play any style effectively.
Voyager is the rare act that has a sound and style completely their own. Ghost Mile is a very intelligent, thoughtful and introspective album with dark moments mixing with light effortlessly and playfully. It’s also an insidious grower that gets deeper under the skin with each spin. If you like your prog-metal catchy and creative without being overly wank-tastic, look no further.