I’ve gotten a lot of shit from the AMG staff ever since I reviewed Unleash the Archers‘ 2015 release, Time Stands Still1. Though I had plenty of complaints about that record, I couldn’t put it down. And they all knew it. After the album released, I listened to it for the rest of the year… and the rest of 2016… and even to this day. I will be the first to admit I find the band’s songwriting a tad absurd and packed to the brim with nacho cheese. But, that never kept me from enjoying their music. And now the time has come for me to endure more punishment at the hands of the crew. But, this time, the staff will have to accept that I’m right. These Archers aren’t only back, they’re back with their best effort to date. No Mad Max videos, no silly lyrics, no subpar concepts, no compression, no shit. You, my friend, have reached the Apex.
Opener “Awakening” builds around acrobatic, Dragonforce-like guitar work, a sleek power-metal groove, and a gigantic chorus that hints at dark times ahead. But, this is one of many chapters to come. Immortal awakens from his 1000 year sleep, beckoned by a voice and a dreadful task. Promised freedom from his captivity and from his immortality, Immortal must set out to capture the sons of the Matriarch; a controlling entity that strikes fear in all living things. Once returned, the Matriarch will take the lives of her spawn, retaining her own in the process. Once attained, Immortal will be set free; never to endure pain again. Or will he? Settle in, kiddos, and let the “Shadow Guide” direct you to the nightmare that awaits.
After the simple, yet hooking, “Shadow Guide,” we slam headfirst into the grooviest number on the album. But, unlike past Archers tracks, this one does not support its cheery riffage with silly vocals and an over-the-top video. Instead, this one introduces us to the conniving bitch that is “The Matriarch.” Considering the song’s violent content, the pace is one that will throw many fans for a loop. When Immortal finally arrives at her feet, the Matriarch’s blood-thirsty story becomes clear via “Cleanse the Bloodlines.” A quest that must be accepted, a success that must be obtained.
Not only is “Cleanse the Bloodlines” a big part of the story, but it’s the biggest song on the album. Maybe the biggest song the band has ever written. Opening with an epicness fulfilled by sweeping guitar leads and pounding drums, Slayes arrives, dragging the tension to its peak. Once there, the song explodes into a chorus of emotion and despair. The backing growls portray the Matriarch’s ruthlessness, while thundering riffage and kit-work become coated with a big chorus of oooo’s and aaaaah’s. Using a similar choral technique, “The Coward’s Way” sees Immortal hunt down the tyrannous first son before he takes down the “False Walls” that protect the second. Walls he smashes with beautiful vocals, beefy chugs, rich drumming, and ballad-like emotion. It’s these latter-est elements that make this ditty one of the most powerful on the disc.
Protected by ten thousand soldiers, Immortal shows his true colors; laying to waste everyone protecting the third son. With a vibe (and song title) like Iced Earth‘s “Ten Thousand Strong,” “Ten Thousand Against One” proves to be the most hooking and neck-breaking of them all. “Neck-breaking?” On an Archers release? Trust me. Give the thing a spin and you’ll be praying to see this one the next time these Canadians hit town. As we head into the emotion-soaked licks of “Earth and Ashes,” we discover there’s another side to Immortal. A guilty one as he connects with the final son. Sporting a bass-led introduction and clean vocals from guitarist Andrew Kingsley Saunders, you feel the pain in Immortal’s heart as he returns the son to his evil mother.
And so the quest comes to an end. The Matriarch has what she wants, the world trembles more than ever, and Immortal returns to his earthly prison. A promise broken, Immortal’s life is the only one that remains intact. As he returns to his resting place in “Call Me Immortal,” regaining his strength over another millennium in “Apex,” the spell over me has finally broken and I become aware of a couple things. First, the songwriting and album organization fits the story like a fucking glove and, second, this record sounds fanfuckingtastic (all thanks to none other than Jacob Hansen… what?!). With dynamics like this, every riff, every drum pattern, and every vocal arrangement come straight to the front. It’s all in the title; one that might well show up in Count Grier‘s top ten. Unleash the Archers have blown all their past work away and achieved their apex.2