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Review: Unleash The Archers – Apex

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Canadian power-metallers Unleash The Archers will be releasing “Apex” on the 2nd of June, under their long-running label Napalm Records. They had first won me over with their second album Demons of The AstroWaste (2011) – I felt it was one of the few albums I enjoyed every single song on, so one can imagine how pleased I was to have the privilege to listen to their fourth installment.

The opening track “Awakening” has a very dark intro like a plot set in a cave, preparing the listener for something dark… but then, the song simply awakens into a brilliant power metal song for any Metallium, Iced Earth, or Blind Guardian fan to jump aboard the journey of pure vocal and instrumental gold. Right from the pre-verse to the chorus is smooth soaring, as for some reason I could not help but imagine one riding a gryphon towards a cloudless horizon – a cheesy yet captivating mental image. As we soar onwards, the guitar interlude in the bridge builds the expectation like it is going to have a solo coming in, and it certainly does not disappoint; for if this were the soundtrack for flying a gryphon, the solo would surely be the part where we fly in a mountain crevice at full speed and take the sharpest turns and descents, while emerging to the other side of the mountain completely unscathed. This is an excellent beginning to the album as I really can’t find any faults, for this band clearly knows their target audience, and deliver flawlessly. The song’s duration is well over seven minutes, but somehow it always soars past very quickly.

The next track “Shadow Guide” opens with twin harmonies that would have Iron Maiden fans exploding in the mosh pit. The fact that their vocalist has such an operatic approach to their songs, particularly the choruses leaves us with the irresistible urge to compare Brittney Slayes to Tarja Turunen’s (ex-Nightwish) earlier work, and the guitar solos have the potential to easily win over heavy metal fans that won’t stray past the 1988 albums. But one thing I can really appreciate is that Unleash The Archers have always been consistent in keeping their songs sounding different from one another on an album, while remaining faithful to their style.

Unfortunately, there are very few albums without one track that pales in comparison to the rest, and “The Matriarch” is definitely not their strongest song. The matriarch’s “Yah!” battle howl sends the troops into battle proudly and confidently with a guitar lead as their anthem. They are met with a very standard verse that just sort of floats there and a building pre-chorus that picks up momentum. But then the troops begin depending way too heavily on that same guitar riff first heard at the beginning of the song, making it over-used and ineffective. The bridge segments and the melodic guitar solo rescue the song, but then that same guitar riff is played continuously. It’s actually not a bad song at all, but I think I’ll ‘resist the matriarch’ from any further listens.

Unlike the previous track, I can see why “Cleanse The Bloodlines” is the other song on the album chosen for the video clip. The opening riff is a harmony with a mountain of a breakdown for a tail, changing to a variation to accommodate the verse, which transitions nicely into the upbeat pre-chorus. The chorus is so simple yet so powerful and addictive. The first time, the listener might not get it, but once they finish listening to the song, this chorus will be the reason so many listeners put the song on repeat. The other high point of the song is the bridge that goes in a sinister turn; adapting harsher vocals on what could be a passage through a dark tunnel, but upon emerging from the darkness, there is an uplifting verse that builds and builds into a perfect yet brief symphony that would have Beethoven worried – oh I really wish it could have gone for just a bit longer. The chorus extends into a choir over breakdowns – power metal’s greatest gift. The fadeout and overall song is simply epic, making this possible the greatest song on the whole album.

After what feels like a Dream Theater intro, “The Coward’s Way” has a lead harmony that would have Stratovarius fans, and possibly even Black Veil Brides or Bullet For My Valentine fans in love with the song. Admittedly the verses are a little plain, but the Chorus is an all-round great segment to sing along to. The bridge is a real turn-around for the verses as there is another passage of darkness that leads to a segment of gang vocals. For those of you that don’t know what gang vocals are, the most easily accessed example I can think of is the chanting segment in Trivium’s Gunshot to The Head of Trepidation, a great practice for audiences. The highest point of this song would have to be the guitar solo, purely because this is possibly the best guitar solo on the whole album.

The very 80s “False Walls” has the best intro riff on the whole album – I think I’ll be learning that. Even if it’s thirty years behind, the traditional Heavy Metal verse is perfect with the vocals that will have many listeners slowly bobbing their heads chin to chest. As the song transitions into the pre-chorus, we notice the guitar riff is a wonderful melodic tail harmony, particularly melodic in the second progression, and though the chorus is mostly whole note chords, you honestly wouldn’t want it any other way with the way Slayes sings. To justify just how 80s this song is, the bridge then moves the song in a mellow direction and into a wah solo which carries on for a while and acts as the song’s fading point. For the whole duration, I couldn’t help but think of the 80s heavy metal scene; gigantic yarn balls of hair, leather jackets, and motorcycles.

The opening riff to “Ten Thousand Against One” was a little questionable at first, but then I realized this was just a base for an impeccable riff and verse. As the title suggests, this is a battle song – power metal’s equivalent for ‘come at me, bro’. There are many bouncing and galloping segments, and even moderate breakdowns here and there. So if we stick to the theme of a battle, I suppose the soft-sounding verse could be the staredown before the pre-verse riffs march off into battle. The chorus merely repeats the song title, but is coated in so many subtle bounces and riff hooks that the song never has a dull moment. Overall, it’s a very catchy song that keeps the second half of the album fresh and interesting.

“Earth and Ashes” has an interesting acoustic strumming with a lot of fills and shuffles before the song’s power metal signature riff comes in. While the verse and chorus go as one would expect them to, the highlight is the traditional heavy metal segment which progresses onto a guitar solo that is exactly how you would want it to be for a that style. Immediately, the song will then transition back into power metal, and has another solo to suit the style. I actually found this song really hard to write about simply because I would get lost in it every time. To be honest, I have never paid much attention to power metal bands because their albums were inherently great at the beginning and boring near the end, so I cannot stress enough how fresh and exciting this album stays.

I’m going to be very brief with the next song because I don’t think I can really offer much more of a description. Iron Maiden fans will love every second of “Call Me Immortal”. After all, it has the signature galloping riff, and Slayes’ thundering operatic voice will rival Bruce Dickinson’ throughout the verse and chorus. The only segment that does not make the song sound like a hidden track on Iron Maiden’s later albums are the guitar solos. Personally, I don’t think it should matter whether or not one band’s song can sound so much like a band, so long as it does not sound like a bad version of a band.

The concluding track “Apex” is the longest on the whole album, its duration going over eight minutes, though feeling a lot shorter. It begins and ends as a pleasant lullaby by a campfire but then quickly progresses into a power metal anthem played at a fast galloping rhythm. Throughout the song, Slayes’ voice is powerful and melodic as always in both the verse and choruses, but the height of the song is easily the segment of exchanging guitar solos and harmonies. It is very difficult to say which harmony on the album is most catchy or most melodic, but this is definitely one of the album’s strongest songs.

Overall, the whole album is just one gigantic mystical sphere of uplifting energy. Though there is much battle and conflict taking place in the lyrics, I can honestly imagine this album helping people through some dark times, but I can just as well see the happiest of listeners surfing the crowds and draining the Wacken beer pipelines. I truly love this album, well 90% of it. I will let the listeners decide if the Apex album is as good as the band’s previous work, but at this rate, it’s clear that Unleash The Archers will remain creative for many albums to come.

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