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Traveler - Termination Shock Award winner

Termination Shock
by Kira Schletcher at 09 May 2020, 4:20 AM

To take the familiar and make it completely unique is difficult – the result can just as easily fall flat as it can succeed. Calgary’s TRAVELER has not merely succeeded on their latest, “Termination Shock,” they’ve completely over-achieved. The follow-up to their 2019 self-titled debut starts with “Shaded Mirror.” And at first, TRAVELER is reminiscent of a lot of the traditional metal we became accustomed to in the ‘80's, not just with the twin guitars of Matt and Toryin but with their penchant for lots of soloing. It’s set to a very MAIDEN tempo and it even resembles fellow Canadians TRIUMPH in some sonic ways. Jean-Pierre’s voice is reminiscent of the best ‘80's singers (DON DOKKEN maybe, with those octave jumps).

But he’s got far better lyrics at his disposal, and here is where the ‘80's comparisons get turned on their heads. They’re an interesting blend of the personal and the otherworldly (i.e. science fiction). There might be an overarching theme too, but it’s amorphous and not firmly set. There’s three scenarios at play in “Shaded Mirror,” perhaps a political one in the first verse, like the power-hungry (“You talk with no stick/You think you know just what to do,” someone who's whose “worldview smacks of insecurity”). The second is quite personal, perhaps a relationship (“A friend had had it all,” but “He hurt her like so many songs/And like a fool he found himself/Trading mercy for regret”). And the third perhaps refers to the lure of celebrity or social influences (“They walk the carpet/With diamond gowns and hollow smiles” who “Want you to need them/So they sell you all their wares”). It’s all very nicely done and tells a full, complete story – the chorus too makes the appropriate slight adjustments each time for consistency.

The title refers to the mirror reflecting what’s there, but being shaded to each person’s perspective, like we don’t always see ourselves truthfully. So right here, with this level of lyric refinement, we’ve got ourselves a whole new beast entirely. Jean-Pierre channels GEOFF TATE on the title track, and indeed it’s very “The Warning”-era both sonically and topically. The blistering pace really reflects the action, and the bridge, in which the narrator learns his fate, is terrific. It’s a tale of outer space horror, of possibly being a sacrificial lamb, abandoned to an alien and finding you are the only human spared. This is the first the band touches on such themes, but it’s definitely not the last.

“Foreverman” has a “Fear of the Dark” vibe at the start and a moody bridge that features hints of bass, tribal low-end drumming, and Jean-Pierre’s drifting vocal. This is definitely a story of someone who died too soon, possibly a suicide or an overdose. It’s tragic and definitely sad, but it’s not maudlin – it’s a reflection full of questions, like what could we have done to help, and the constant sorrow of regret (“Could have made the call/This corrodes inside my mind”). “Diary of a Maiden” – such a nice play on words – is punchy at the start with its military-style drumming and matching riff. We’ve moved on to “Rage For Order”-era ‘RYCHE, especially in the bridge, and here, as in several other tracks, there’s no real chorus. The guitar soloing is extremely well done, and while the long instrumental end might have been trimmed a tad, it’s OK because it reprises the intriguing final lyric – “All my fortunes from greed/Who’s better than me,” a question that plays off the word “better” very cleverly (better as in “superior” and better as in “everyone does it”). At loose interpretation, this tells of a woman who went from nothing to power by nefarious and perhaps sexual means.

“Stk” (presumably “shoot to kill”) starts with a gorgeous guitar melody and goes right into a solo (yes, they’re plentiful but they’re supremely musical). Jean-Pierre does those great octave jumps again, and his voice gains some real grit here, which suits the subject matter – that is, addiction in the context of a relationship. He’s trying to get out of the cycle (“I’m writing my life…Nothing to pull out of my sleeve” and insisting, “Stop playing games/This time I’m serious”), and he’s trying to get the other person to do the same (“You suck the knife/When you’re drinking venom/Why don’t you take a chance to stop it”), but it’s a hopeless cause. While he tries to maintain normalcy – all the references to the “morning subway” – he’s done with the other person’s “mourning Sunday,” that fake repenting after another lost weekend.

“After the Future” has a distinct ‘70s vibe, starting out slowly with sublime bass, light drifts of guitar and gentle cymbal work. And while the acceleration in tempo is effective, you almost wish it would have kept that dreamy feel a bit longer. Perhaps in keeping with the vibe, there are a lot of drug references in the lyrics – “Everybody seemed a slave to the haze,” “The fuzzy trip is in the drip” – mixed with spacey stuff like “Never heeded all the cathode rays.” “Deepspace” has an OZZY feel to it and is a complete change of pace with its speed/thrash tempo. Chad’s drumming is superb, elastically propelling the beat, and the solo section punches out a thick, wicked groove before switching back to the original pace. Jean-Pierre hits that high note at the end like you know he should and like you want him to. Again, there’s just a tiny chorus, all of three lines – it’s so refreshing, again, in such a traditional metal setting, to have the chorus lose its sanctity, and quite regularly too.

This is another sci-fi scenario that hearkens back thematically to the title track in a way – the narrator has made this sacrifice in the name of science and is returning many years later to find everything he knew is gone. The play on “deep space mine” is pure bloody genius. The final track, “Terra Exodus,” throws a hell of a lot of curveballs – in tempo, in feel, and it all works. It’s slippery and challenging and fascinating – lyrically too. They reference Alobar, a king searching for immortality in the novel “Jitterbug Perfume” (when’s the last time you saw a metal band reference Tom Robbins, for God’s sake?) and Babylon and Avalon, all in kind of a political context (“Cheaters, stealers/Manipulators rob you blind,” “Wage slaves, early graves/You gave, we forsake”). It’s weird, but again, it works.

TRAVELER is really a band to watch. They are deceptive in that the music at first listen might echo what’s come before, and in many ways it does. But dive deeper structurally and lyrically and you find it’s nothing like that at all. The level of sophistication and cleverness here – displayed without a stitch of self-consciousness or “trying too hard” – is a revelation.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 8
Overall: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Shaded Mirror
2. Termination Shock
3. Foreverman
4. Diary of a Maiden
5. Stk
6. After the Future
7. Deepspace
8. Terra Exodus
Jean-Pierre Abboud - Vocals
Matt Ries - Guitar
Toryin Schadlich - Guitar
Dave Arnold - Bass
Chad Vallier - Drums
Record Label: Gates of Hell Records


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