UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Slay Together, Stay Together

May 23, 2024, a month ago

By Carl Begai

feature heavy metal unleash the archers

UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Slay Together, Stay Together

Ask vocalist Brittney Slayes how her band Unleash The Archers ended up being the most European-sounding act out of Canada to date, she'll blame Sweden's treasure trove of metal bands as her main influence. Add to this guitarists Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell's love of Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, (insert European metal band here), and the likes of American metal in the form of Queensrÿche and Iced Earth pushing Brittney's buttons, and they end up with Unleash The Archers sound. That said, one would naturally assume the band has made their biggest noise overseas - a long established hotbed for power metal - but as it turns out it's the American market that has given them a solid platform up to this point in their career.

"I think that's because we haven't been able to get over to Europe to tour," says Brittney. "Touring is super important when it comes to getting your sound out there and not just gaining fans but keeping them. We haven't been able to get to Europe since 2017. We were supposed to do a big tour in 2020, but we know why that didn't happen. We tried to re-book for 2021, and again things just weren't ready because of the pandemic, so in 2022 we decided to move on to the next album."

In general, Canadian metal and rock bands tend to do well in Europe with the right push. Artists like Annihilator, Strapping Young Lad / Devin Townsend, Voivod and Danko Jones are only a few examples of acts from our Great White North that have made a memorable impact on the other side of the Atlantic for decades. It's Brittney's hope that Unleash The Archers will reach a similar level of notoriety in the years to come. Their new album, Phantoma, has them back in the starting blocks.

"The hard part is breaking out of Canada. We toiled away here at home for years before we finally got signed. It was difficult to get a visa to get down to the States, so we were just doing Canada back and forth every summer for five years. Once we were able to break out of Canada the growth was so nice, and exponential. It's been great to finally reach newer audiences. It's good to know they're alright with us being Canadian (laughs)."

"It's funny," she adds, "because Germany is one of the first places we started mailing records when we put our first album out in 2009. It was awesome because we were sending albums over constantly. Germany really loves their metal, and we love that."

Phantoma is a busy and intense tour de force that falls in line with Unleash The Archers’ previous releases in that, for all the instrumental fireworks, the songs are distinctly vocal-centric. According to Brittney this was never a defined vision for the band, but it was always in the back of her mind.

"We were always going to try something new going into Unleash The Archers," Brittney says of the band's formative years. "Scott (Buchanan / drums) and I started the band together when his band broke up. He came back one night, all upset, and he told me that his band had broken up. I was like, 'Oh, too bad.... wanna do something with me?' It was immediate: why don't we do something? I called up (former guitarist) Brayden (Dyczkowski) and said, 'Sorry to hear about the band. Do you want to start something with me?' (laughs). It was always my vision to do heavy, kind of death-influenced metal."

"At the time we were really into deathcore; doing that, but me singing in a power metal style over the music. At the time I was heavily influenced by Queensrÿche, Judas Priest, and of course Iron Maiden. I wanted to do that with deathcore vocals because Brayden was a screamer. In the beginning we were half-and-half; there was as much screaming as there was singing, and we were all about doing heavy, fun, weird syncopated rhythm stuff. We grew and changed, and I got way better at the style I was trying to achieve. I was a chamber singer for years, doing classical music, so I was trying to figure out how to find my metal voice. It wasn't until I discovered Lost Horizon, with Daniel Heiman on lead vocals, and that was it. We started growing into a more traditional power metal sound because I was into doing super-catchy soaring choruses instead of having 15 different parts that never repeat (laughs)."

"We grew as songwriters together, and then Brayden left. We got Andrew and Grant into the band, and that's what made us a power metal band. Unleash The Archers' sound became very much about my vocals, the traditional shred guitars, and Grant's screams at certain points to accentuate the music. It was a progression, but it was always my vision when we started the band."

Over the last several years, Unleash The Archers have opted to release albums that are concept pieces. Phantoma is a 10-song story that is power metal at its core, venturing in and out of the realms of prog, hard rock, death metal and even pop music as required.

"We don't like to write the same album one after the other, and we definitely like to play and experiment with genres a lot," Brittney explains. "We just have so many influences collectively, so we like to try and put all of that in there. We wanted to have a very sort of traditional metal Queensrÿche / Van Halen-esque vibe on the opening song ('Human Era') but also make it our own. It's also about writing what's right for the story. We write the story first, in chapters, and that determines the sound of each track. It's important to us that we don't have the same song one after the other on an album, that we follow the storyline and tell the story musically as well as lyrically. That first song is setting the stage, trying to get the listener into the mind frame of this post-apocalyptic world where AI runs everything."

"Personally, I like to tell stories. I'm not the kind of person that likes to write about daily life. It's not my thing. I live it enough as it is (laughs). I really just love the escapism and being able to take the listener somewhere else. I don't have the budget to make movies, but if I did that's what I would do. I love movies, comic books, novels, fantasy, all that stuff. I'm a musician so I try and do that through music."

Brittney admits, however, that it can be difficult to take the story ideas that she has and turn them into full albums.

"The question always is, how do we turn them into 10 songs, first of all, and how do we make those 10 songs each have an important part of the story to tell? And how do we make it so those songs can also stand on their own? This is the age of playlists now, so a song needs to be something that someone can listen to without the rest of the record and not be totally lost. That part of it is challenging."

"Phantoma, is about this AI that gains sentience, and she learns how become human through

social media. Her concept of humanity is all the good stuff because that's what we love to post online - we're all the best at everything on social media - and she ends up being more human than an actual human being. When she finally meets human-kind she realizes how flawed we are and has this great moment of revelation. That's one of the ideas that I pitched and the boys wanted to do that one. From there I set about turning it into a full story."

"It comes from my love of science fiction. I think the seed for Phantoma was first planted by the Tokyo Ghost comics, because I loved their vision of the future; everyone is addicted to drugs, everyone is walking around with world on screens all around them. It's a dark, bleak and terrible place, so I took that and extrapolated it a little bit, and it grew from there."

Although she holds the creative reigns, Brittney stays open to letting the music created by her bandmates push and shape her story ideas as they are fleshed out.

"Sometimes the music changes things, sure. If they bring me a riff that is too good not to use, I'll figure out a way to write it into the story. When Andrew sent the riff for 'Green & Glass', it was literally just a demo called 'The Happiest Riff On Earth', and he didn't know if it was going to fit the story, but I absolutely had to find a way to use it. It fit perfectly."

Phantoma is yet another ambitious project from Unleash The Archers that, upon repeated listens, is worthy of being performed live from front to back. It's an appealing idea for Brittney, but it's not something she would entertain for an extensive tour.

"I'm the kind of person that loves to hear the favourites from a new album, but I also love to hear my favourites from the old albums when I go and see a band. Last fall, I went and did the Ayreon show in Tilburg for Live Beneath The Waves. We played the 01011001 album in full every night for five nights in a row. I thought that was cool; that's the way to do it. You do a special show a big venue several nights in a row - all week long - and you have time to put on a really big show with stage props and everything; like what Queensrÿche did for Operation: Mindcrime as well. That would be more fitting than a regular tour for something like Phantoma. Maybe one day."

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