I’m going to go ahead and admit a fault here: writing reviews of traditional metal can get difficult. It is the medium in its purest, most undiluted form, and more often than not has few progressive or truly groundbreaking elements to gush over or elaborate on. How many times can one reiterate how great the reimagined “Thundersteel” or “Painkiller” riffs are in the hands of a new generation of true metal warriors? This isn’t to speak any less of the art—it can still be some the most powerful music in existence. But describing it in a way that conveys that power can be a trying task, especially when attempting to avoid repetition and keep momentum.
As much of a trial as it can be, the desire to cover worthy releases outweighs the frustrations that can come with it, especially when an album is so addictive it can make you late for work for two consecutive weeks because it’s length is about nine minutes longer than my personal commute to the offices here at Last Rites. Captain wants to know why his coffee isn’t ready, Zach is wondering where my blurbs are for our upcoming Devil’s Dozen feature, and Manny is needing his morning diaper change. All of these are tasks that have been pushed to the side due to the fact that I simply cannot listen to this album without finishing it. The culprits here are Alberta, Canada’s Traveler, and their self-titled debut ensures that I will probably continue this pattern of tardiness in the coming weeks as well.
The following track (and first single released to tease the album), “Street Machine,” is the first glimpse we get of what Traveler can do outside of their demo work. Luckily, the demo was most certainly not lightning in a bottle, as the song continues to showcase Matt Ries’ songwriting prowess as the greatest strength of the band. The marriage of the riffs and vocal performance is seamless; everything feels natural and in its rightful place. The early solo that rips out of the first verse just feels organic and inspired. The lyrics themselves feel rooted in something deeper, and every word feels like it is charged with metaphor pulled from real-world reflection and rocketed into the cosmos in megalithic hyperbole in the spirit of the truest of heavy metals. The full-on solo showcase towards the last third of the song sends high notes streaking past the ears, leaving comet trails of aural luminescence like stars streaking past the viewport on a light-speed vessel tearing its way through the solar system on a noble quest to restore order to the troubled soul of the musician. A similar section can be found on “Behind The Iron,” another track from the demo. This time the vocals embody a more aggressive approach on behalf of Abboud—he is singing from the gut and feels unrestrained despite the suppressive nature of the song’s subject matter.
Those with a keen ear and possibly unhealthy knowledge of video game soundtracks may recognize the melody of the instrumental midpoint of the album as a cover from 8Bit Killer, the retro-styled first person shooter PC game about the resistance of the final surviving members of the human race against the Master Brain, a deceptive intergalactic being hellbent on mankind’s destruction. Whether intentional or not, it does feel like a nod to the lyrical subject of “Starbreaker,” as well as the album’s cover art. Regardless, it plays well as a quick interlude of sorts between the album’s front and back that keeps momentum moving into the latter half, where we get a deeper glimpse into the direction Traveler is moving in with more new material.
The second half kicks off with the infectiously anthemic “Up To You” and into a bit of worship to the gods on high known as Judas Priest with the hymn “Fallen Heroes.” Abboud’s former moniker of “J. Priest” has never been so accurate as he cries out over the grooved trench of the verse riff and into the singalong worthy chorus. One more demo track remains, and it would be remiss of me to not mention that it was by and far my favorite from last year’s release, and it’s extremely pleasing to hear “Mindless Maze” done justice in a way that even improves upon the demo. The bone-chilling final scream of “set me free” ends with what seems like the final breath of Abboud’s lungs. It is inconceivable to measure the passion he is putting behind his performance. He and Ries seem to feed off one another, bringing the energy levels to the reaches of the absurd. The melodies are just so damn impassioned, crafted from a place that can only reflect a deeper understanding of the musicians behind them.
When I spoke with Matt in our interview last week, he mentioned that “the world doesn’t need another Nickelback, the world needs another Riot.” No other point on Traveler exhibits this like “Speed Queen,” which carries a similar weight to the aforementioned Riot’s all-time classic track “Thundersteel.” The panicked feel of the intro meets with an opening scream as the thunderous, running kick drums inject fuel to the melodic engine of the band. The solo is just nasty, slinging stardust across the eardrums and mainlining it to the brain, creating an adrenaline rush that embodies the feeling of Heavy Metal Ecstasy™.
Before we wrap this up, here’s a little behind-the-scenes info: the promotional copy of Traveler arrived months before the release date and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to construct, deconstruct, reconstruct, and edit a review for it. So why am I writing this in a haste at the last minute to meet the deadline? Simply put, it is such an enjoyable listen that it actually distracts from other tasks. It demands attention with its hooky riffs and well-written songs. Everything else seems to fade to the background as Traveler takes its hold, sending the listener on a cosmic voyage powered by the nuclear fusion of imagination and emotion. It is such a fun album that listening to it while holding still is a nigh-impossible task, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to be frustrated to find the right words to describe the next one.