Unleash the Archers – Phantoma Review

Remember those days when Unleash the Archers were a fun, swords-meets-skateboards type of band? Back when their vocals were goofy and their videos even goofier? Well, they’ve come a long way from the days of Behold the Devastation and Demons of the AstroWaste. Time Stands Still was the beginning of that transformation, but it was sealed once and for all with their epic Apex. Snatching the top spot on 2017’s impeccable Grier list, Unleash the Archers’ transformation from happy-go-lucky metal to power metal powerhouses was forever confirmed. After a two-part series where we saw Immortal converge through trials and tribulations, this year’s Phantoma tosses us into the future (12089, specifically) where AI rules supreme. Presumably inspired by the new wave of AI technologies out there, Unleash the Archers taps into those influences to create a hypersonic sci-fi soundtrack filled with a smattering of synthesized guitar leads and heavy keyboard action to deliver the power metal version of Skynet. But, with all the rumors circulating, just how much AI was used to make Phantoma?

I’m happy to say, this new record feels, sounds, and looks like a classic UtA piece. AI might have been used for a music video here and there, and even in parts of the lyrics, but it hasn’t slithered its way into the songwriting and vocal arrangements. However, they definitely pushed the envelope on their key structures, making Phantoma sound like something out of a computer-generated universe. That said, all the elements are here. Big, soaring choruses; gentle, melodic interludes; sad, heart-wrenching ballads; and heavy, battle-ready riffs. And, this time, we lay to rest Immortal and delve into a story about an AI entity trying to free itself and stop the destruction of the human race. But, how much more can Phantoma offer this tired tale of robot takeover that hasn’t already been covered in other media? And, where in the band’s storied discography will this new record land when released to the devastated masses?

As the rain and thunder subside, the rocking nature of the opener, “Human Era,” introduces us to a forsaken land where robots rule and humanity cowers. Our protagonist wants to be free from their robot duties as the bass hums through the verses and the wild key and guitar work take hold for the song’s mighty chorus. Its pulsing electronic qualities and ooooing/awwwwing conclusion set the stage for what’s to come on Phantoma. The follow-up track, “Ph4/NT0mA,”1 settles into a steady pace with whirling Wintersun-esque key work encapsulating the guitars and drums. With another big chorus, our friendly AI bot seeks freedom and experiences a Neo-like awakening, hoping somehow to be the hero of the day. This track also exposes the other side of the electronic influences on Phantoma, as the guitars themselves mimic keyboards during the solo. But the greatest example of these influences comes in the epic “Gods in Decay.” Sporting one of the better choruses on the record, the dizzying keys and guitars blend so deeply that it’s difficult to decipher which is which. As our hero tries to convince the human race of their fate at the hands of The Collective, the finger-tapping passage and sad vocal performance prove to her that there’s no hope in these stupid humans.2

Perhaps the best tracks on the album are “Green & Grass” and the back-to-back “Ghosts in the Mist” and “Seeing Vengeance.” The first rolls in with chuggy verses that lend beautifully to Slayes’ gentle vocals. After Slayes drops into a surprisingly low register, doom rears its ugly head before the song erupts into a powerful chorus that’ll stick to you like herpes. Injecting low growls in the background, this building piece passes through some fitting solos before the final chorus repeats itself, growing stronger with each repetition. Then, it concludes with oooo’s and awww’s that make me feel like I’m in a ’50s diner. “Ghosts in the Mist” is Phantoma’s equivalent to Apex’s “Ten Thousand Against One.” Utilizing Evergrey-like heaviness, we’re thrown into battle as our protagonist unleashes hell as Phantoma. When the harsh vocals arrive, the guitars drag their knuckles across the desert rock before the vocals soar through another immaculate chorus. “Seeing Vengeance” is pretty much this year’s AMG theme song, as the main character realizes that only death will heal her and the world.3 The vocals and instrumentation march along, delivering some badass riffs ala old-school Mercenary, and stop-start Evergrey chuggery and solo work. I also particularly enjoy the rasps acting as a second layer to Slayes’ cleans.

Phantoma is a surprising record because, while still UtA, it’s very different from the band’s previous material. The story is hopeless and sad, the sci-fi attitude in the atmospheres and guitars is unique, and even some of the songwriting is like nothing the band has done before. Most of it works, but some do not. For example, the nearly eight-minute-long “Give It Up or Give It All.” Aside from the fact that the lyrics are atrocious, its inclusion of piano pushes it into weird territories. While the lyrics could serve as a sad, comical addition to a Team America gag, the songwriting serves up a weird pop-country piece with a Shania Twain vocal approach. But, this song is the only one on the album that bugs me. As one might expect, it’s going to take something massive to knock Apex off its throne but Unleash the Archers have produced another great album that flows nicely from beginning to end. Not to mention, they’ve done it by stepping out of their comfort zone and delivering something that stands on its own.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: Stream | Format Reviewed: Streamy McStreamicans
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: unleashthearchers.bandcamp.com | unleashthearchers.com | facebook.com/unleashthearchers
Releases Worldwide: May 10th, 2024

Show 3 footnotes

  1. wtf…
  2. You fucking idiots!
  3. It’s spelled with W, idiot! – Steeling Wengeance
« »