It’s no secret to my friends that the subject of this review, Slough Feg’s Traveller, is one of my favorite albums of all time. The pseudonym I go by in metal circles (Highway Corsair) comes partially from one of the songs, and I’m currently using a mouse that’s sitting on top of a custom Traveller mousepad I had made my freshman year of college. If you haven’t listened to Traveller before, then I’d highly recommend tossing it on as you read this review.
The Lord Weird Slough Feg, or just Slough Feg for short, have been around for quite a while, and Traveller is their fourth full length album out of ten. Their entire back catalog is fantastic and while this review is not about the others, you should still listen to them as well. For general background, the previous albums are rollicking and strange heavy metal, as full of the vibrant fae songwriting of Brocas Helm, as of Thin Lizzy’s Celtic folk, and Iron Maiden’s leadwork. Previous albums tended towards fantasy and folklore, with select exceptions; by contrast, Traveller is the conceptual tale of a campaign Scalzi played in the tabletop game of the same name, which strikes most Slough Feg fans as being the exact sort of oddball and killer thing that the band would do.
From the album’s opener onwards, songs rip, dance, and croon in an order that’s demanded to maximize both the flow of the music and to give the conceptual story its full impact. Most individual tracks don’t stay put at a particular tempo, playing with doom, ripping speed metal, insane dual leads, and even sections devoted entirely to just telling the story. The solos are mind numbing, coming at sometimes several per song, and each and every one is absolutely fantastic. A heavy gallop is the signature rhythm approach of main songwriter Mike Scalzi’s attack here, but it’s not the only one, and he makes use of his arsenal of riffs with an inventiveness that would make anyone jealous. Not only the primary songwriter but also the frontman, Scalzi’s voice is unique and passionate, standing out instantly; he’s a voice that others are compared to, not one that you try and find a match for from the shoulders he stands upon. He’s rough and has character. That might sound off-putting to the wrong mind, but just give it a listen, and be convinced- he could front anything and I’d probably listen to it, which makes it all the more fortunate that Traveller is so wonderful.
Scalzi has said before that Traveller was a flirtation with a mainstream sound, which is why he isn’t much of a fan of it. Though it’s by no means something I’d expect your average Wacken attendee to recognize, it’s clear what he means when comparing the album to its predecessors, which are markedly less direct, have nothing of a cohesive plan to them, and are rather insane musically (in the best possible of ways, of course!). Traveller, for all that I’ve waxed about its inventiveness, is still easily the most approachable piece in a ten album career, and that’s probably a lot of the reason it’s so good- there’s no snags to get caught on, each song is insanely catchy and memorable, and all a listen is treated to is a fourty-four minute saga of true heavy metal. As a matter of fact, the album literally got me into heavy metal with the most straightforward song on the album, “High Passage / Low Passage,” proving his point somewhat; one day it was nothing but black and death metal, and the next I was set on the path that I’m on now by stumbling into it online.
Though I’ve said a lot about what the frontman got up to here, the rest of the band wasn’t just sitting by idly. Traveller was bassist Adrian Maestas’ album debut and he provides a wonderful counterpoint to the guitars as well as a thick, audible presence even when he’s not intentionally standing out. The guy really knows how to drive the band’s music, and thankfully, he’s kept around and is still Slough Feg’s bassist today. Greg Haa, the drummer, unfortunately was not to last for too much longer after this one, kickstarting years of drummer woes for Slough Feg. His beat selection is excellent, varied enough to keep interesting, and there’s never a moment where you wish he was doing something else. Finally, co-guitarist John Cobbett did a fantastic job at matching Scalzi here, and wrote the final song on the album, which is a truly killer tune and great closer to the madness that is Traveller.
I’m sure that there are complaints that I could find about Traveller if I fought hard enough to; I’ve seen some criticisms of the drum production, and I’ve heard that certain tracks are perceived as being a bit less good. I’m too in love to hear any of them; to me, Traveller is perfect, and my only fault with it is that it’s never been reissued and I can’t afford it on vinyl. Traveller is the triumphant attack of heavy metal in every form that I’ve ever wanted heavy metal to be, and it always will be.
Album rating: 100
Favorite track: High Passage / Low Passage