Unleash the Archers – Enter the AbyssTuesday, 18th August 2020
Over the last decade, power and traditional metal followers worldwide have gotten to know the work of Unleash the Archers. Aligning well with the genre tenets of soaring melodies, catchy twin guitar rhythms and harmonies, plus solid rhythm section mechanics, their albums have gained quite a foothold on the scene. Their fifth studio album Abyss, out soon on Napalm Records [pre-order HERE], continues that winning streak – expanding a bit into slightly more polished/commercial angles at times while not relinquishing the passion and power of their material that has them near the top of their class in the genre.
Reaching out again to vocalist Brittney Slayes, she’s happy to bring Dead Rhetoric up to date on the work of Abyss, the special Dungeons & Dragons contest they are developing for pre-orders, challenges related to video shoots and having to leave their Dragonforce North American tour due to COVID-19, as well as an array of science, historical, and musical figures she would love to share a dinner with in this fun half hour Skype conversation.
Dead Rhetoric: Abyss is the latest album from Unleash the Archers – already receiving justified praise from musical peers and critics who have been able to hear it as a whole already. Tell us about the writing and recording process for this record – and are there specific moments you can pinpoint as you went along when you knew you had something special going on, or is that difficult to ascertain until your finish things up?
Brittney Slayes: This record was written in the same way that we wrote Apex. We had a guideline for the story laid out into a track by track template where each song was a chapter and contained what was going on in the story at the time, how the song should make the listener feel, and what the song should sound like. And then some like-sounding artists and bands that were kind of the influence for the song. Abyss was written by Andrew (Kingsley) this time around, whereas on Apex Andrew and Grant (Truesdell) both contributed riffs. So Andrew took that guideline and shut himself away for three months and pretty much wrote the entire record. He would send things back and forth – saying I am thinking of this riff for this song, does that work? I’d be like yes or no, or I think we can work with it but change this around.
It really helped with him and I working back and forth pretty solidly to create a really cohesive sound. It’s really hard to say if there was a point where we were like ‘wow, this is something special’. If anything, it was after we heard the whole thing from beginning to end when we were sitting in the studio at the end of our month-long session with (producer) Jacob (Hansen). There were some cool riffs and some exciting moments during the writing process, but I think when everything came together at the very end that was where we thought that this was the coolest record that we’ve ever written.
Dead Rhetoric: Do the other members of the band have a lot of trust in you to come up with a cool storyline that parallels the musical framework?
Slayes: I guess so, yeah (laughs). The story was written before Apex, it changed over time here and there. Especially with the addition of several riffs here and there. We knew right from the get go what the story was going to be and we used that as the inspiration of the music side of things. They knew it was going to be a pretty nerdy story behind everything, I think they did trust in me. The lyrics are the last thing to be written, and for most of the songs we hadn’t even jammed them with the lyrics. There were three or four (songs) where I had the lyrics written before we left, but most of the tracks they didn’t hear until that moment when we sat down to listen to the record together at the end of the studio sessions.
For sure there were times when Andy was like, ‘oh- what are going to write for this? Oh – I really love this song!’ I just had to be like… don’t worry about it, I have ideas… quit your fussing. He sort of came to me at the end and said he was sorry for saying anything that may be worrying, I hit it out of the park on this one.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the duet with your guitarist Andrew come about for “Carry the Flame” – and where has he been hiding his strong clean vocal melodies in this capacity?
Slayes: (laughs). Well, he was on Apex a little bit, in “Earth and Ashes”. “Carry the Flame” is sort of a continuation of that song. “Carry the Flame” is about the one son of the matriarch that was kind to the immortal. Sorry, “Earth and Ashes” was about the son that was kind to the immortal, “Carry the Flame” is about the matriarch’s grandson. I thought it would be cool to have Andy’s voice on there again, as the grandson. People enjoyed hearing him on the last record, so I decided to make this a full on duet with him and give him a little more time to shine, because he does have an amazing voice and he’s extremely talented. You should check out Sleeper Ship on Spotify, that’s his solo stuff. It’s not heavy metal, but it’s got a lot of him singing on it – and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about relating to the Dungeons & Dragons style game of the album’s story with the band you are offering in a contest relating to pre-ordering the album? Was this an idea stemming from the members of the band or working in conjunction with your label?
Slayes: We get messages all the time from fans that ask for questions and back story information so they can build D&D campaigns around the story. I’m constantly chatting with D&D’ers, and I have never done it myself even though I’ve really been interested in this. I just love the idea of it, I don’t have a lot of time which really sucks because I can’t take a whole weekend to sit down and play. I thought it would be a neat idea to do a D&D campaign that is UTA sanctioned so I started writing an adventure guide for Abyss. I told Napalm about it, doing this thing, but I am not sure it’s going to be ready for release. If you want I’ll give you some copies to sell. So our PR over there thought it was a cool idea, how about we make a contest where people can win the chance to play through your adventure guide with you? I was like, yes – sure, let’s do it.
Dead Rhetoric: As a child, I was one of those Dungeons and Dragons players – as we remember the quality of the graphics and games for the Atari 2600 wasn’t quite as advanced as video games today. So that game fueled the imagination of young adolescents like myself…
Slayes: Oh I bet. It’s a great community and I love being a part of it.
Dead Rhetoric: At this point are you conscientious of where you want to go style-wise for UTA and be able to comfortably take your listeners along for that journey – considering the added elements of extremity in the vocals and music at times?
Slayes: Yes, I think we are pretty focused on our direction right now. We want to change and grow and try new things- we are already talking about what we want to do for the next EP or album. We like the sound that we are creating right now, and we will probably continue in that same vein and maybe change it up a little bit. We’ve always been the kind of band that likes to experiment with things, we don’t stick to one set of rules or anything like that. We might discover some rad new metal band that can propel us into a new direction.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoots for the title track and “Soulbound” – as a band you continue to try and serve up a visually entertaining experience time after time, even through some of the band performance aspects you showcase?
Slayes: COVID-19 put a bit of a wrench in things. “Abyss” was filmed two weeks before it came out, and we had one ten-hour day in that studio so we had to get as much done then as we possibly could. It was as soon as the studios opened up, we had to get in there and get this done. “Soulbound” was filmed over several days, months in parts and pieces when we could get together safely. In fact, Grant couldn’t even come for the character-based parts we had to travel for the venue that it was filmed in and he would have had to quarantine for fourteen days away from his family afterwards. We filmed the playthrough parts separately, and then we filmed the character-based parts separately.
We had small crews for both of them, no more than six people including the band members is the rule according to our government right now. We stuck to that, and it’s been difficult but I think our vision was able to come across thanks to in very large part to the very hard work of the directors behind them. Runegate Studio for “Soulbound” and Roderick Scobie, Multipass for “Abyss”.
Dead Rhetoric: Take us back to March 2020 as you performed a week’s worth of shows in the USA before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down with Dragonforce and Visions of Atlantis – did fears or worries set in about getting back to Canada safely, and how frustrating is it as an artist to see all the behind the scenes hard work of setting up a tour go down the drain due to circumstances out of your control?
Slayes: Well it was an upsetting time, that’s for sure. We knew that it was getting of control in Europe before we left (for tour). We didn’t think it would get to North America so quickly. There were starting to be rumors of shutdowns a few days in, we didn’t hear anything and none of the promoters were communicating anything to us. We just thought everything was hunky dory. Then we woke up in Minneapolis to the venue shutting its doors, we weren’t playing there that night. The promoter wasn’t even saying anything. We spoke with them, and they were fighting to have the show keep going as long as possible. It would have been nice to know that they were fighting to keep it happening in the first place, then we could have been a little bit more prepared. After that we started speaking with all the other promoters, and they all were like, nope – I don’t think these shows are happening. One after the other got cancelled, we went out for a brunch with the Dragonforce boys and at the beginning of the meal we were all talking about trying to push forward and seeing what venues would still have us. By the end of that conversation, everything was shut down and we were booking flights to get home because the borders were closing.
It was an urgent situation that deteriorated very quickly. So yes, we were kind of scared there that we weren’t going to get home. We slipped in just in time, not just 24 hours after we got out of Chicago O’Hare that all the madness occurred where people were lined up outside the terminals to try to get to their flights. We missed that by just a hair, so we were very lucky.
Dead Rhetoric: Are people taking this pandemic seriously still in your part of Vancouver?
Slayes: We’ve done really well on the West Coast in Vancouver and B.C. in general. We’ve kept a lid on it. It’s only really been in nursing homes that we’ve had any deaths, which is the saddest thing of all. People seem to be taking this seriously, we had an uptick in cases after the Canada Day long weekend. Our premier and the head of the taskforce spoke to tell us not to lose sight of things. It’s about taking care of each other. We haven’t made masks mandatory, but most people are wearing them anyways just to be considerate of those that are at risk. Lots of social distancing and we’ve managed to do okay up here.
Dead Rhetoric: My guess is you’ve been able to throw yourself into more of your hobbies relating to video games and reading sci-fi novels/series during this extended down time. Fill us in on some of your latest obsessions on both fronts…
Slayes: Well, I haven’t (laughs). I’ve been doing promo for the record since we got home. We had to have all the artwork organized, music videos, all the merchandise designed and ordered, give all the numbers on what we wanted to print. I’ve been doing a lot of behind the scenes work, doing the track by track. A lot of interviews happening. It would have been nice to lose my job I think. I’ve been working eighty-hour work weeks. What I have made time for is Twitch streaming, I could play video games there. I set assign one night a week where I can play Twitch games with everybody. Although that doesn’t always happen.
I just started playing The Metro series, which just got a redux for the Switch, so I’ve been playing that which is pretty fun. Now I’m onto the Last of Us, I’m doing a run through with everybody as I never played it and it’s my first time to get to the second one as well. I’ve been trying to read The Witcher books, but I’m only about halfway through the second one right now. It’s just difficult to find the time, unfortunately.
Dead Rhetoric: What are you finding as the greatest challenges with the band now that you’ve been able to establish a presence as a band and a brand through your quality output in the studio and on stage? When you envision where you want to be down the line, does it seem possible in today’s market to reach the level of arena headliners on a global scale?
Slayes: No (laughs). I don’t know, I don’t think that really exists for our type of music, right now. If it wasn’t already, maybe I’m jaded but it’s not something we consider to be a goal of ours. We are taking it day by day, if one day we play an arena, cool, if not, cool. I think the biggest challenge is finding the time, because we don’t do this as our full-time jobs. It’s difficult to take the time off from work, and know that you are going to have no income for however many months you are on the road. It would be nice if we could reach that point where this is all that we did but we are on this weird brink of needing that but not quite able to fulfill that. There is a lot of demand on us for touring because of the new record, but balancing the time is the struggle.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the lack of major media exposure/outlets could be a reason for bands to not reach that next level?
Slayes: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Maybe they have a part in it. It’s just the state of heavy metal and music in general. The way people consume media, it’s not about lining up at the record stores and dropping $15 on a CD, it’s about the amount of streaming you get so it’s a fraction of what it once was. Touring is where the money is at, we can’t tour right now. It’s difficult for people who aren’t your fans to know who you are, you have to hope that the promoters will give you a chance. We haven’t played a show in Florida in six years because everyone is all ‘power metal doesn’t sell down here’, so they don’t even give you a shot. It’s kind of annoying. And that happens everywhere. You could say it’s the system, it’s the infrastructure. If you aren’t a huge band on the signs and on a booking agency and a label that stands behind you, it’s like when you are applying for a job and the job says you need five years experience but this is an entry level job. You can’t ask for that, I’m using this job to get my five years of experience.
Dead Rhetoric: The thing that amazes me is even though Florida is known as a death metal mecca, bands like Savatage, Crimson Glory, Kamelot, and Iced Earth started from there…
Slayes: I agree. I’m not in charge down there though.
Dead Rhetoric: When you feel pressure and frustration relating to either the music or business end of things, what sort of things do you do to try to get your mind and body in a better state? Are there peers or friends within the metal community that you reach out to when needing to vent or just help you put in a better frame of mind?
Slayes: I try not to complain really. When I am feeling frustrated, mostly I just talk with the boys about it. We’ll jam and that really helps, that’s why music is so important it’s the outlet for that. I always feel better after a jam, or I’ll play video games or go for a walk, watch a movie. Just to take my mind off of it. I try not to burden other people with my shit too much.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to host a dinner with a series of guests, alive or dead, musicians or non-musicians, who would you include at the table and what subjects would you love to debate and discuss?
Slayes: Hmm… that’s an interesting one. I think it would be fun to have Tesla and Einstein. Who else, maybe Churchill would be cool. That’s a hard question. Karl Marx, and of course Bruce Dickinson would be good to have at that table. He loves history and science as I do. Christopher Nolan, I’d like to pick that guy’s brain. Felix Mendelssohn, or Mozart. Someone insanely talented from way back in the day.
Dead Rhetoric: Will the band continue to use live bass players for the foreseeable future – or do you hope in this waiting period to be able to secure a permanent bassist for the band?
Slayes: Nick (Miller) has been our guy for the last little while here. At least in North America, and we will probably bring him out for Europe next year as well. He fits really well with us, culturally and he’s a really nice guy and easy going. He’s a touring musician, he’s good at it and we like having him around. We don’t want to say be in our band and you can’t tour with anyone else. To us, he’s basically a member of the band. It’s just not on paper. We aren’t looking for anyone permanent because we kind of like the way things are going right now. Ben Arscott is a friend of ours, he played bass on Abyss. We will just keep it this way it is, session musicians in the studio and friends like Nick on the road.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for UTA over the next twelve to eighteen months? Does the extended break from shows become a blessing or a curse?
Slayes: We are working on tour dates for South America and Australia for next year, and so hopefully we can get that done. We have a bunch of festivals we want to play, including Loud Park in Japan. It’s going to be a weird release, put the album out and do nothing. We are planning for next spring to hit Europe, North America, and the festival circuit. Hopefully COVID-19 gets the hell out of our way in 2021. I have no expectations, we are booking the dates in the hopes that things go forward, if not we will push things back. We are not going to put people’s lives at risk.