Review: Voyager’s ‘Fearless in Love’

Fearless in Love

Season of Mist

Perth’s synth-prog ensemble Voyager, renowned for their electrifying Eurovision performance of Promise that captivated a staggering 160 million viewers, complete with the retro charm of a 1988 Toyota MR2, return with their highly anticipated and spine-tingling eighth studio album, Fearless in Love, set to be released on Friday, July 14 through Season Of Mist and can be pre-ordered here.

The collective, consisting of Daniel “Danny” Estrin (lead vocals/keytar/keyboards), Simone Dow (guitars), Scott Kay (guitars), Alex Canion (backup vocals/bass), and Ashley Doodkorte (drums), have been creating music together for over a decade.

Throughout 2022, the band meticulously crafted what would eventually manifest as Fearless in Love under the guidance of engineer, mixer, and co-producer Matt Templeman from Templeman Audio, while the mastering expertise of Simon Struthers adds a unifying touch to the album. Departing from their usual approach, Voyager recorded Fearless in Love live, unearthing an entirely new vigour.

Instead of individually writing and recording their parts, the decision was made to embrace a more traditional method by writing Fearless in Love together in the jam room. This collaborative effort resulted in a more cohesive and exhilarating outcome, characterised by a cinematic quality that harkens back to the raw and gritty films of the 80s and 90s. The music showcases the intricate layers that define Voyager’s sound, taking the listener on a ride through a dark city, leaving a more pensive and reflective note by the end of the album.

Drummer Ash Doodkorte has been involved in Voyager’s graphic design since before joining the band, and once again took charge of creating the artwork for Fearless in Love. The album’s artwork underwent an extensive and deliberative process, with the band exploring various concepts, revising designs, and working tirelessly until the last minute. Doodkorte’s graphical flair resulted in an iconic design that accurately depicts the album’s sound, serving as a portal into the world of Voyager.

Upon initial listening, an unmistakable chemistry and atmosphere are evident across the 11 divine tracks comprising Fearless in Love, solidifying its status as Voyager’s most diverse album, and arguably their magnum opus to date. The delicate equilibrium achieved remains faithful to the band’s vision and goals, while delivering value beyond measure to diehard fans, the vast audience drawn to Voyager’s meteoric rise through mainstream media coverage of Eurovision, and casual listeners alike.

Voyager has strategically treated fans to sneak previews of Fearless in Love over the past two years. Tracks such as Dreamer, Submarine, Promise, Prince of Fire and Ultraviolet have served as tantalising appetisers, offering a delectable taste of the musical feast that lies ahead.

Dreamer, which served as Voyager’s entry for ‘Eurovision – Australia Decides’ in 2022 sits fourth in the track list. This piece blends modern prog-metal influences with a rich 80s pop vibe. Under the skilful touch of Templeman and Struthers, the track has undergone subtle reworking, resulting in heightened vocal clarity and enhanced synth, with the 80s style bit crush samples also being more evident. Additionally, the mix now features a crisper guitar tone that resonates more powerfully in comparison to the single. A true earworm, Submarine nestles comfortably at number six, resurfacing with newfound brilliance in the improved soundscape. Its introductory notes offer a sense of Depeche Mode momentarily caught in a reverb effect loop and features one of Voyager’s most atmospheric guitar choruses. Fans initially fell head over heels for this infectious tune upon its release in July 2022, with the comical official music video further adding to its charm.

Notably, the song features Estrin’s soothing vocals and glimmering keys, scorching solos from Kay and Dow, while Canion exhibits his remarkable skills, culminating in a dynamic vocal performance reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s distinctive style, as he urgently declares, “I’m coming up for air!” which is a symbolic breaking of the shackles imposed by the pandemic.

May 2023’s Eurovision sensation, Promise, a synth-driven pop masterpiece with a metal disguise, burst onto the scene and introduced Voyager to mainstream music listeners with resounding impact. Its rightful place in the latter half of the album adds to the anticipation built by previous tracks and could well be Australia’s most iconic number seven since the legendary Adam Gilchrist.

The listener will cast their mind back to the Eurovision semi-final, where amidst a field of songs, fans both old and new couldn’t help but recognise Promise as an anthemic force. Is it any wonder the band were scheduled to play in 16th spot on the second semi-final bill – organisers were saving the best for last as Voyager were the indisputable headline act!

The album version of Promise is even more exhilarating than its previously released single counterpart. It bursts forth with enhanced energy, leaving listeners craving more of its infectious hooks.

Immersed in the embrace of May the 4th, a day that holds special significance for fans of a galactic saga that originally peaked in the 80s, Voyager gifted devoted fans the highly anticipated premiere of Prince of Fire. The second track of Fearless in Love blends heavy djent riffs, vibrant percussion, shimmering keys, groovy bass lines, and ethereal vocals courtesy of Estrin and supported by Canion, creating an experience that is aptly juxtaposed with light and dark forces.

Crushing heaviness intertwines with a nostalgic 80s synth influence, which is more than just a common theme on Fearless in Love, it’s an ethos. The lyrics explore the complexities of perception, where even with the best intentions, one can be misunderstood and labelled as the antagonist. Estrin compares this dynamic with being “The Prince of Fire on night patrol.”

Stepping into the present, Ultraviolet brings forth an explosive collaboration with the guttural and charismatic vocalist Sean Harmanis of Make Them Suffer. This fierce track made its debut on Monday, July 10, accompanied by a YouTube premiere that emanates an intriguing blend of Black Mirror and Westworld vibes, with Director Matt Pitcher referencing 2004 American independent psychological science fiction film, Primer. Taking its place at number three on the album, Ultraviolet delves into the human struggle to cope with the relentless pace of modern society and the demands we place on each other. Becoming ultraviolet and ducking under cover is the best way to avoid the rat race.

The song launches with an auto-tuned airy pop vocal and synth introduction, heightened by melodic guitar riffs and enticing 80s undertones. However, the melodic facade soon takes a dark twist as Dow and Kay introduce menacing droning guitars that transport the listener into a sinister dimension. Estrin’s vocals continue to soar before Harmanis enters the scene with his devastating delivery. The two vocalists face-off in an alternating vocal exchange, as Harmanis fires a parting shot, “Turn off the lights and forget that the pressure is real!”

On Friday, July 14, the eagerly anticipated album release will introduce previously unreleased tracks, including opener, The Best Intentions, which immediately jumps out the blocks with its keyboard intro and signature Voyager prog sound, paying homage to the band’s long-time fans.

As the music unfolds, listeners can expect to be pulled in multiple directions. The Best Intentions portrays a world in which the lyrical protagonist endeavours to consistently do the right thing, only to be met with repeated and disheartening failures. Themes of purity shine through, while the lyrical antagonist’s act of betrayal is symbolised by the knives of a backstabber.

Right from the start, Estrin showcases the evolution of his incredible vocal delivery, his falsetto soaring in a bridging section, while Dow and Kay unleash meaty guitar riffs that are complemented by Canion’s basslines and Doodkorte’s trademark percussion. The song concludes with a haunting vocal harmony by Estrin and Canion, backed by an airy melodic guitar outro.

Next in line is The Lamenting, gracefully taking its place as the fifth track. It melds the nostalgic sonics of the seventies into a tapestry of riffs, harmonised with ethereal vocals and atmospheric synths. The chorus, adorned with moody guitar chords, delves into the depths of melancholic introspection, as the lyrics explore the lamenting of past loves. Just when the listener thinks the song couldn’t become more enchanting, a transcendent guitar riff backed with gorgeous synth reminiscent of 2019’s Colours in the Sun emerges, lifting the song to astral heights.

Returning to the forefront are the menacing droning guitars previously heard in Ultraviolet, commanding attention as guitar distortion engulfs the song’s light in its final moments.

Taking its place as the eighth track on the album is the defining presence of Twisted which commences with a gentle piano refrain that sets the tone. An attention-grabbing vocal intro, doubled using Soundtoys Microshift cranked to 1980s settings, and perfectly timed synth stabs, builds anticipation as Doodkorte and Canion lay down a compelling beat that sets the stage for Dow and Kay to unleash an irresistibly catchy guitar rhythm.

Twisted delivers an all-encompassing Voyager experience that generously offers uplifting singalong vocal melodies, soaring guitar leads, head-banging riffs that ignite surges of energy, and driving percussive elements that propel the song forward. The impactful line, “Hit me where it hurts now,” echoes throughout the track, leaving an imprint in the memory of the listener. There’s a minimalism to 80s rock drumming that solidified Doodkorte’s approach to the percussive section of Twisted, an ideology that was always in the forefront of his mind when contributing his talent to Fearless in Love.

With closed eyes, the listener can surrender themselves to the allure of Daydream, the otherworldly ninth track on the album. Estrin’s gentle vocals tenderly beckon the listener, posing the question of allegiance — whether they stand with him or against him. As the melodies unfold, the infectious combination of catchy synth and guitar showcases a rousing chorus that’s bound to get the mosh pit dancing. Newer fans attracted by Eurovision tracks in Dreamer and Promise are bound to fall in love with Daydream’s pop-sensibility. This musical offering serves as an archetype into the new world of Voyager and a classic example of the evolution the band has undergone.

Listen follows Daydream and continues an uplifting passage of the album. In fact, the chronology of Submarine, Promise, Twisted, Daydream and Listen beautifully complement each other as a general progression in the back half of the album.

Listen features a poignant theme, with Estrin examining dysfunctional communication with the subject of his lyrical outreach. An enticing interlude where bass, synth, guitar solos and moody drums whisk the listener away on a nostalgic throwback to a warm late eighties summer night in a Los Angeles nightclub, as Strangeways’ play their Native Sons album from front to back. This merging of past and present creates a sense of timelessness, while carrying the listener on a wave of emotions.

As the album draws to a close with the title track Gren (Fearless in Love), spine-tingling melodies evoke imagery of the Stranger Things crew beckoning the listener to embark on an adventure into the upside down to slay demogorgons, mind flayers, or facing off against the legendary Vecna.

Estrin’s powerful vocal delivery and falsetto lead the emotive charge before chugging guitar riffs command the listener’s attention as Estrin poses the question once again “So, are you with me?” Goosebumps ensue as the overwhelming power of this five-minute epic reaches its culmination in transfixing melodies that permeate throughout.

Fearless in Love is poised to carve a lasting legacy in music history. It evokes visions of neon lights, mullets, 80s synthwave background artwork, video game arcades, dystopian themes, Bladerunner, cityscapes, designer Zhivago clothing and a 1988 Toyota MR2 soaring through outer space with Estrin ensconced behind the wheel. Dow, Canion, Kay and Doodkorte accompanying him, planning intergalactic tours, solving interplanetary politics, and cracking jokes from the passenger seats.

Prepare for the drop of Fearless in Love on Friday, July 14. It can be pre-ordered here.