It never ceases to amaze me how popular Unleash the Archers seem to be with the trendy magazines. I don't question the band's quality, because this fifth album is brilliant stuff, but they're hardly doing what any of the other media darlings are doing. There's no -core to be found anywhere in their sound and I can't find a single way to mention Slipknot outside of this context. But the mags love them and I'm happy for that because it'll only help bring new listeners not just to one particular fantastic band but to an entire subgenre of music they might have previously dismissed.
Unleash the Archers are primarily a power metal band in the European style, even if they hail from as far west as you can get in Canada, in Vancouver. Just check out the first couple of songs on this album to see how they work. You'll initially be slammed by the vocal talent of Brittney Hayes (a.k.a. Brittney Slayes). Listen to her delicacy at the beginning of Waking Dream, then the sheer power in her voice a couple of minutes in. Then hear her ratchet it up another level on the title track, which features some apparently effortless breath control and technique. She nails this one early but the final half minute is magnificent.
And that's all you need, frankly, but I should add that, after a couple of listens, you'll realise that the rest of the band is right up there with her. She has the sort of voice that can dominate a band, but the band she has are so damn good that they keep up with her just as effortlessly as she soars. And, at this point, you'll realise that they're heavier than a lot of power metal bands too. They're more Iced Earth than Iron Maiden and there's a melodic death metal layer alongside the power metal that comes out at points to seriously play, like on Return to Me, with its more prominent backing vocals and a rather frantic pace, or on Faster Than Light.
That pace was introduced on Legacy, which is a fantastic exercise in contrast. It's initially a gear shift upwards to a tempo that would be worthy of a speed metal band but which is so inherently wrapped in keyboards and melody that it's still emphatically power metal. Then it slows down to give Hayes a chance to play in what's almost pop music territory with some gloriously layered vocals. It's melodic pop music set over a seriously fast and powerful backing and it just works. OK, she's more rock at her poppiest than the kawaii girls in Babymetal, but the contrast works in a similar way.
The most overt contrast is probably on The Wind That Shapes the Land, which shifts all the way from an almost balladlike opening to full on melodic death and a long way back again. Sure, it has eight and a half minutes to do that, so it's not rushed, but that's a lot of ground to cover. What's more, the band gets as soft as they get here on the next song, Carry the Flame, which isn't a ballad but brings a host of AOR bands to mind as much as, say, Blind Guardian. There's a lot going on in Afterlife too, the song that wraps up the album, again going from full on melodic death to a calming Celtic-infused outro.
I haven't delved into the lyrics, but this is a continuation (maybe a completion) of the story that was introduced in the band's previous album, Apex. You might think that going from Apex to Abyss means a serious fall but, while that may happen to some of the characters in this saga, it thankfully doesn't happen to the quality of the music and musicianship to be found here. I've only caught odd snippets of Unleash the Archers thus far, maybe a video or two on YouTube, but I'll be searching out a lot more on the basis of the quality of this album.