The steady rise of ‘retro’ speed/heavy metal post-millennium hasn’t curiously let up though there is no denying that the barrel has been scraped so mercilessly that many long-standing bands begin to choke on the splinters of long-forbidden glam-adjacent, muff-brained ideas. The yout’ juice runs thin. Few heroes remain beyond that ~2010 boon, where several Wolf-ish acts such as Enforcer, Cauldron, and White Wizzard descended from the northern hemisphere with a new and exciting wave of energetic, Priestly heavy metal. We’ve all gotten comfortable calling it the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal but the fact is that few projects really imbue themselves with the post-‘Killing Machine’ wave of influence that’d change heavy metal forever. Songwriting and performance serve as the grand leveler from my own experience and what remains exciting about the persistence of 80’s heavy metal ethos is unchanging as the fashion sense perpetuated by these scenes. There are few, if any, collaborations as magnetic and broadly ambitious within this ideology than that of Alberta, Canada quintet Traveler.
Though I was no doubt impressed by their demo/split with Finnish trad metallers Coronary in 2018, and their track from ‘Trapped Under Ice Vol. 1’, there wasn’t any obviate hint of how hard Traveler were working on their debut full-length. That boner-thrasher Matt Ries (Gatekrashör, Hrom) could pull off a classic heavy metal record that expresses the greater tonal range of vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud (Gatekeeper, Funeral Circle) speaks well to their shared love and understanding of the titans of heavy metal. All ‘classic’ heavy metal persists in the minds of the devout due to persistent refinement of varietal songwriting and impressive performative range; If you disagree you might be lost in the tunnel vision that greater extremity or niche provides. Stylistically speaking the songwriting duo sustain a certain magic between themselves as they don’t dare reach beyond ‘Painkiller’ levels of thrust in their decidedly 80’s power metal approach to the Priest spectrum of heavy metal. Sure, its been done before from Tyrant and Liege Lord all the way up to Primal Fear and Wolf and back again but, rarely with such a consistent 80’s coked-out boogie sustaining those adrenaline levels. It all feels like slipping into that old ruddy jeans jacket you’ve been working on since you were a teenager. It still fits.
It’d be impossible to overstate the magnetism of Abboud as his voice serves as the midas touch upon any project he gels with; With that said ‘Traveler’ is confidently his finest work as a true front-man and I say this begrudgingly as I am still reeling from his work on Gatekeeper‘s ‘East of Sun’ last year. Therein lies my only major criticism of this debut, that Traveler do little to transcend a well established point of view beyond an incredible focus on vocal performance. From my perspective Enforcer had done some of the work with ‘Diamonds’ but I’d quickly concede that ‘Traveler’ is less trite and more focused on aggression in direct comparison (see: “Fallen Heroes”). Traveler are no doubt a familiar force overall but there are several tracks that tap into such firm territory that this debut becomes impossible to write off. In particular the ‘Stained Class’ speed metal of “Speed Queen” pulls in a Brian Ross-esque vocal harmony in certain verses that definitely pushed me beyond mild interest. Likewise the Professor Black-esque chorus of “Up to You” bodes extremely well for keeping the iron hot whilst heading into Side B. The album is so full of joyful references and influence that it’d almost get a passing grade even without such intense attention to detail.
Ries appears to thrive most in the details and, though he has paired up with Hazzerd guitarist Toryin Schadlich, all songwriting and production were handled by Ries himself. As much of a pat on the back as anyone deserves for writing a traditional heavy metal record in 2019, what is truly remarkable about Ries‘ undertaking is his focus on pulling the best out of each fellow he’s recruited without swallowing them all with overbearing guitar work. Dual guitar finesse is sparing, glorious, and placed with effect in the tradition of the finest duos. A not-so fine line between 90’s Priest-worshiping chunder and 80’s power metal exists and despite a host of modern stylistic upgrades (and a clear speed metal throttle persisting throughout) ‘Traveler’ is initially most impressive for feeling like a traditional, non-flowery heavy metal record that’d somehow survived encapsulated since 1990. I can confidently recommend this debut as the evangelical power of traditional heavy metal practically squirts from every angle Traveler can manage. For preview “Behind the Iron” and “Up to You” are the clear melodic singles on tap but if you’re looking for the speed metal/NWOBHM circa ’84 feeling, “Mindless Maze” and “Street Machine” are what you need.
Freed from doubt. 4.0/5.0
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