Now tackling their fourth album, Unleash the Archers seem poised to finally reveal the true character of their sound. Leading the way are bone-chilling vocals from Brittney Slayes accompanied by a band that is synchronized, complimentary and flat out talented. With Apex, the quintet finally leave behind the melodic death touches that seemed to smother what was a raging fire of originality just underneath the surface. Now that fire burns bright as the band charges ahead towards the paradigm of power metal, at least the North American version.
And what’s so great about Apex you ask? It’s one of those albums where your favorite track will change with each listen. Every track a perfect composition in and of itself. It’s a complete album littered with slick riffs, solos that would make a prog-guitarist quiver and most importantly, a vocal performance that simply slays. Brittany’s vocals are on par with, well, name a great vocalist. Her range, masterful handling of harmonies and her tonality are compelling enough to make any ordinary nerd abandon the dice bag and hop aboard a warship headed for unknown shores.
And, while all this Wonder Woman hooplah rages around us, Unleash the Archers step into the arena with full frontal female power. “The Matriarch” (video here) sees Brittney declaring herself the “mighty queen” and promising to “eat your heart” should you cross her. Similarly, her work on “Call Me Immortal” show her praising a female god who uses people as pawns in her dark witchery. “She knows my name” croons Slayes. It’s unapologetically sincere and it’s unapologetically awesome. We’re not just looking at awesome ideals here, this album delivers on all fronts. The music absolutely supports the awesomeness of the themes and lyrics.
Earlier I told a half-truth. The melodic death metal influences are not entirely gone. They are, however, much more tasteful. They creep up from time to time in all their Katatonia-esque glory. Particularly on “Shadow Guide” as harsh male vocals (provided by guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley) enter over thick guitar crunches heralding the approaching holiness of the guitar solo. And then we hear what Unleash the Archers do so damn well with their composition: button up the song with a tight outro, harmonized choruses and an energy that is not only infectious but might be something of a plague. Apex has sustained more than a few workouts for me and it’s woken me up in the afternoon much better than a six-dollar cold brew with almond nut butter milk and hand-crafted, artisanal simple syrup made by bees, for bees.
Tracks like “Cleanse the Bloodlines” (for which there is a video) and “Ten Thousand Against One” are the best example of a type of “call-to-arms” of the tracks. They both inspire confidence and merit attention. “Cleanse the Bloodlines” contains what is probably the most dynamic vocal performance on the album. Brittney’s range is off the charts as she affects a few different vocal stylings culminating in an epic outro of soprano vibrato, double bass and choir vocals that are sure to turn any lazy afternoon into a headbanging frenzy.
On the other hand, “Ten Thousand Against One” is the most militaristic track. As Slayes spits the line, “boy, I know you’re there” her fury and determination are intoxicating. Matching that militaristic enthusiasm is the main guitar riff which uses triplets in a way that mimics horse hooves pounding across an open plane. The drums supporting the guitar lines are didactic, slamming out complex rhythms that only enhance the guitar work. Lock and step with the bass, I might add. If anything, Unleash the Archers are one tight band with an apparently synchronastic chemistry. But, it’s more than that. As a group they create a dynamic, an aura or perhaps their own universe in which to experience their thrilling work.
It would be a crime to close out a review without mentioning the absolute monster artwork provided by Ken Sarafin. The cover is clean, soft and made up of a color palette fit for gods. The cover not only matches the music but one can imagine that a nice vinyl version would only be enhanced by having this beautiful world in which to discover Unleash the Archers. Because fantasy music needs fantasy realms.
I may have giggled when the promotional email urged me to raise my fist in the air and scream, “all hail heavy metal!” Yet, after thirty or more spins it’s here I kneel at the altar of Brittney Slayes prepared to wield a sword, battle axe and gauntlet against any force that stands in her way. In fact, I feel it, so why not? And, so it is thus, I stand here before the flaming bonfire that is Unleash the Archers and scream “ALL HAIL HEAVY METAL!”