REVIEW: Unleash the Archers – Phantoma

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UNLEASH THE ARCHERS return with a fresh album that will transport their listeners to an outer space world of futurism. After their past two thematic works, with each song becoming a passage of both albums’ stories, it is no surprise that “Phantoma,” released on May 10th, 2024, via Napalm Records, follows the same line. The band decided to go for Artificial Intelligence (AI) as their drawcard this time, a hot topic in the music industry in recent years. Indeed, they faced criticism recently by admitting that AI was used in the promotional video of “Green & Grass,” opening the question as to what extent it is ethical to use this technology in artistic creativity processes. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS nonetheless managed to overcome the critics, tracing a cornerstone to innovate music by exploring the latest technology trends.

As a conceptual work, “Phantoma” revolves around the story of a female robot with the same name, who is fueled with Artificial Intelligence and, after discovering the ‘perfection’ that humans possess (or at least what they show, according to the album’s plot), she aspires to be like them. The album lyrics and musical passages picture Phantoma’s journey on her comprehension of humanity and further delusion, after finding they are not how they show themselves. “Phantoma” starts very symphonically, with the excitement of how this more-than-human story will develop, and ends with aggressive tunes that perfectly enact the false impression of the robotic main character in this album. The concept is promising from the start of this work, however, “Phantoma” left me with a feeling of not knowing whether the story convinces me. Perhaps this album feels mostly geared toward a wider audience as it has a very ear-catching vibe, or “Phantoma” turned out to be something different from what UNLEASH THE ARCHERS have been doing musically.

“Phantoma” starts with the song “Human Era” in a tranquil mood with nature-like sounds. As soon as the song follows its course, Brittney Slayes comes into the spotlight – alongside a well-played backing chorus – to sing the initial parts of the album’s story, which tells how Phantoma encounters humans beyond her robotkind reality. Quietly but forcefully, “Human Era” lets us take our own pace into the story, and indeed it could be an excellent intro to their shows while we anticipate our excitement. To this end, I acknowledge that Brittney holds a powerful vocal presence that can go from a corny ballad to a heavy old-fashioned power metal banger. She is, with no question, one of the most promising metal music singers in contemporary times. Her voice is that key factor that gives a different personality to each song throughout the “Phantoma” album.

Next is the homonymous album’s song “Ph4/NT0-mA,” appearing very symphonically. In a synthesizers-led entrance, “Ph4/NT0-mA” screams a power metal attitude of rapid riffs that clash with those high notes we all know from this genre. The melody’s aura changes from one moment to another in the different types of sounds, showing Phantoma’s initial thoughts in the lyrics, when she longs to be free at last. The following tune, “Buried in Code,” holds a similar personality by playing super-fast riffs, while Brittney sings alongside a backing chorus, a formula that elevates the stamina of any listener. Guitars led all the sounds in “Buried in Code” through riffs and solos, but in a symphonic turn “The Collective” appears with a heavy attitude. Guitars are amazing here and the choir gives me chills, this song mixes the beauty of Brittney’s sweet voice with the aggressiveness of power metal.

After the last banger, “Green & Glass” appears in a catchy rhythm that comes like a break from the previously delivered adrenaline. I was not very into this one at first, it sounded too melodically pop-ish to me.  However, it makes the listener sing along to the chorus and does a good job as a presentation card to big audiences, therefore I will take it. “Green & Glass” comes accompanied by a promotional video that was the object of controversy previously described. I would say that I liked the video more than the song itself as it provides a visual personality to Phantoma’s story in an animation series, with a well-curated aesthetic of green colors. The song, in comparison, complies with the promotional aim but still misses that power metal heaviness. Similarly to the previous piece, “Gods in Decay” has a catchy vibe on rhythmic guitars and a chorus that’s easy to remember. This one feels too similar to “Green & Glass,” while I enjoyed both, “Gods in Decay” probably would have worked better as a bonus track due to its musical similarity to the previous song.

At this point in the album, our stamina has been going through a roller-coaster, from melodic tunes, heavy guitars, blasting drums, vibrant choirs, and everything in between. However, it would not be a complete power metal album without an old-fashioned ballad to sing our lungs away, and here is when “Give It Up or Give It All” comes into the game. “Give It Up or Give It All” is a cheesy melody that even reminded me of a Hollywood romance thriller. I am sorry if this description sounds cliché, but when a ballad gives you a love-drama movie vibe, it definitely is a good ballad. Next on the list is “Ghosts In The Mist,” which is notoriously slower than the previous ones, with electronic arrangements and a synthesizer that leads all the sounds of this piece. “Ghosts In The Mist” is an interesting work as it has more of a medley sound structure than a fast-running track, definitely it would be a good addition to their live shows.

Slowly but surely, we are reaching the end, now there is an interesting turn as the next song is an epic chant of Phantoma’s deception on humanity. “Seeking Vengeance” tells how the image that Phantoma had about humans was false. One can feel this deception energy in the music as “Seeking Vengeance” holds a storytelling mood through Brittney’s vibrant vocals and Grant Truesdell’s growls. Considering that the story is at a dramatic stage, “Seeking Vengeance” could have done well with a clean male voice besides Brittney’s vocals. Last but not least, “Blood Empress” closes the album in a smooth cadence. The powerful name does justice to “Blood Empress” as it is, in fact, splendid in arrangements. Through electronic sounds, slow singing, and some blasting drums in the background, “Blood Empress” narrates the final stage of the story, when Phantoma tries to deceive whether it is worth staying alive among humankind or going back to her machinery world. The story’s ending has a dramatic blast with a symphonic choir that sings the final breaths of the album. “Blood Empress” summarizes the spirit of an intense, catchy, and soft album at once.

Overall, “Phantoma” is not too heavy in sound arrangements, several songs hold a friendly-catchy vibe for a large audience, and as a conceptual work, it might be difficult to understand if you are more of a playlist person rather than a full-length album listener. All these together could make their old-time fandom feel skeptical about “Phantoma,” as it differs from their previous works in several aspects. I would suggest any listener (both new and old to this band) give it a go and judge for themselves, especially as it requires a certain effort to focus your attention and ears on the story behind it. Nonetheless, I applaud the effort of UNLEASH THE ARCHERS to venture into new grounds in music and storytelling.

Written by Hector Sanchez

TRACKLIST

  1. Human Era
  2. Ph4/NT0mA
  3. Buried In Code
  4. The Collective
  5. Green & Glass
  6. Gods In Decay
  7. Give It Up Or Give It All
  8. Ghosts In The Mist
  9. Seeking Vengeance
  10. Blood Empress

LINEUP

Brittney Slayes | Vocals
Scott Buchanan | Drums
Grant Truesdell | Guitar, Vocals
Andrew Kingsley | Guitar, Vocals
Nick Miller | Bass

LABEL

Napalm Records

LINKS

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