Unleash The Archers – ‘Abyss’

By Ian Kenworthy

Grab a shield and take cover, Canadian power-metal legends Unleash The Archers are striding back onto the battlefield and they’re taking no prisoners. Armed with a string of hugely confident albums, they have a reputation to uphold, and with fifth studio release ‘Abyss’ they’re staking claim to new territory.

Until now, Unleash The Archers favoured an accessible power-metal sound allied with soaring mezzo-soprano vocals, which they reinforced with elements of black metal to give their music a sharp cutting edge. Three years ago, at the height of their power, the band released the aptly titled ‘Apex’, a goliath of a record filled with awe-inspiring riffs. For the follow-up they’ve wisely chosen a different approach – rather than following in its footsteps, ‘Abyss’ gives keyboards a more prominent role, resulting in a wider scope. You only need to dip into leading single ‘Soulbound’ to discover the brighter and almost gleeful sound that’s woven through the record. Whether it’s the pulsing heartbeat of ‘Through Stars’ or the opening to ‘Legacy’ (which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Muse track), the album is a very different experience to its predecessors, albeit one that will please fans.

Big anthemic songs have always been the strongest weapon in the band’s arsenal, often bringing to mind Iron Maiden – not least because vocalist Brittney Hayes lays out her vocal patterns in a similar style to Bruce Dickinson. However, here the expanded sonic canvas allows her to play around, pushing the overall sound closer to Within Temptation’s more recent output. It’s a surprising avenue for the band to explore, but not an unwelcome one, especially on the slower-tempo songs ‘Through Stars’ and ‘Legacy’ where her warm spirit shines brightest. It’s the epic, sweeping ‘The Wind That Shapes The Land’, though, that pulls together everything the band does well and lets Hayes show off everything she is capable of. ‘Faster Than Light’ also gives her chance to let loose with a rapid vocal attack that wholly compliments the blistering guitarwork, and proves to be a highlight.

Despite a wider scope, it’s difficult to fault the album, as every song feels essential – even ‘Waking Dream’, which serves as an introduction to the grander title track. Throughout ‘Abyss’ you can hear call-backs to previous records, and though they’ve have moved away from their core sound, they haven’t abandoned it. This is especially evident on ‘Return To Me’, which lets rip with metal chops and death growls, yet neither detract from the album’s accessibility. In fact, the album features what might be the band’s most accessible song to date in ‘Carry The Flame’, a restrained hard-rock song featuring guitarist Andrew Kinglsey on lead vocals, which gives it a very different feel; the savvy use of guitars, though, means it fits remarkably well. It’s also notable that returning producer Jacob Hanson captures a powerful drum sound, enhancing the impact of this and every song here.

Ironically, despite being named ‘Abyss’, this is a release that soars and feels like a glorious celebration of power metal. A rich and dynamic offering, it sees Unleash The Archers confidently embracing a fresh direction – by not trying to eclipse their work on ‘Apex’, they have created a more self-aware and crowd-pleasing album, and you won’t want to miss it.

IAN KENWORTHY

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