We’re long-time fans of Australia’s To travel around these parts. Steel Drum has been writing about them for nearly 12 years but has finally released the band to someone else’s opinion. I’ve broadly agreed with his views, the band’s career having ranged from great (The Meaning of I, Ghost Mile), to good (I Am the ReVolution) to somewhat patchy (V, Colors in the Sun). Their style has always offered a unique fusion of progressive metal and pop, but they’re now trending towards the melodic, synthy end of their sound. They’re not the same people they were a decade ago but who is? I was eager to jump back in with my particular love for retrowave synths and progressive music.

fearless in love comes fresh off To travel‘s newfound surge of popularity following their reaching the 2023 Eurovision final. Ever the contrarian, I perversely enjoy their “unsuccessful” Eurovision song much more than the “successful” one. But it’s exactly the sort of album you would expect from a band that participated in that party in consecutive years. More colorful than ever, even more so than the last album that expressly concerned color, it’s a buoyant, effervescent and expressive release that glamorizes direct songwriting and melodic simplicity. It’s seated in the 80s as much as it is the 20s, coalescing warm synths, djagged djent and soaring vocals. In this way, it’s the most successful harmonization of their progressive, poppy, metallic sensibilities, their strategy fully executed. This may be anathema to a nihilistic metalhead, but I admire To travel‘s willingness to strike out from a metal scene that’s typically preoccupied with the inside of its own asshole.

Despite their strong poppy characteristics, fearless in love still finds To travel boasting bold and heavy instruments, situating the band firmly in the metalsphere. The riffs are typically simple but chunky, though they only briefly escape into shredding excess via a few solos on the back half of the record and a particularly fast and thrashing approach on “Twister.” Danny Estrin’s charismatic singing is gilded with occasional growls which do a lot to accentuate those few moments. And although the keyboards and synths occupy a central position in the songs’ direction, To travel‘s boisterous, maximal approach bears the hallmarks of metal. The production undoubtedly augments the band’s heavy credentials, striking an excellent balance between the crisp synths and the crunchy, rougher guitars. Metal bands dipping into synths often sound meager and misguided, but To travel lean fully into the synths while remaining beefy and commanding.

Despite their directness, the band could be even braver with expedited song lengths. The simple riffs and vocal melodies result in repetition which drags out 3 minutes of ideas into 4 minutes of song. To travel have always lingered on their stronger melodies but those that are weaker here don’t deserve the repetition the listener hears. More than just repetition, the streamlined approach results in predictability. The album isn’t long but 11 tracks that are stylistically consistent leave me questioning the inclusion of the tracks which are weaker, such as “Ultraviolet,” “The Lamenting” and “Listen.” fearless in love is similar to Colors in the Sun in that its quality is patchy, although they differ as its lows aren’t as low and its highs also aren’t as high. It has a lot of good (“Prince of Fire,” the 2 Eurovision tracks, “Submarine,” “Gren (Fearless in Love)”) but lacks genuine excellence.

It doesn’t do fearless in love any favors that my library automatically begins Ghost Mile at its conclusion. Despite having a lot of good things to say about the album, that comparison highlights that there are parts I likely won’t return to. But I will always commend a band – and prog band no less – that writes concise, direct, unwanky music. To travel demonstrate a commitment to songs, not just to instrumental technicality or thematic grandeur, and they do so with enjoyable, catchy melodies. I suspect that fearless in love will satisfy fans from the band’s last 10 years as much as it will newcomers.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: travel.au | travel.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/travel
Releases Worldwide: July 14th, 2023