Unleash The Archers
Abyss

This all could have all been so easy.

Unleash the Archers has made a habit out of taking big leaps with every one of their releases throughout their young career. Yes – ideally, every band should get better with every record – but the exponential growth these guys have shown as musicians on every new album has been outrageous. Signs of their potential were always there; early works Behold the Devastation and Demons of the AstroWaste showcased a band of musicians with obvious talent and a HELL of a lot of ambition, but not really sure what to do with it. This resulted in albums with a lot of head-turning moments, but were ultimately plagued with a clunky, ill-fitting mix of ideas and directions that just didn’t have a ton of staying power.  Singer Brittney Slayes, deservedly a major focal point of the band, was an out-of-control nuclear warhead – brimming with raw, unbridled power and talent with seemingly endless promise, but lacking in an understanding of how to use it to its full effect.

Follow-up Time Stands Still on the other hand, was a bit of a revelation. The band stripped things down quite a bit and focused their efforts – taking the areas that were already strong and elevating them to a new level, while altering or just outright dropping some of the elements that didn’t quite fit with their earlier work. That said, while the album was all-around more improved and complete, it lacked some of those “wow” moments that immediately caught my attention on earlier works.

All it took was the opening track “Awakening” on Apex, however, for everything to change. All it took was one incendiary opening riff, and one triumphant, Earth-shattering note from Brittney Slayes, for the world to officially be on notice that this band was no longer fucking around. In my mind, Unleash the Archers went from a band I thought had a pretty cool take on modern power metal, to skyrocketing to the level of metal elite, all in one single song – and the rest of the album did nothing to bring the band back down to earth. A total, complete package of a record filled with the most confidently written and delivered work of their entire career, a work that seemed to mark the end of a band’s journey to find itself after years of trimming the fat, smoothing the edges, and building its muscles to reach it’s ultimate, Apex form (tee hee). It was easily the record of the year for me in 2017, and the truth is, I’m not sure I’ve gone more than a week without listening at least to a track or two from that album, if not the whole thing.

So when the band announced it would be releasing a new album that would serve as the second chapter of the storyline presented on Apex, it was easy to see the band continue to ride its momentum, easy to see the band settling into a groove and take the ideas and the direction from that album, and just do it all over again, simple as that.

It all should have been so. Goddamn. Easy.

But you don’t reach the top of the mountain by being satisfied with how far you’ve already climbed, and while it could have been easy to ride the sound built on Apex to a potentially lengthy career, Unleash the Archers are, quite apparently, not interested in taking the easy path – because while the journey to Apex may have seen the band honing their craft and whittling it down to its purest and most potent form, Abyss sees the band taking that newfound power and confidence, and using it to journey back out into the world of metal to find new elements to interweave into their already vast repertoire. It turns out what I thought was their final, ultimate form – may have just been a new beginning all along.

To start, Abyss takes the story laid out in the world of Apex and takes it to the stars. Being a modern-day sort of space opera, the band have gone and done a simple and obvious thing to match that setting – they’ve added synth – and a pretty generous amount, to boot. To these ears it’s a welcome and clever addition within the context of this record; not overwhelming or used as a crutch, but used instead to help paint a picture of grandiose, epic celestial battle between ancient forces. After the powerful, building intro track “Waking Dream,” title-track “Abyss” throws those synths right to the forefront to gets the album started in earnest, and after a helping of Andrew Kingsley’s simple, but beautifully effective lead work, Brittney comes in and introduces herself once again with an absolutely breathtaking roar which, as it turns out, is just a teaser for a secondary, even more amazing note that makes the intro on “Awakening” seem like child’s play. The song perfectly showcases the band’s understanding of how to play off eachother’s strengths, too; simply orchestrated verses allow Brittney to take center stage, before a fantastic solo tradeoff between Kingsley and Grant Truesdell busts in, each showcasing their own distinct, signature styles, and all the while drummer Scott Buchanan is laying a solid-as-steel backbone, picking spots to throw in little drum flourishes and fills that help add little high points in the song’s journey. Synths aside, this is one of the few songs on this record that closely resemble anything found on Apex, and from here on out, things take some very different and frankly, very surprising turns.

“Through Stars” breaks things down, serving as a bit of a mid-paced scene-setter that, while certainly not unrecognizable as UTA, gives off a distinctly Evergrey kind of vibe, especially with its more forward-use of synth and backing vocal melodies. The song also shows Ms. Slayes increased understanding of vocal control, trading unbridled power for a much more appropriate and gentle approach that accompanies the song perfectly. The tail-end of the songs shows off a fucking gorgeous guitar and vocal melody that instantly reminds me of some of Omnium Gatherum’s more melodic offerings. While one of the album’s more straightforward tracks, it’s the effectiveness in its delivery that really carries it through, and it’s the first real sign of the band forging new paths.

Which leads me to the album’s first “HOLY SHIT WHAT?!” moment. After an absolutely lovely, subdued vocal melody at the start of “Legacy,” Scott Buchanan roars in with a totally out-of-nowhere fucking blast beat, accompanied by super melodic tremolo picking some EPIC sweeping from (I assume) Andrew Kingsley that just knocks your socks off – all backed by a perfectly simple synth overlay. Essentially, UTA are goddamn Astronoid now?! But before I can settle down and come to full terms with this development, the band settles switches it up again by calling on the spirit of Devin Townsend and settling into an atmospheric, progressive number reminiscent of the fellow Canadian madman’s solo work (could even be something pulled off a Ziltoid album). The songs trades off between the proggy elements and that heavy Astoronoid/Violet Cold-esque sound, capping off with a dazzling solo over furious blasting and riffing that just isn’t something I ever thought I’d hear on a UTA record, and I absolutely adore it.

Another track, and another surprise on the super heavy “Return To Me,” which turns a dark corner in Abyss’ storyline, and features the first major appearance of Grant Truesdell’s excellent snarling vocals (used as the voice of villain “The Matriarch” from the Apex storyline). They accompany the tracks harsher tone well and add a nice contrast to Brittney’s stunning cleans. The track starts out in familiar ground, but after one of the albums stronger solo segments, things suddenly get super epic, calling another Canadian band to the stage, this time bringing to mind catchy-as-fuck prog metal masters Protest the Hero to mind, with soaring guitars and busy drum work that all build to the song’s final stanza. Again, I’m caught off guard by how the band has managed to bring in sounds I just never saw coming, but once again I’m finding myself absolutely enamored and impressed with these developments.

After another super catchy, although this time more somewhat expected “Soulbound,” which features one of the more catchy interplays between guitar and synth on the album, the band breaks in with the first bona fide, unmistakably Power Metal track on the album on “Faster than Light.” We’re talking a speedy, finger-shredding, full-fledged nod to Dragonforce here, packed with tricky, quick vocal lines and shameless shredding that hits all the right notes. But before I can even get to fully appreciating the track for what it is, all of a sudden there’s a break in the action, as the drums and rhythm guitars take a step back beneath a righteous tapping solo. By this point, I should have learned to expect the unexpected, because what follows is a crushing, shades of August Burns Red, honest-to-goodness breakdown that leaves me absolutely floored. Of course, that’s where they decide to bust out a breakdown! Why wouldn’t they?! Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t ludicrous, deathcore level of crushing, but in the context of a fucking Power Metal song? My Gods does it hit hard. They even have the decency to run through it twice for you, to extend the headbang a few bars more. Thanks, guys!

The super-epic “The Wind That Shapes the Land” takes the band back to it’s Apex roots, featuring some familiar and always-welcome galloping guitar work and another great exchange between Brittney’s cleans and Grant’s harsh vocals. Of all the tracks on this album, this is probably the one that would feel most at-home on their previous record, and probably the one that most feels like what I expected this album to sound like. That’s neither a dig or a feather in the cap of this particular song – again, an album full of this stuff would have been more-than-welcomed into my heart, but given how this record has played out, it definitely stands out in it’s familiarity.

The last two tracks of the album are spectacular for a number of reasons, but in particular is how they put a cap on what really has been the area that Brittany Slayes has really grown as a singer and songwriter on this record – her ability to create super intricate, infectious vocal melodies to carry what has already grown into a generational talent of a voice. Her control and decision-making is fucking ON. POINT on this record, expertly choosing when to unleash the full power of her voice, and when to take a step back and utilize the full range of her vocal abilities. Just listen to the shared pre-chorus run with guitarist (and surprisingly capable vocalist) Andrew Kingsley and try to get that melody out of your head. Good on you if you can, but it’s been rooting around in my brain for over two weeks now, and the chorus is just as strong. But it’s the chorus and end eventual closing notes on “Afterlife” that really take the cake – an unmatched mix of range and power that I’m fully convinced no other singer in the game could quite match. I could point out dozens of other examples on this record that prove that point, but I’m well aware this review is already running outrageously long, so I’ll just go ahead and let you listen and hear for yourself.

I realize that this album is, literally, Apex part II, but I implore you not to get too caught up in that fact. Declaring whether or not this album is “better” or “worse” than its predecessor somehow misses the point, because this is a completely different kind of beast. It’s nothing I could have expected, and I’m so happy for it. In a way, everything leading up to Apex was a necessary journey for this band to figure out who they were at their core, and from here on out, starting with Abyss, we could be seeing a band that’s now really ready to spread it’s wings and show us everything they’re really capable of, regardless of defined genre or style. Right here and now, though, I’ll say this much: if I find another album this year that I enjoy listening to more than I’ve loved listening to this one – I will absolutely shit myself. I will shit everywhere.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
August 24th, 2020

Comments

  1. Commented by: J. Mays

    As I mentioned to you: I’m not sure a metal website is the right place for your Unleash The Archers erotic fan fiction, but I enjoyed it, as well as the album.


Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.

  • Exhumed/Gruesome - Twisted Horror split
  • Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkenment
  • Helion Prime - Question Everything
  • Ironflame - Blood Red Victory
  • Recorruptor - The Funeral Corridor
  • Ysengrin - Initiatio
  • Cytotoxin - Nuklearth
  • Black Crown Initiate - Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
  • Hinayana - Death of The Cosmic EP
  • Inhalement - Eternally Stoned EP
  • Ahtme - Mephitic
  • Convocation - Ashes Coalesce
  • Serment - Chante, ô flamme de la liberté
  • Enslaved - Utgard
  • Stillbirth - Revive The Throne