Each generation thinks it invented sex; each generation is totally mistaken. Anything along that line today was commonplace both in Pompeii and in Victorian England; the differences lie only in the degree of cover up — if any. – Robert A. Heinlein
Unless they’ve never heard heavy metal before, I don’t think anyone thinks Traveler is doing anything genuinely new. The band certainly isn’t trying to make it seem as though they are. This is pretty much par for the course for traditional heavy metal—maybe once or twice every decade something truly unique will weave its way in, but generally speaking, the style strictly looks to the past for inspiration. Traditional metal then carries with it a paradox: How far can you recycle ideas originally fleshed out generations before your time without getting stale? How can you keep the style fresh and vibrant without sounding too much like a cover band?
Obviously, blending different influences helps—mix a little Agent Steel here, a bit of Omen there, and drop some Cirith Ungol vocals on top of it, and I guarantee you’ll have something unique. (Probably not something good though; making the right choices is key.) But what happens when a band largely focuses upon a singular influence? A few bands in the traditional realm do it well enough—Attic and Carriage come to mind as suitable enough analogs for King Diamond-esque heavy metal, particularly with Attic’s knack for storytelling—but it’s harder to pull off than it seems. There’s a set of parameters that must be followed, be it guitar tone, songwriting choices, or melodic style, and you have to create something that is uniquely your own, with your passions and emotions driving the machine.
Even without the glaring clues, the stylistic direction the band takes on Termination Shock is noticeable. While Traveler was a touch more bare-bones by comparison, the band’s sophomore album is a bit less raw emotion channeled into traditional metal structures: It’s a more mature, more sophisticated sound that still packs the spirit of youth into a wallop of an album. The lead work at the onset of opener “Shaded Mirror” sets the tone: a touch more complex, a hair more intricate. Yet, the songs are no less melodic and catchy than that of the debut. The guitars play off one another in the soloing section in a way that flows so organically that it’s clear that Traveler are more than just emulating their influences. The raw passion still bleeds into the playing as the twin guitars steal the hook, proving that there’s more going on here than simply hero worship or an attempt to live in a time long past.
Another step forward for Termination Shock is in the bass work. Again inspired by the walking bass of Deaf Dealer, the low end on Termination Shock feels a little more open, a little more free than on Traveler. “Foreverman” illustrates this, as well as vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud’s fuller, more layered vocals that again nod to Deaf Dealer, with his phrasing flowing over the next line of the song. A bit more studio magic appears to be required for Termination Shock, but it never feels overused, rather filling out a fuller sound for the band and capturing the songs clearly. Traveler is beyond using production as a crutch to capture a “vintage” sound; the timelessness of their music is simply in the songs themselves.
Another way to help with understanding the music that inspired you: work with your mentors. Traveler took a unique opportunity of being able to perform an unreleased song written in the classic decade of heavy metal and bring it to fruition over two decades later. As previously mentioned, “STK” was originally written by JP Forsyth for Deaf Dealer and shelved until he gifted it to a new generation of Canadian heavy metallers. It’s certainly a passing-the-torch moment, and Traveler handle it with the grace and respect it deserves. Jean-Pierre’s vocals and Ries’ guitar are burning with a fiery passion that ignites “STK” into a highlight track of the album. The bridge alone is worth the price of admission for the whole album, searing with a passion and an unrelenting feeling of immediacy.
Conversely, “After The Future” starts by slowing things down a notch, furthering Traveler’s dynamic range. Ballads can be a make-or-break for a metal band, and Traveler handle this one well by nailing the softer section and quickly moving into more familiar territories of faster, upbeat, twin-guitar driven steel. The impact of the rhythm section is key here, more than ever. The earlier Traveler material – the demos and I’m assuming most of the debut album – was written strictly by Ries and Abboud, presumably to drum tracks. The expanded dynamics of writing with a full band come into full effect on Termination Shock, and especially with “After The Future.” The fluidity of tempo changes and mood shifts is brought to its maximum potential with some clever and subtle interplay between the bass and drums, highlighting what makes the sophomore album a more fully realized work. Every member of the band is filling out their role, and every section of the song has its highlight without any one member attempting to outshine the other.
There is an importance to how a band chooses to evolve. The story of the music from album to album can be just as important as an individual work in determining how a band is reflected upon and enjoyed in the future. What Termination Shock will be remembered for in Traveler’s catalog is their move into a more refined and dynamic territory, indoctrinating themselves with a more intricate melodicism. Much like the evolution of their cover art (seemingly some extraterrestrial being getting extremely upset about its long distance service provider, destroying the earth in its fury while on hold with customer service providers, and now taking on the call centers of some far-away solar system via some Expanse-like portal to distant galaxies), Traveler’s discography is beginning to tell the story of a band pacing themselves through selective complexities.
So how can a band move forward while drawing more heavily from a primary influence? Termination Shock feels more like Deaf Dealer than the band’s prior works, yet it feels like the band is evolving. To me, that is the key to the success in looking towards the past: to make it appear as though the music is moving forward, even if, in actuality, it is a more refined focus on the music that inspired it. Traveler makes it feel like they are inventing, even if we know they technically aren’t. They’re capturing the vibrance, that youthful energy of a band discovering themselves, and channeling it into creative energy. This is what makes them stand out so much from the pack: Anyone can imitate a guitar tone or riffing style, but few can make it feel like it’s being heard for the first time while making it sound so familiar and close to home.
Think about your favorite pizza joint. No, not the Pizza Hut or Domino’s; I’m talking the independently owned spot at the corner of your local strip mall that has the same boxes all those types of pizza places have, the place that claims to have the “authentic” New York pizza. Everyone has their favorite local joint. There’s thousands of spots like this across the world, yet that one spot gets it just the way you like it. Sure, it’s derivative, but it’s the love that goes into every pie that makes it special. That’s what Traveler is bringing to the table with Termination Shock. The album is an unabashed love letter to an unsung Canadian heavy metal band, but it’s the passion that shines through and makes it so delicious. When Traveler says “rock and roll never dies,” you can feel how much conviction drips over the lyrics. It’s the love and passion that make them such a standout act, and as long as that confidence remains behind the songwriting and delivery, the past remains truly alive.