One of the best feelings as a music enthusiast is seeing a band you really enjoy finally make the leap from a demo to a debut album. Sometimes the result is as astounding as Eternal Champion and other times it’s not such a smooth transition. There have been many demos to capture my attention in recent years, but few have completely enthralled me like Traveler’s 2018 demo. Barely half a year later and they’ve already pulled together a full length debut set to drop on Gates of Hell Records. This begs the big question – does the debut live up to the hype of the demo? The short answer to that is YES. ABSOLUTELY YES.
Traveler are the brainchild of songwriter and guitarist Matt Ries. All of the songs on this debut were entirely written by Ries and to put it in the simplest terms, Traveler is a fast-paced traditional metal band. This comes as no surprise given that Matt has been involved with two other speed metal bands in Hrom and Gatekrashör. However, Traveler is a vessel for riffs and ideas that wouldn’t exactly fit into either of Reis’s previous bands. Instead of the Chroming Rose/Helloween inspired sound of Hrom or the Razor-like aggression of Gatekrashör, Traveler opts for a more classically influenced sound.
Judas Priest and Iron Maiden inspired twin guitar melodies are the heart and soul of the Traveler sound. This isn’t just another NWOBHM worship project though – there’s plenty of other influences at work on this record. I hear quite a bit of US power metal in their sound, with similarities to bands like Omen and Brocas Helm. It’s also clear to me that Matt Ries is a pretty big fan of Riot (we all should be) as there’s bits and pieces from both the early rockin’ era of the band and the thundering US power/speed metal era. This is the exact style that I crave and it’s as if Ries wrote these songs with the intention of being a heat-seeking missile for my ears. Traveler’s sound is a familiar and comfortable one. It’s a safe approach that doesn’t really push any boundaries, but never does it once sound derivative and there isn’t another band that sounds exactly like them.
While the music isn’t particularly innovative, Traveler have the number one thing you need for heavy metal – riffs. And man does this album riff. As you’d expect from this style of metal, lead guitars are at the forefront of it all. Each song is more memorable than the last and there’s no shortage of catchy guitar melodies. The bass is a big surprise here as well. It’s resoundingly loud and clear instead of being buried in the mix like it typically is. This gives Traveler room to drive the music with the bass and drums instead of rhythm guitars and allows them to experiment with unique bass lines, something that peers don’t utilize nearly enough. JP tops it all off for us with his high energy vocals. If you’ve heard him on other projects like Borrowed Time and Gatekeeper, then you know exactly what to expect from him – passionate and charismatic vocal delivery. Traveler’s up tempo brand of heavy metal suits his vocal delivery well and he sounds right at home.
Traveler’s debut is an excellent release, there’s no doubt about that for me, but it’s not completely infalliable. Traveler are most comfortable when they speed things up. The majority of the album blazes through at lightning speed, but there are a few moments where the band slows it down and the music doesn’t flow as smoothly. This is most noticeable during the first half of “Fallen Heroes”, which sounds a little out of place before it picks back up again in the second portion of the song with one of the best instrumental sections on the whole album. The only other criticism I have here is that the guitar tone lacks some punch. The twin guitar melodies are absolutely killer, but the guitars end up sounding a bit thin in the mix compared to the bass. It’s worth noting that my criticisms come from being hyper critical and examining the release under a microscope – they’re really not issues in the grand scheme of things. I’ve already listened to this silly album well over twenty times and I’m still nowhere close to tired of it.
Every year or two, there seems to be a new band that just captivates the metal underground and completely blows up in popularity. Traveler have all the right things going for them to make this happen. Their debut album is an exceptionally early contender for album of the year and this band is almost certainly destined for great things. A must listen.
Album Rating: 94/100
Favorite Track: Street Machine
Official links: Facebook