Unleash the Archers – Abyss


Power metal is a divisive genre. Those who want metal elevated to a high-brow art form decry its litany of clichés and humourless bombast. At times it conforms to all the things snobbish music critics lampoon. In a world where hip hop is king and rock cannot decide if social commentary or undergraduate humour is the future, power metal is left peering at the mainstream with a melancholy gaze. But every so often a band emerges that opens up the genre to new scrutiny and new fans. People forget the clichés and ignore the melodramatic pomp. That band is Unleash the Archers.

Of course, these Vancouver natives would have been millionaires in the era when CD sales were the dominant model. But this is the age of streaming and few people buy albums, which is a shame because Abyss is a record everybody should own in a physical format. Each note in Brittney Hayes’ four-octave range between C#3 and D6 emerges like the last one she’ll deliver. Yet you hear no sharp intake of breath between the vibratos and no gasps as she modulates to the next key in the magnificent lift at the end of the title track. The chorus to ‘Through Stars’ is a stunning execution of perfect pitch and sorrowful serenading. “Carry me on the winds of a storm/ Show me the power of the universe,” she begs of a higher power. On ‘Carry the Flame’ she sets her sights on the glory of a 1980s rock ballad and invites the listener to feel the emotion in their clenched fists. Everything will be alright for 4 minutes and 42 seconds of your life. Brittney can translate your melancholy into words.

Yet if you think Abyss is all about Brittney, think again. This is a METAL record. ‘Return to Me’ is quintessential Judas Priest at their Painkiller best with a memorable opening riff built around medieval scales. It leads into a thrash attack of alternate-picking and heroic drums and ends in a climax of death growls and guitar trade-offs that rival vintage Megadeth for pitch bends and modal shredding. One can imagine guitarists, Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell, watching Brittney in the studio booth and thinking, “We’ll have a bit of that magic.” We already know these lads can shred but they up their game on Abyss. Even the riffs are mind-blowing. Check out the exquisite guitar chops on ‘The Wind that Shapes the Land’ and ask if the playing is as memorable as Brittney’s majestic chorus delivery. Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s call it a tie in this undeclared competition between vocalist and six-stringers. As spectators, we can only marvel.

Every song on here merits praise. Power metal exists to demonstrate the power of a chorus just as metalcore subsists on breakdown riffs. Unleash the Archers show they can stand with Queensrӱche on ‘Legacy’ as they invite us to ask the question, ‘What would Helloween sound like with Björk behind the mic stand?’

Metallica’s Black album struck a chord with people normally dismissive of thrash and became the biggest-selling rock record of the 1990s. Unleash the Archers can do the same for power metal and bring it to an audience far beyond the dungeons and dragons fraternity.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 21/08/2020

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Through Stars, Return to Me, The Wind that Shapes the Land

Suggested Further Listening: Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990), The Agonist – Orphans (2019), Ad Infinitum – Chapter I: Monarchy (2020)