REVIEW: UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – “Apex”
Unleash the Archers is a band that proudly raises the flag of the modern approach on power metal, with lots of groove and even some death-like growls. By know you must have at least heard of them as they have achieved considerable exposure with their latest entry, ‘Time Stands Still’, so these Canadians are not strangers to the scene. Making metal similar to that of 3 Inches of Blood, Crimson Shadow, and on a smaller scale Seven Kingdoms and Kobra and the Lotus, the band returns to the spotlight with their fourth entry, ‘Apex’, which will be released via Napalm Records on June 2nd.
This time around, though, the band relies on more epic and mystical atmospheres and go full-on power metal, almost completely abandoning the death-ish elements from their previous works. ‘Apex’ celebrates 10 years of Unleash the Archers with feverous riffs and blasting choirs, all while maintaining a respectable production quality that makes every instrument shine.
Tracks like “Awakening”, “The Matriarch” and “The Coward’s Way” offer a more direct and heavier mix, with the drums provided by Scott Buchanan and the prominent bass by newcomer Nikko Whitworth making the tunes sound vivid and powerful; Brittney Slayes does a great job in those, especially in the chorus of “The Matriarch”. “Shadow Guide”, though, feels a little lackluster and doesn’t quite click as a good song nor matches the overall atmosphere of the record.
But it’s in the epic portion of the effort where the band truly shines. “Cleanse the Bloodlines” – released as a video – slowly builds itself into a bombastic experience not without a good climax in the chorus, with yet another good performance by Brittney. The second part of the album, actually, is stacked with more opulent songs that manage to keep the blood pumping, in one way or another.
Truth be told, the semi-ballad “False Walls” is not on par with the whole concept and speed of the record and “Earth and Ashes” is definitely a miss because of its tempo, song construction and overall performance, especially in the verses and bridge, but “Ten Thousand Against One”, for instance, is jacked up with energy and with an obliterating and bombastic chorus, worthy of being called a war chant. The drums are particularly loud here, and the galloping riffs allied with the choirs more than make up for some of the weaker bits.
“Call Me Immortal” is decent, albeit not reaching the status of being really good. Virtuous bass lines are evident here and the chugging riffs make up for the not so inspired vocal display by Brittney, which seems tired and more mechanical in this one, maybe because of the vocal mixing. The title-track closes the endeavor and, not by coincidence, is the most grandiose and carefully crafted of the songs here. An acoustic guitar paves the way to a poignant atmosphere and a beautiful verse, where Brittney steals the spotlight with clean and sorrowful vocals. Melodic, yet imposing, the track showcases a high level of songwriting and one of the best choruses of Unleash the Archer’s career.
Swift melodies, virtuous but objective guitar lines and catchy hooks are plenty in ‘Apex’. Despite showing an almost pathological need to be dramatic, the Canadians fare well on balancing the magical with the mundane, on an album that is satisfying and, despite trying to be epic almost on a cartoonish level, is easy to digest. Heavy metal purists will have some sort of resistance to the band’s modern way of playing metal, but if you look at it closely you’ll see that this album is nothing more than power metal played with a twist.
While looking to modernize and making their work accessible, Unleash the Archers are taking large steps toward being in the main leagues and have delivered a good effort while doing so. Let’s hope, though, that their newfound “stardom” doesn’t affect their ability to play from the heart. Recommended.