Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: June 2nd, 2017
Genre: Power Metal
Brittney Slayes – Vocals
Grant Truesdell – Guitars, Vocals
Andrew Saunders – Guitars, Vocals
Nikko Whitworth – Bass
Scott Buchanan – Drums
2. Shadow Guide
3. The Matriarch
4. Cleanse the Bloodlines
5. The Coward’s Way
6. False Walls
7. Ten Thousand Against One
8. Earth and Ashes
9. Call Me Immortal
Being from Canada, there aren’t a ton of quality power metal bands around, but one of the best and perhaps the most prolific in recent years has been Vancouver’s Unleash the Archers. They started off in 2007 and were more of a melodic death metal band on their 2009 debut Behold the Devastation, with a more aggressive sound and with very prominent harsh vocals, while their second album Demons of the AstroWaste, released in 2011, showed them moving into a blend between melodeath and power metal, with clean vocals starting to become much more important. But their biggest shift happened on the excellent three track EP Defy the Skies, released in 2012, which showed the band completely ditching the growls and utilizing a full power metal sound, for a release that still stands as my favorite by the band to date. After that came their third album Time Stands Still, which mostly continued with their new power metal sound, though harsh vocals were still used at times and it was another high-quality release overall. Now in 2017, the band is celebrating their 10th anniversary with their fourth full-length release, Apex, an album which continues to push their sound forward towards a more pure power metal sound, while still containing small traces of their melodeath elements, as well as occasional elements of classic heavy metal.
Compared to the band’s past few releases, which each felt pretty different from each other and showed the band continuing to evolve their sound, Apex feels like they’re standing firm with the musical direction they took on Time Stands Still and are just making subtle tweaks at this point. As a result, most tracks on this album are very speedy power metal tracks with some great guitar work, excellent riffs and solos, and some huge vocal lines and choruses, where vocalist Brittney Slayes gets to shine. For the most part, the melodeath elements are very minor, sometimes found in some of the heavier, more modern sounding riffs, but it’s clear at this point the band has largely moved away from that sound. There are still some growls on the album, but they are few and far between, mostly used in quick bursts to add just a little bit of extra power to certain sections. For the most part, this album is heavy, guitar driven power metal, with only minor elements from other genres. At the same time, the songwriting is still rather varied and there’s enough going on musically that the album never feels too samey or one dimensional.
Perhaps the most important aspect of any Unleash the Archers release at this point is lead vocalist Brittney Slayes, who has been with the band since the beginning, but where she played more of a supporting role on early releases, she has now become the star of the band, utilizing her very powerful voice which she mostly keeps in a lower register on most tracks, though she can hit some pretty high notes at times, and sounds excellent throughout the album. She especially excels during some of the epic choruses, which feel like they were written perfectly to showcase her skills, and for sure her voice is the one element that stands out the most on Apex. While growls aren’t used nearly as often as they were on earlier releases when they do show up they are quite powerful and help add an extra dose of energy to the tracks, so I’m glad they still get used from time to time, especially during the first half of the album.
In the songwriting department, things get off to an amazing start with my personal favorite track coming right at the start, that being the 7-minute opening track “Awakening”. After a brief intro, featuring the album’s only instance of keyboards, the guitars kick in and are hard hitting out of the gate, and the track quickly speeds up and become the kind of epic up-tempo track one would expect to hear at the start of a power metal album. The chorus is excellent and does a great job of showcasing Brittney’s powerful vocals, and musically it’s an excellent track all around. Just past the 4-minute mark, the riffs get a bit more extreme, and we get some pretty epic guitar work, and then the growls make their first full appearance (they’re used in the background during the chorus) and this section is pretty awesome and gives way to a great solo section. Awesome opening track overall!
After that comes “Shadow Guide”, a rather straight-forward, fast paced track with more hard hitting riffs and another great chorus, though this time the growls are used a little bit earlier on, coming right at the tail end of the chorus, and are again pretty cool. Quite a few tracks follow roughly the same pattern as that one, being fast paced power metal with some hard hitting riffs and allowing Brittney to lead the way with her excellent vocals, while only using growls briefly. Songs that fit that description include “The Matriarch”, a very fun track and good pick for second single, “The Coward’s Way”, which has one of the best choruses on the album, and “Earth and Ashes”, a track which starts off a bit slowly with a nice acoustic section, before speeding up after a bit. It has a bit of twist, though, in that it doesn’t have any growls, but instead in the second half there’s a brief section with some pretty decent sounding clean male vocals, which offer up a nice change of pace, though obviously the singer there isn’t as good as Brittney
There are three slower songs on the album, all coming towards the middle. First up is “Cleanse the Bloodlines”, the hardest hitting of the three, with some epic guitar work during the verses and it has some nice melodies throughout, as well as an excellent chorus. Its highlight, though, comes in the middle as the track speeds up and becomes super epic, while just before that is a pretty cool extreme metal section where the growls kick in. Definitely the strongest of the three slower songs. Next, we have the 8 minute “False Walls”, a more relaxing and melodic track, which also has some nice melodies and Brittney sounds absolutely fantastic during the chorus. My only complaint is that the song probably could have benefited from being about two minutes shorter, as there isn’t a ton of material here, no growls sections or nothing really memorable to justify its length, but otherwise, it’s a pretty solid track. The weakest of the three is “Ten Thousand Against One, which has the only bland chorus of the album and is hurt further by the fact that it comes after the already slightly overlong “False Walls”. It does have growls, though, and is a pretty nice track instrumentally, but that weak chorus sinks it.
The last two tracks are completely dominated by power metal elements. First up, “Call me Immortal” is another up-tempo track, though not quite as fast as some of the other tracks on the album, and it consists entirely of clean vocals, featuring possibly the best chorus on the album, as well as some excellent guitar work. Definitely one of the highlights of the album. Lastly, we have the 8 minute title track, which starts off slowly and has a nice extended acoustic section at the beginning as well as at the end, and in fact these sections and some of the guitar leads early on remind of some of the longer Iron Maiden tracks, and give the song a slight classic heavy metal feel. Once the song gets going, though, it turns into an epic speedy power metal track, where Brittney once again excels and delivers another epic chorus, while musically this is perhaps the most melodic of all the faster tracks, with some excellent guitar work as always. Easily my second favorite track on the album, just behind “Awakening”, as that one slightly edges it out for me with its epic growl section.
Overall, Apex is a high-quality album from Unleash the Archers, which continues with the power metal sound they’ve established on their past two releases, while still having bursts of their old melodeath sound. A couple slower songs in the middle kill a bit of momentum, but otherwise, it’s a great release which is sure to please longtime fans of the band, and I’d highly recommend it to any fans of hard hitting guitar driven power metal looking to hear some great riffs and excellent vocals.
Reviewer: Travis Green