It’s strange to think that Voyager have been active since before the turn of the century and actively releasing full length albums since 2003, beginning with Element V. Way back when, the now-progressive metal band from Perth would have been more readily lumped in with power metal mainstays like Rhapsody and Blind Guardian, except with less grandiose aspirations and a smaller vision as far as production was concerned. If anything, the band was producing content closer to Wintersun‘s self-titled release. UniVers saw further changes to the band’s sound, keeping the same mostly-clean attitude previous work held, but with songwriting structure falling in line with melodic death metal greats Insomnium. This carried over to I am the revolution, but 2011’s The Meaning of I kept the band on course with following trends, this time dipping their toes into djent.
The departure from the melodic death metal structure popular in the Scandinavias at the time allowed Voyager to explore some new territory rife with palm mutes, but simultaneously allowed them to return to their power metal origins. This marriage between both new and old Voyager sound lent to the band’s unique and fun nature, taking them further from borrowing clichés and more realizing that they were always an independent entity. It wasn’t until V that the band really “got it” for themselves, standing even more apart from their previous works, but solidifying the sound they would carry on with. With 2017’s Ghost Mile, Voyager are taking the progressive power sound they achieved with V (and, in a way, always had), but with a fuller-sounding production that both sounds and feels less airy. And all this in six albums over 14 years!
Ghost Mile is something of a journey, as the name implies, not simply within the album’s length of play, but almost feels as if it’s a commentary on the band’s career from whence they came until now. The opening track in “Ascension” is a prime example in encompassing an album’s sound within its first few minutes. The lilting opening guitars build up with a slow accompany tom rhythm before coalescing into a full-blown palm muted riff that hooks you in right away. From there, the song ebbs from a soft verse section into a steadier pre-chorus section before flowing back into a heavier, more apparently rhythmic chorus. The growled vocal section underlaid by dissonant guitar and key noise halfway through the song kind of says, “Hey, we’re planning to throw in a little something weird, we hope you’re cool with it” before returning to the meat of the song. And you know what? We are definitely cool with it.
Ghost Mile takes us into lead single in “Misery is Only Company,” the djent anthem that exposed us to the upcoming album over a year ago is still quite the banger, its mid-tempo charge with its soaring chorus betrays an otherwise somber track about deep, personal anguish. “Lifeline” is another mid-tempo track that carries a similar spirit, sedated hope and an understanding of the unchanging nature of the everyday.
Come to think of it, there isn’t a bad song anywhere on Ghost Mile. “To the Riverside” acting as a piano-driven build-up to the title track that carries a similar musical tone to earlier tracks, but feels more earnest in its lyrical aim—more hopeful. The slower “This Gentle Earth” channels the spirit of Liverpool’s incredible Anathema, while the anxiety-driven “What a Wonderful Day” proposes a melancholic tone in its choppy guitar and overly expressing a bleak outlook at each passing day.
The anthemic “As the City Takes the Night” is something special in and of itself, with a piano intro by vocalist Daniel Estrin that is almost reminiscent of 2009’s action game Bayonetta, if you’d believe it. This sensation is quickly lost as the song crescendos into the progressive power anthem that excellently closes the record, encapsulating a lot of the same sensations that “Ascension” opened with—the full choruses, the chunky guitars that stand so differently from the rest of the music in several sections, an elaborate-yet-different vocal technique that makes the song unique from the others. It’s all here and acts as a powerful closer to an already solid album.
Ghost Mile won’t necessarily make anyone that wasn’t previously a fan of Voyager a brand new fan overnight. Something like that may be more for V or The Meaning of I depending on what you’re looking for, or even I am the revolution. What Ghost Mile truly is is a culmination of years of experimentation and successes and failures. After 17 years of working, 14 years of releases, and only on a sixth release, it’s pretty clear that Voyager has never been keen to overload themselves or their audience with subpar work. The only mindset that Voyager ever has had and ever will have is thoughtful rock music, each track a labor of love. Trendy or not, no matter what incarnation of the band, the focus has always been on taking a sound and making it their own. With this fivesome, however, it’s easy to see that Voyager have cared about how their music sounds and what kind of statement it makes now more than ever.
To many, Ghost Mile may be just another footnote in the progressive power scene, but having followed the band’s career since nearly the beginning, Ghost Mile is another sensational entry in the band’s repertoire and is readily one of the stand-out albums of 2017.