Melding the best elements of a host of different metal styles, British Columbia metal quintet Unleash The Archers is hitting its artistic stride with the release of the new album, and fifth overall, Abyss.
It is a storytelling tour de force which encapsulates the second part of an epic fantastical, sci-fi infused original story composed by lead vocalist/cofounder Brittney Slayes, enmeshed with pulse pounding riffs, exceptionally evocative musical movements, and imbued with intensity, drama and a cinematic quality worthy of a Wagnerian opus.
In short, it’s the perfect temporary escape for a world enflamed by political passions, devastated by climate change, and now gripped in the iron fist of a global pandemic. Like other musicians and bands, the Covid-19 crisis has impacted Unleash the Archers but has not rendered them inactive by any stretch of the imagination. One of the ways that Slayes and her bandmates have been productive during the Covid-19 lockdown has been to do lots of press, work on other aspects of their band and brand, and create music videos to keep their name out there in the aether of the internet.
“It’s been interesting for sure. It ended our tour with Dragonforce early. We were six shows in and had 10 sold out shows ahead of us and we had to cancel them and fly home, which was unfortunate. The album was finished and in the can, so there’s wasn’t much to do on the recording front or on the writing front. But there’s definitely been a lot of preparation that we had to do for the release of Abyss. So, we have actually been super busy over the last couple of months, to the point where I have actually wanted to stop time for a couple of days so I could catch up and get everything done and then I too can sit on the couch and watch Netflix like everyone else in the pandemic,” she said.
“We have been jamming and doing music videos and getting all the merch together and organizing the artwork for everything and doing little promos for Napalm, so there has been a ton of work. So, honestly, other than not really feeling too good about going out and social distancing and wearing a mask when I do, it’s been weird how normal it’s been for me.
“In terms of music videos, this is how you can see a band right now. The way we consume music by streaming services, you really never get to get into a band like you did before, where you’re looking at the liner notes of the CD, reading about them in magazines, or you’re sitting there with the artwork from the vinyl in front of you when it’s on the stereo. It’s not like that anymore, so music videos are how you see the band and how the band gets the opportunity to portray themselves in a visual way to the public. I think they’re extremely important. I think people see that if a band puts a lot of time and effort into their music videos, it gives you an idea of who they are as people, and how dedicated they are, as opposed to just throwing something randomly only just for the sake of it.”
Abyss is a direct narrative sequel to Unleash the Archers’ epic 2017 Napalm Records release, Apex, which introduced the indominable but accursed character of The Immortal, and his nemesis and chief tormentor, The Matriarch.
“In Apex, we were introduced to our two main characters, The Immortal who is our hero and the protagonist, and The Matriarch who is our villain and antagonist. In Apex, The Immortal is awakened by The Matriarch and forced to serve her. He is basically cursed to always serve whoever awakens him from his 1,000-year-old slumbers. So, in Apex he was awakened by The Matriarch and thus he must do exactly as she asks. She tasks him by getting him to find her four sons and bringing them back to her so she could kill them in a ritual to achieve immortality herself. Before doing this, The Matriarch promised The Immortal that she would free him from his curse. Of course, at the end of Apex, she betrays him and does not do this and instead sends him back to his mountain, which we call Apex, to sleep until she has need of him again,” Slayes explained.
“Fast forward 50 years and the events of Abyss take place on a starship out in space. The Immortal wakes up and discovers he’s all alone and doesn’t know where he is. The Matriarch is nowhere to be found but he soon discovers that his new master is the grandson of The Matriarch, and the son of one of the four men, the four sons, that The Immortal was forced to condemn in the previous album. The Immortal and the grandson vow to work tougher to rid the universe of The Matriarch and her evil once and for all.
“This marks the end of The Matriarch, spoiler alert. Her story ends on Abyss, but the character of The Immortal definitely has potential for more. There’s a prequel that could be done telling of his origins or it could be what happens to him after he battles The Matriarch, or what happened in that 50 years while he was sleeping before being awakened by the grandson, anything like that. So, there’s a lot of potential for a continuation of that character in the future, but as of right now, we’re going to try and close this saga as much as I can.”
Slayes is proud of her ‘nerd’ heritage of being a lifelong lover of science fiction and fantasy novels, video games and comics, and this passion has migrating over perfectly to the amazingly cinematic musical and lyrical storytelling of Unleash the Archers.
“I am a big reader. I have always loved science fiction and fantasy. Ever since I was little, I always had my nose in a book. And I love video games, I love comics, I love movies, I love everything to do with science fiction and fantasy – if something is seen as nerdy, I probably like it. I was inspired by all that to create this story, which really just started with the two main characters. I knew I wanted a female antagonist. I wanted her to be this typically power hungry, narcissistic, sorceress type. I just find these characters can be so terrifying when they are on a path to get what they want,” she said.
“And I knew I wanted the protagonist to be male and that he was going to be the tragic hero type that is sort of condemned to a life that is not his own. The story just came from creating these two characters and their personalities and back stories. I wanted The Immortal to be extremely powerful and could probably crush The Matriarch with his fingers, so why doesn’t he do that? That’s where the idea of the curse comes from and him being thousands and thousands of years old and having all this power but having zero control over it.
“I wrote the whole story beforehand in like a track-by-track format with every chapter being a song. And then using that basic guideline, I would say this is track one, this is the working title for it, this is what’s going on in the story at the moment, this is how the listener should feel, this is what it should sound like, this one is a dark, heavy one. And then I would give the guys an example if I had a particular band in mind of what style or feeling I was going for on a particular track. For example, on the title track of Apex, I wanted a huge solo section like Iron Maiden does on songs like Hallowed Be Thy Name. I used that as motivation for the guys to write the music and they would take those guidelines and write around it and come back with riffs and licks. I might think they aren’t right for this song, but would work for another son, or they might be perfect. And then we’d all work through it together and build the songs together and arrange them. So, that’s basically how it works.”
Abyss is the band’s third album for Napalm and fifth overall, after releasing Behold the Devastation in 2009 and Demons of the AstroWaste two years later. After signing their record deal, the band released Time Stands Still in 2015.
Slayes and drummer/partner Scott Buchanan formed the band in 2007 and are the only remaining original members. Guitarist Grant Truesdell joined in 2011, while second guitarist Andrew Kingsley signed on in 2014. Nick Miller has been touring bassist for Unleash the Archers for the past two years.
“Scott was playing in a band and we were dating. I really loved going to see his band live and at the same time I wanted to be in my own band. I was singing in a different project at the time, but it wasn’t quite right for me. So, when Scott’s band broke up, I suggested we start something together. Initially, we stole the guitar player from his band [Brayden Dyczkowski, since departed] and started Unleash the Archers. We started playing with another band called Archon Legion, which is where Grant and Andrew were from and when that band broke up, we kind of assimilated them into us for the lineup that we have now,” she said.
Slayes believes music is always a good tonic for tough times. The positive comments received from fans for Abyss seems to prove that many fans are looking for music experiences that are not just distracting from the news and the pandemic, but which are immersive, escapist, which the listener can dig deep into and which also just rock – heavy riffs for heavy times.
“Especially with these kinds of tumultuous times, where people are spending so much time at home, and many of those people are alone, music is a saving grace for a lot of us. I personally have been consuming media like crazy and have constantly been looking forward to Fridays to see who is releasing new music and if I can find that next great album that’s going to keep me enthralled for months at a time. So, assuming that most everyone else is feeling this way, they’re all kind of twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the bands that they love to put out new music,” she said.
“But even before Covid, we’ve always had a lot of people who have reached out to us said, ‘your music helps me through tough times.’ Or, ‘whenever I am having a tough day, I listen to Apex,’ and that really means a lot to us to know that our music is helping people out, touching them in a way that makes their day better, or anything along those lines. It means a lot for us, because we don’t write our music so that we can play it by ourselves, for ourselves in our basement; we want other people to listen and to enjoy it along with us. That’s why I am so glad we’re able to release some new music during this horrible time.
“One really great comment that I recently received was that the person has never looked forward to an album so much just to find out what happens in the story, and I thought that was awesome. It’s difficult to get that story across in music these days, but I am just glad that people are as excited about what’s going on with the story as I am to tell it. I know that most of our fans already listen to albums from front to back, but I am hoping that someone else discovers us and listens to the first single and wants to dig in a little deeper and really give the whole album a good listen. Maybe they will hear that there is something going on story wise that they really need to follow, like a Netflix show. Not everyone will understand that we write concept records, so we welcome those new people who are just finding out about us and finding that we take a different approach to writing albums. In this day and age, most people tend to consume music through playlists or one-off kind of things. Spotify has made that really popular, and you can build your own playlist on Pandora and so it’s all about singles. We definitely built Abyss, as we did with Apex, hoping you would want to listen to it front to back in one sitting. If you listen to both all the way through, it takes you to this great place that can distract you from the horrors of everyday life, especially what’s going on now.”
For more information about Unleash the Archers, any possible post-pandemic shows, and the new album, Abyss, visit their social media accounts, or www.unleashthearchers.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for nearly 30 years. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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