UNLEASH THE ARCHERS, a melodic power metal band from Canada, have made their way onto our radar, despite the great white north not exactly being known for their great metal bands. Nevertheless, UTA has, in the past, released some intriguing material, so when we learned about the release of “Abyss” on August 21st, 2020, through Napalm Records, we were enthusiastic to check it out and see what their latest album has to offer.
As someone Canadian-born myself, my list of good homeland bands is quite small, with the slim pickings including KOBRA AND THE LOTUS and the many works of Devin Townsend. Naturally, any opportunity to add to Canada’s feeble metal footprint is an opportunity I’m willing to take, especially considering these guys were recommended by my whiplash doctor back in the west, a budding metalhead who is proving to have good taste. Furthermore, having looked into the band a little more deeply and discovering that UTA has written some concept albums, it seems that “Abyss” is the sequel to their last album, “Apex” (2017). Having enjoyed the band’s track–by–track of the story, it was interesting to see what would happen to The Immortal next.
“Waking Dream” is a gentle song to begin with, opening with slow guitar lines as Brittney Slayes gently solos overtop. The song has a strong dynamic build-up as a more distorted sound increases in the guitars and it eventually kicks up a bit with a gritty, slightly unpolished production sound – an interesting and welcome change from the normal in this genre. There’s a depth to Slayes‘ voice that’s similar to what I enjoy about Kobra Paige [KOBRA AND THE LOTUS]; one could argue that they sound too similar but if they’re good and sing in rather different genres, I personally don’t see the issue. “Waking Dream” leads straight into “Abyss,” the title track and first single. Having not had more than a passing familiarity with UNLEASH THE ARCHERS before putting this album on the first time, this single was quite shocking, with a combination of almost BLIND GUARDIAN -worthy power metal sounds, an aggressive darkness, flickering synths, and a decent dose of heaviness to keep it unique and alive. In fact, there’s a flurry of familiar sounds, from HELLOWEEN-y soloing to even some slight SYMPHONY X -like neoclassical parts, adding more and more influences until the song emerges as an entity of its own. You’ll find something new on every listen.
The album turns to a more ’80s vibe with “Through Stars,” while maintaining its high energy in the rhythms. The laid-back solo helps create some necessary breathing room after the relentless forward push from the album thus far. “Legacy” has an almost Devin Townsend-esque vibe to it at times, with an upbeat, proggy, and a bit spacey/electronic sound here and there, packed with heaviness in the background for a harsh surge ahead. I’d love to hear a Canadian musical tag-team of Slayes and Townsend any day! “Return to Me” starts with a strong push and a big growl, with a lot of harsh vocals layered in the background behind Slayes. There is a very power metal-y chorus that is sung cleanly the first time and done completely by the growls the second time, resulting in an interesting blend of power and death metal sounds.
Layered shrieks open “Soulbound,” which has an extreme metal blast at the beginning with a guitar solo riding up and down on heavy waves of fabulous riffing and head-banging energy. The vocal solos included in the overall layers of the music are also a nice touch, making this one ear worm of a highlight that you’ll find yourself randomly craving at times. Meanwhile, “Faster than Light” has BLIND GUARDIAN -like wails with guitar riffing that could be the love child of IRON MAIDEN and HELLOWEEN. In fact, scratch that: this song is nothing less than pure (good) DRAGONFORCE. Slayes makes it sound unique and less silly with her deeper register though and there is a wail in there that sounds like it was done by Noora Louhimo of BATTLE BEAST.
The album’s biggest bombshell is the 8+ minute “The Wind that Shapes the Land,” which has some of the best shrieking growls thrown into the mix that I’ve heard in some time. Starting slow but with a feeling that it’s going to kick up a notch, the song foreshadows its own punch expertly, guiding the listener into exactly the right feeling before exploding. This track has a checklist of everything you need from a power metal epic, so just sit back and enjoy over and over and over again.
“Carry the Flame” features guitarist Andrew Kingsley on guest vocals, resulting in a surprisingly strong and emotional duet. Kingsley quickly proves himself to be an excellent vocalist, though due to Slayes‘ lower range, the harmonies sometimes merge so strongly together that it’s hard to distinguish them from one another. The soloing is very stylish and this song is an easy favorite thanks to the catchy melodies. The final track, “Afterlife,” is instantly noteworthy for its fabulous orchestral backing music, done by Francesco Ferrini. At one point it fuses the riffs, melodies, and lyrics from “Waking Dreams,” helping to draw the album full-circle both musically and story-wise. It’s also got some of the harshest growls, as well as a pure “Fear of the Dark” [IRON MAIDEN] vocal singalong part towards the end. The use of orchestration exclusively in this song makes it a truly powerful and epic finale, a fantastic closer to an album.
“Abyss” is an album that wants to edge on the side of too much without ever officially crossing the line. It’s packed to the brim with heavy energy, catchy power metal melodies, tasteful growling and powerful cleans, and a shitload of oomph. On first listen it may seem like a lot but after giving it some time, the edge mellows out and each song blossoms into something spectacular. The production by Jacob Hansen is as clean and stellar as can be, without sounding overly polished. Needless to say, fans of power metal will definitely not want to miss this album, as it is easily one of the best melodic power metal albums of 2020.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Waking Dream
- Through Stars
- Return to Me
- Faster than Light
- The Wind that Shapes the Land
- Carry the Flame
- Brittney Hayes (a.k.a. Brittney Slayes) – clean vocals
- Scott Buchanan – drums
- Grant Truesdell – guitar, growls
- Andrew Kingsley – guitar, growls