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I feel like I'm about to get really pretentious... - 96%

BastardHead, February 10th, 2012

About three years ago, back when I had first started doing this whole reviewing thing, I was a certified Lord Weird Slough Feg fanboy, to the point where I refused to refer to them by the shortened version of their name, despite going by simply "Slough Feg" for a few years at that point. Throughout roughly winter of 2007 and the next several seasons, I listened to their six albums enough times to ingrain them all into my memory for the rest of eternity. Because of that, I kind of burnt myself out on them. Ape Uprising was met with lukewarm hype from me and Animal Spirits was released without me even noticing. But with that said, I'd occasionally go back and listen to a few select tracks from each album, and this here, Traveller, was always my favorite to go back to, despite so many claims of Down Among the Deadmen being the best.

Those last few sentences probably seemed superfluous and unnecessary, but in reality it helps prove a certain point about this album, it is probably the most perfectly paced and well written concept album in all of heavy metal. I always pick on Blind Guardian's perplexingly overwhelmingly adored effort, Nightfall in Middle-Earth, as the perfect way to NOT write a concept album. NIME is horribly paced, with too much pointless filler trying to act as a vessel for the narrative, but instead breaks the flow of the music, which is what a metal album is all about, mind you. There are a few nut shatteringly great classics there but for the most part it's overblown and horribly paced and a chore to sit through. That is where Traveller gets it right, and what makes it such a fabulous album. Yes, it is a concept album, but unlike so many other overblown stories and epic journeys you'll find in metal storytelling, listening to the duration of this record in one hit isn't necessary at all to get full enjoyment from it. What I mean is, you can reach for a quickie and just blast "Asteroid Belts" or "Vargr Theme" or "Addendum Galactus" and have a grand old time without selling yourself short by not listening to the other nine songs on hand. But with that in mind, it's still ideal to listen to the entirety of the album in one shot, as the emotion really seeps through and the story's impact hits that much harder when given context. Everything meshes together for a great tale and still work as standalones. That is how concept albums should work, they should be versatile, and that's what makes Traveller one of the best out there.

The album tells the story of Baltech, a space mercenary who gets caught up in a scheme to genetically alter the human race by splicing their genes with those of the Vargr, a dog-like race, in an attempt to create a perfect master race under the command of the mad Professor Rickets. It's a pretty basic story, told in a pretty basic format, but what it lacks in creative structuring, it completely makes up for with how well written and engaging it manages to be. This is where the pretension I mentioned earlier is really going to rear its head, because this is a story I can feel instead of just understanding. I feel the helplessness during the final lines of "Baltech's Lament", I feel the conflicting forces of hatred and arrogance during the confrontation in "Vargr Theme/Confrontation", I feel the sense of accomplishment in "Addendum Galactus", I can feel every emotion that Mike Scalzi intended me to feel when penning this album, and that's what makes it such a smashing success.

I could prattle on forever about the superfluous merits of the record without even touching the actual meat, but I'll rein it in a bit here. Musically, this is Slough Feg at arguably their heaviest. There's a really poignant atmosphere throughout the album, suffocating us during the times when all hope seems lost and throwing us into a frenzy when the action ramps up. The riffing at leadwork is probably some of the best Slough Feg have ever put to tape. "Gene-ocide" contains some of the catchiest bits of metal recorded in the 21st century, the opening of "Addendum Galactus" also ranks up there. It's kind of difficult for me to describe the influences at work here, as Slough Feg has always had a very unique sound, and here they managed to reinvent themselves for the fourth consecutive album. The mindset behind this one is a bit more calculated and less organic than the previous three, while the Celtic tinge is entirely absent here, replaced with a spacey vibe to complement the story. The sound is varied throughout the album, with high octane rockers like "High Passage/Low Passage" and "Asteroid Belts", slower, churning tracks like "Curse of Humaniti", and of course some of the signature Slough Feg bounciness and energy with "Professor's Theme" and "Gene-ocide". There are even a few that blend two or more of the aforementioned styles to a masterful effect, like "Vargr Moon" and "Vargr Theme/Confrontation". The use of repeating themes throughout the album really helps add to the cohesiveness and overall feel of the album as well.

If there is any negative thing I could say about Traveller, it's that the drums are produced weird so that each tom sounds like it's stuffed with dead squirrels and are indistinguishable from each other, and "Curse of Humaniti" is kind of a weak link when it comes to the staggeringly high quality of songwriting here, but those are really minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of things. This is a journey that is completely worth embarking on, it's a fairly basic story that might be a little confusing without the booklet to explain some of the background, but the payoff is absurdly great. I can't recommend this enough. It's straight up heavy metal done in the way that only Slough Feg can. It's almost impossible to describe, you have to hear it for yourself. So quit reading my rambling bullshit and hop to it, kids.

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