UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Seasons In The Abyss
August 17, 2020, a month ago
Vancouver’s Unleash The Archers have their bows squarely aimed at the highest of mountains as they saw their profile rise with the release of 2017’s Apex. A fully fleshed out concept and story, 2020 continues the tale with Abyss, out through Napalm Records. While seeing their stardom rise, the power/death metal act is not afraid to take chances on Abyss and conclude the story set forth on Apex.
The very personable, friendly, and extremely talented singer Brittney Slayes sets forth the scene: “In Apex, we were introduced to our two main characters, the hero who we call The Immortal and then the villain who we call The Matriarch. In Apex, The Immortal was awakened by The Matriarch. He’s cursed to serve whoever awakens him from his thousand year slumber. So The Matriarch awakened him and sent him out on this journey to retrieve her four sons and bring them to her so that she can kill them in a ritual to achieve immortality. And she had promised The Immortal that she’d set him free after he did this. Of course, you know, once he brought them back to her, she betrayed him and said, ‘No, go hang out in your mountain for a little while longer and I’ll give you a call when I need you again!’
“So that was kind of upsetting for him. Apex ended on a bit of a low note there. 50 years later he wakes up in Abyss and he’s on a starship out in space and The Matriarch is nowhere to be seen. It turns out he was awakened by the grandson of The Matriarch who was of course the son of one of the men that The Immortal had condemned in the album before. The grandson basically says, ‘I stole you and you and I are going to take out The Matriarch once and for all!’”
It was always the grand plan to have a full story and to continue on from 2017’s Apex and the initial idea was to release both parts of the story as a double album.
Slayes explains, “We had actually planned for it to be like a two disc CD release but then we were running a little low on time and Napalm was knocking on our door. So it was ‘okay, you know what? We just don’t have time to focus and to write to the best of our ability and put out two albums’ so we decided to split them and just focus on Apex. We took the second half of 2019 to fully sit down and write all of Abyss. We had few riffs leftover from Apex that we knew were Abyss riffs basically so we started with those and then just went from there and used the story as a guideline for the whole shebang.”
Luckily for the band, they were able to record in the studio and finish the album before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“We got everything done in January,” reveals the singer. “It was kind of like a whisper in the wind when were in the studio with what was going on in China. We finished and we went home and got ready to go on tour and then it was like ‘holy crap, something horrible is happening in Europe!’ We were just watching what was going on with Jacob’s (Hansen, engineer) studio (in Ribe, Denmark), which is where we recorded it and Amaranthe got in there after us. They got in there like the day before the lockdown happened. We were really lucky what we didn’t have to deal with any of that kind of pressure while we were in there.”
Listeners will find out that Abyss is a record that falls right on that power metal checkboard and has the least amount of harsh vocals present and the decision for that is due to the progression of the story.
Slayes knows this and laughs, “Yeah, we did a thing,” before continuing, “We wanted people to, not that they’re going to do this, but we wanted people to be able to listen to Abyss right after listening to Apex and have that emotional rollercoaster fit properly. In Apex, it's like this high of finding the sons and then this low of being sent back to his mountain, continuing to be a slave. And then Abyss bus starts with that sort of low moment of self-reflection and contemplation, and then ramps up again into the epic battle and then ends on sort of a triumphant high. We decided that we weren't going to introduce harsh vocals until The Matriarch was introduced into the story again. The first half is all about The Immortal and meeting the grandson and they're kind of out in space and then bam, track, five or six, it's like, here's The Matriarch. She's this bad-ass narcissist and here are the harsher vocals.”
That’s not the only difference within Abyss, but listeners will be gleamed with a sci-fi, spacey vibe with the use of synths and a track that even resembles a power ballad, and this writer sees it as a welcome addition to their sound.
In regards to the synth, Slayes explains, “We really wanted to give a different quality than Apex. We wanted it to be a more ethereal sounding record. The synth really just kind of wrapped that up in a nice little bow for us. We wanted to make the listener feel like they had been transported to another place, a place different from where Apex occurred. We felt the synth would be a great way to do that. I’m glad you like it, it’s been very much a point of contention among quite a few people.”
“Through Stars” feels like an ‘80s pop rock track which Slayes relays, “It’s like if metal was synth wave king of thing. We’re all really big into synth wave and retro wave and all that stuff right now. We were like, ‘okay, we need a synth wave track on this record, but we’ll hide it behind the metal.’ I just really wanted it to be like a catchy sort of song that makes you want to lay down on the hood of your car and look up at the stars, that kind of thing. That’s definitely the vibe we were going for.”
“Carry The Flames” has a huge, flourishing chorus, straight out the ‘80s power ballad playbook.
“That’s what we were going for,” she confirms. “It’s kind of like a weird spin on a power ballad. We were really influenced by old-school, heavy metal like Queensrÿche, Scorpions, that sort of feeling, or as Andy (Saunders, guitarist) like to call it, ‘butt rock’ (laughs).”
To satiate the need for speed, the Stratovarius like, motivational, and appropriately named “Faster Than Light” is a big moment for The Immortal.
“Oh yeah,” she agrees. “The whole time he’s been running, hoping that he can escape both The Matriarch and his pat of being this tool for evil basically and finally he’s like, ‘you know, I’m not running anymore, I’m going to face what I’ve done. I’m going to accept it and I’m going to be more powerful because of it.”
Orchestral bombast makes its way to closer “Afterlife” thank to the team up with Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Francesco Paoli.
“It was actually Jacob’s idea,” Slayes discloses. “We played the track for him and he was like ‘Oh my goodness. Okay, cool. I get it.’ It was very much a MIDI (laughs). Andrew had written all these lovely orchestral parts, but it sounded like a computer. Jacob heard it and was just like, ‘I know what we can do here, I got someone, I got a guy.’ He had done the mixing and mastering on Velano (Fleshgod Apocalypse’s 2019 album) so he was like, I got Francesco from Fleshgod. He took what we already had there and made it better added like little flourishes and things and depth and did a really great job turning it into the ending that we had been hoping for.”
The unusual structure of “Legacy” is a standout, especially due to the unusual song structure.
“It’s very different from anything that we’ve done before,” divulges Slayes. “There’s no chorus. It’s prose in a song, it’s really cool. I thought it was really interesting when Andy sent it over; he sent like the first third of it before it starts repeating. He’s like ‘okay, this is what I got, but I don’t know where to go from here.’ I was like, ‘Oh no, man. Oh, I can totally use this; this aspect of the story is so wordy. There’s so much that I need to say, just do that again! I was like, ‘just do that part again’ and then we’ll do some sweet solos in the middle. He was like, ‘okay, that’s really weird, but okay.’ I just love the way that it feels at the end of it. It’s kind of more like a listen track than a sing along, or get super hyped up; it’s going to really solidify the listener in the place that we want them to be mentally and emotionally.”
In this age of streaming and making playlists, Abyss is not that type of album. It’s for the music listener, it’s for the ones who love to dive in and take in a whole record, get lost in the linear notes, and take in all the lyrics and the sounds.
“We really wrote this record to be taken in like that; it’s a front to back,” confirms Slayes. “It’s not a find a single on Spotify and just add that to your playlist kind of thing. It’s very much written to be taken in one sitting and hopefully will do that. I know that with the dominance of Spotify in the music world these days, that’s not really how they do it, how they sell their platform to you. I think a lot of people are going to continue to listen to playlists and hear one or two tracks and never really get that full experience. I hope that people like what they hear and decide to delve a little deeper and to give themselves that experience.”
Unleash The Archers are fully immersed in the story and have plans to bring the story to life in a graphic novel.
Slayes is currently working on it and says, “That will be like a two book set for both Apex and Abyss and that’s taking its sweet time though, because I just don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to it. The music has to come first. The earbook edition of the album that includes the CD and then the instrumental version of it comes with this art book full of photography and the artwork and lyrics that has a short story inside of it that explains every song and chapter in detail. It gives you a little bit more of what’s happening story-wise.”
YouTube and music videos have been an invaluable resource of the band to grow their fan base. Two of their videos, the “Awakening” playthrough video, and “Tonight We Ride”, are well above the 8 million mark in views.
“We put a lot of time and effort into our videos,” Slayes affirms. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with just putting out a performance video, but we always personally just kind of are like, ‘Oh, okay, yeah you can put it on in the background or whatever, and it’s cool.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re watching it or just listening to it or whatever. We’ve always wanted music videos that engage the listener and make them want to see what’s going to happen at the end. I think that’s one of the reasons why we were able to build up a larger kind of international fan base when we were just a tiny named band from Canada because of our music videos like ‘General Of The Dark Army’ got us noticed and we’ve had German fans since like 2011 because of that album and everything.”
The “Awakening” video has earned much attention from the YouTube reaction channels, where people listen to a song, watch a video for the first time and react to it.
“So many news fans because of that,” enthuses Slayes. “So many people are coming to us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever saying ‘Oh, I just saw blah, blah, blah, react to you. I’ve never heard you guys before.’ That’s so cool. If you don’t have something worth watching on YouTube then you miss this whole other side of the industry. We love the reactionists.”
With the touring situation being murky due to the pandemic, Unleash The Archers have plans to hit the road in 2021.
Slayes relates, “It's being booked, but it's still kind of like tentative, but it's not, we're just hoping and we're just going to book everything in the hopes that it's all going to work out fine. If something happens second wave anything like that, then we can always push it back. We've got plans to do Europe and North America and South America and Australia and we’re just going to hit the road as much as possible. We’ve been confirmed again for most of the festivals that we were booked for 2020. Hopefully 2021 is going to be a big year for touring. We’re just going to keep our fingers crossed, but I am firmly of the mindset that if you have no expectations, you have no disappointments.”