“For those of you new to metal, welcome – metal is good for you, it’s good for your mental health, it makes you feel things."
What a ride it’s been for the little prog band from Perth with big ambitions. Voyager indeed; if founding member and lead singer Danny Estrin had any ideas about what the past 20-plus years would look like for the band’s journey since starting in 1999, he’d be deemed crazy or a genius. Maybe he’s both.
Because despite playing the long game, Voyager have ‘arrived’. Of course, representing Australia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest helped push their name from the peripheral to prolific, raising the curtains on a five-piece who had the fun, glam, prog metal chops to earn a spot on that world stage. But even prior to this, Estrin and co had successfully carved out a solid space in the progressive scene and gradually built a vibrant rapport with those fans, who can be notoriously hard to win over.
Since 1999, lead singer Estrin – a highly regarded immigration lawyer by day – has taken a revolving cast of band members on the road (locally and internationally) and through studios for six (soon to be seven) albums all while navigating a fickle Australian market and landing some major support slots that were marked by last-minute cancellations. But European audiences have steadfastly loved them, so their ascension to the Eurovision limelight was not so surprising.
But has the overall buzz been generated more so from this international coup or the undeniable theatrical appeal of their frontman? Or is it because they’re just really prodigious musicians who are good at putting on a show? It will be very interesting to find out.
But first, the already buzzing crowd is treated to local lads The Stranger. A quick sweep of the Zoo’s hallowed hall on Friday night (9 June) and the stream of incoming punters suggests that most are happy to indulge the Brisbane five-piece while jagging a good spot for the main act. Musically speaking, these guys can’t be faulted. There are huge vocals, chugging riffs, and tight kit work, and their energy is sky-high.
While some of those higher notes don’t quite land as neatly as they could for singer Tom Frayne, it’s by no means a deal breaker. They’re a tight outfit with some rough edges to iron out, but it’s a small quibble for a band who have all the technical nous and trademarks of a deft prog group in the making.
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It's suddenly quite clear that this is quite a petite venue and stage for the larger-than-life group that’s about to fill the void before a now jam-packed and nearly sold-out crowd. But it’s the first night of Voyager’s Australian tour since arriving back home with the 9th place Eurovision participation trophy, so it’s not a bad homecoming.
As the house music fades down and the dim stage lights start to glow, the band one-by-one pierces through the moody mist and the ambient noises. Bedecked in various iterations of sequined jackets and even skorts, the five-piece look the part as they launch into popular opener Hyperventilating.
If there were ever any suspicions about whether this band’s bark was bigger than its bite, they’re quickly quashed. Voyager has spent half its lifetime as a band with members coming and going around its mainstay Estrin; the Voyager that we see now on stage have had 10-plus years of playing together - and you can hear and see it in action.
Those potentially unwieldy bottom-range guitar chugs are clinically tight, the kit work from the insanely gifted hands of Ashley Doodkorte is faultless, and the way Estrin floats his higher vocal lines over the top without getting lost in the mix – these things all come together seamlessly.
Not only are they musically in sync, but they also bust a whole bunch of moves while wrangling guitars, keytars and even some of the light rigging. It’s just good, infectious energy that all five generate and you would have to be a bit dead inside to not be swayed. They bounce around a vast catalogue of old and new (Misery Is Only Company, Momentary Relapse Of Pain, Colours, Stare Into The Night), but when audio grabs of news bulletins announcing the band’s ticket (Promise) to the Eurovision stage, there is an unashamed, unequivocal joy from the crowd.
Promise is a great song, and yet until you see it played live it’s almost tempting to dismiss it as ‘just a Eurovision pop song’. Sure, it’s hooky, inspires an anthem of ‘oh ohs’ and doesn’t delve into their deepest sludgy riffs, but it’s a bloody fun belter in a venue like this. Estrin and his players have been joking and ribbing each other all night, but it’s after this song that he takes his moment to thank the nation for its support of “This metal band from Perth who got to play for 162 million people a few weeks ago”.
It's a nice moment, quickly bookended by some more deep dives into the back catalogue for Stare Into The Night, The Meaning of I and Lost, which all give Estrin more leash to lean further into his natural front man persona, donning his LED rainbow specs, absconding some light rigging, swigging spirits straight from the bottle. But he still has some words of wisdom to share before closing with fan favourite White Shadow: “For those of you new to metal, welcome – metal is good for you, it’s good for your mental health, it makes you feel things”. Amen.