To me, the enjoying of power metal comes down to a couple of factors:
One, does the music feel passionate, feel fiery, feel…well, powerful? Do the songs soar? Do the melodies stick in the brain? Limp-wristed power metal is no one’s friend, and there are many that fall prey to the happy-cheese-metal singalong, or to namby-pamby melodic hard rock or Ren Faire jiggeries. For examples that meet my standards: Think “Painkiller”; think Walls Of Jericho or Skeptic’s Apocalypse. If you can listen to Helloween’s “Ride The Sky” and not feel lifted up, if you can hear it and not sing along, however poorly compared to the record, then you’re either deaf or inhuman. The same goes for Riot’s “Thundersteel,” or Sanctuary’s “Battle Angels,” or any number of others. (And mind you, those are just my favorites – feel free to add to the list in the comments below…)
And two, does the vocalist bring the “metal god” range and theatrics that the style demands? Kiske, Dane, Conklin, Deris, Tony Moore, Sean Peck, Nils Patrick Johansson – there are others, of course, but these are those gods, the standards by which others are measured and often found wanting…
After two independent releases, British Columbia’s Unleash The Archers makes the jump to Napalm Records for Time Stands Still. It’s a new record label, but Time is solidly in line with what the Archers unleashed before, albeit noticeably sharper. Like 2011’s Demons Of The AstroWaste, and like Behold The Devastation before that, it’s a mixture of power and melodic death metals. Like Demons and 2012’s EP-length Defy The Skies, Time sees the melodeath pushed further away from prominence as the power metal takes an ever-increasing (and deserving) center role.
In addition to finding a new label, Unleash The Archers is also mostly a new band – in the four years since AstroWaste, three-fifths of the Archers turned over, leaving only drummer Scott Buchanan and vocalist Brittney Hayes remaining. (Hayes is now credited as “Brittney Slayes,” in true power metal fashion.) Guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley push Time into shreddier territory than those earlier LPs – speed metal riffs run head-on into fleet-fingered arpeggion-laden solos, giving the whole of Time the feel of a less dizzyingly hyperkinetic, less ridiculous Dragonforce.
I can’t claim a wholly intimate knowledge of the band’s first two full-lengths – I’ve heard both and loved neither. There were some good ideas, some good performances, but I can’t say either one was a knockout. Compared to those, Defy The Skies was an improvement in both concept and execution, and Time Stands Still is a further step forward – the record sounds better; the riffs and the melodies are fierier. As a whole, these tunes satisfy my criterion number one above, with particular standouts in the opening tandem of “Frozen Steel” and “Hail Of The Tide,” in the operatic choir-laden title track, and in the trad-metal fun of “Test Your Metal,” which proved to be my favorite of all of Time‘s tunes.
George Miller’s lawyers might have a thing or two to say about this video concept, however…
Guitar pyrotechnics and solid songwriting notwithstanding, the most distinctive feature of Unleash The Archers remains Brittney Hayes’ clean vocals. Her performance on Time is a marked improvement over already impressive beginnings. Powerful before, her voice here is angrier, rangier, edgier, all the better for all of that – from the first three harmonized notes of “Frozen Steel, ” a perfect power metal layered scream, Time Stands Still is Hayes’ record, through the multi-octave span of first single “Tonight We Ride” (which is one of her best, although one of the album’s least interesting tunes) to the glorious goofiness of “Test Your Metal” and beyond. The occasional death growl fits around her, a vestige of the death metal influence that emerges from time to time, and while those are capably done, they’re extraneous and feel even more unnecessary compared to what Hayes can and does do.
By paring back the melodeath and letting Hayes have an even greater focus, Unleash The Archers is playing to their strength. Also, admittedly, in scaling back that influence, they’re playing to my tastes, as melodeath in 2015 holds little interest to me. I wouldn’t complain were they to excise it altogether, focus on their best qualities and become a really great power metal band with a great singer. For now, they’re lingering just a bit beneath that, but getting better with every step.