Unleash The Archers: l-r: Scott Buchanan, Grant Truesdell, Brittney Slayes, Andrew Kingsley, Nikko Whitworth. Copyright: Unleash The Archers.
With a name that evokes medieval imagery and a sense of urgency, Unleash The Archers formed as a band in Victoria, Canada in 2007 and have subsequently been developing a fanbase with the release of four full-lengths and one EP (Behold the Devastation--2009, Demons of the AstroWaste--2011, Defy the Skies--2012, Time Stands Still--2015, Apex--2017) and by playing shows throughout the world. The band's fusion of traditional, power, and melodic metal combined with Brittney Slayes' power/traditional lead vocals and harsh, male backing vocals are the staple of their genre-defying brand of music. Their increased global presence and talent led to the band signing with metal label Napalm Records in 2015.
In 2017, UtA released the well-received concept album titled 'Apex'. The album debuted at #3 on iTunes metal charts, and became their first to make Billboard charts. It also debuted at #12 on the Canadian Top Hard Music chart and landed on many Year End favorite album lists. A subsequent tour of Europe with Orden Ogan and Rhapsody of Fire followed.
Maximum Metal had a chance to speak with UtA's phenomenal, four-octave mezzo-soprano lead vocalist Brittney Slayes about a range of metal subjects including an in-depth look into the story narrative within the songs of 'Apex', its music and production, band videos, and some other fun stuff!
MM: Hello, Brittney Slayes! It's been a couple of years since our last interview and in that time Unleash the Archers has a new concept release titled 'Apex'. Anyone can google how the band got their name, so let's jump straight into 'Apex'!
To paraphrase what you've said about the Apex storyline: a character named the "Matriarch" awakens the "Immortal" from his mountain rest of a couple thousand years. He is cursed to follow her commands on a quest to kill her sons so she can achieve immortality. Correct?
BS: That is correct! Very well summarized ;)
MM: Most of the quest characters in mainstream entertainment media are heroic, evil, or something in between. With no free will, The Immortal is an extremely tragic figure in that he has feelings but no control over his actions. What was the genesis of using this type character who is essentially, and for lack of better term, a puppet?
BS: To be blunt, a being so powerful would never do something he didn't want to and thus the notion of an antagonist would not exist for him, so without any conflict the story would be pretty boring ;) That being said, I wanted to showcase two very different evils here, the first being the traditional evil, which we see embodied within the Matriarch and her quest for power, the second being the evil of inaction. Surely a being as powerful as The Immortal could figure out a way to break his bonds and stop serving the evil of this world, but does he ever do that? No, he continues to accept his fate instead of fighting to change it. He is tragic in the way that he thinks he can do nothing, and so he does nothing.
MM: UtA's Prior release, 'Time Stands Still', was very positive. In a way, the Apex storyline brought you back to darker subject matter from older releases like 'Demons of the AstroWaste'. Did you know going in it would go that way?
BS: Not really hahaha, that is just where the characters led me. I am much more interested in the darker side of human nature however, so I am not surprised that when given the opportunity to create a story of my own that that is the direction I would go. Besides, it is more fun to sing from the point of view of someone that is angry! aka The Matriarch ;)
MM: More than just a title or place, what exactly is 'Apex'?
BS: Apex is a goal, an emotional and mental state where one can finally accept their circumstances and choose happiness. These days there is always that next best thing, that better car or apartment or job, and we always assume that those are the things that are finally going to make us happy. Unfortunately, they are not. Happiness is a choice we make every morning when we wake up, and Apex is a place where we should go to remind ourselves of that choice.
"Apex is a goal, an emotional and mental state where one can finally accept their circumstances and choose happiness. These days there is always that next best thing, that better car or apartment or job, and we always assume that those are the things that are finally going to make us happy. Unfortunately, they are not. Happiness is a choice we make every morning when we wake up, and Apex is a place where we should go to remind ourselves of that choice." --Brittney Slayes
MM: Moving into the songs, there hasn't been an instrumental since "00 00 01" on Demons of the AstroWaste. The beginning of "Awakening" sets a mood of foreboding. Who worked up that instrumental start?
BS: That was all Andrew. He wrote the opening riff to Awakening to naturally he also had the idea for the instrumental intro leading up to that riff. We were trying to channel that 'horror movie' vibe to be honest, we wanted the hairs to stand up on your arm, for you to wonder what darkness could possibly follow :)
MM: A bird, specifically a falcon, was used for "Shadow Guide" instead of another animal. Is it meant to represent the release of spirit from the mountain rest or something else?
BS: The Shadow Guide is merely a tool used to lead The Immortal to The Matriarch. The falcon guides The Immortal and eventually he comes to trust him, to think that he is there to keep him safe, but at the end we learn that he was The Matriarch's spy and she betrays him. That is why he was a 'shadow' guide, because he was never really who The Immortal thought he was.
MM: "The Matriarch" song uses, in a way, a campfire, horror story way of describing her. Plenty of people would like to live forever. Is she really that evil or just extremely goal-oriented and misunderstood?
BS: Hahaha well the truth of it is that she is both. She is extremely goal oriented, and has such plans for the world, but in those plans there is no room for deviation, and so those that stand against her must die. Thus, she is evil, having no regard for anyone else's well-being but her own. If only everyone would just understand what she is trying to achieve and stop defying her, maybe she wouldn't have to kill so many damn people, know what I mean?!
MM: Did any females from pop culture influence your design of the Matriarch?
BS: Oh yes, definitely. There is a lot of Bavmorda from Willow in her, as well as Zuul from Ghostbusters,, and a bit of Morgana Le Fey from Arthurian legend. She is beautiful but vain, intelligent but overly controlling, and powerful but always hungry for more. She is unstoppable!
Apex cover. Art by Sarafin Concepts
MM: For me, "Cleanse The Bloodlines" stands out from the other songs on 'Apex' and represents a unique voice of UtA. The rhythmic work is especially interesting where main beats drop from regular to double to triple --whatever-- while you sing over it at times with a swing rhythm that I usually only hear in Folk and Country music. You both accent each other, but there is also detachment. Whose idea was that? Can you give more on how it was put together:
BS: The song started with that opening riff, and the rest was built around it. Andrew pretty much had the whole thing written when he brought it to us and we just fiddled with a few things here and there. Originally, I had written the chorus in those long, slow-moving phrases so that the guitar (same as the opening riff) could really shine, but then Andrew said he wanted to keep the main melody from that riff out of the chorus, and only used it in the intro and outro. With that, the rhythm and heaviness of that riff really came to the forefront, giving it a completely different tone and really standing out as the darkest track on the album. I love it, it's one of my faves, and if I wasn't singing during that chorus you know damn well I'd be headbanging so hard!
MM: In "Cleanse", the lines are: "I can give...freedom from this earthly tie...betray me and spend eternity as mine". It seems that the Matriarch didn't grant that freedom?
BS: No, she definitely did not... When they first meet, The Matriarch sees first hand just how archaic The Immortal's power truly is; it practically radiates from him. So, in a small moment of weakness she decides to sweeten the pot in order to get him to bend to her will, which we all know is pointless as he must do as she says (or must he?) but regardless she makes a promise to free him from his curse if he brings back her four sons as she requests. Of course, at the end we see that she revokes this, now having achieved immortality and feeling herself quite invincible, she decides he would be handy to keep around.
MM: The next set of songs focus on the Immortal getting her sons. Were they symbolic of any certain people?
BS: No, they were mostly just common clichés of figureheads abusing their authority. First, the scruple-less politician, then the cowardly soldier, then the manipulative religious leader. The last was the simple working man, the one who had scorned money and power for family and the satisfaction of a hard day's work. This is the one The Immortal laments killing, the one that causes him to reflect on his curse and wonder if he shouldn't try to break his bonds... But that is for another story ;)
MM: Looks like "False Walls" was originally titled "Overlord". What brought about the change?
BS: It went back and forth between the two several times. Originally the title was False Walls, and I was going to write the chorus around those words, but then the word overlord kept coming to me and it ended up taking precedence in the chorus, so I thought the name should change as well, but then I was still really unsure about it and the boys chimed in that they liked False Walls better, and it was changed back!
MM: The story doesn't really suggest her sons are sympathetic people. Seems like the Immortal wasn't affected by his task until the fourth son in "Earth and Ashes"?
BS: Correct. The first three were apples not far from the tree as it were, and The Immortal had no issue handing them over to the altar. The fourth was kind, and knew why The Immortal had come, and yet still gave himself up. I hope the agony comes through in that song, because I really did my best to 'wail' in that one!
MM: Out of nowhere, your guitarist Andrew Kingsley, does some clean singing on "Earth And Ashes". How did that come about?
BS: Hahaha well you're absolutely right in that it was very much out of nowhere. I had originally written the part thinking I would just sing it myself, but then I thought it would sound strange to suddenly change POV like that, so I thought Andrew or Grant could scream it. When it came time to lay it down though, I just knew that screaming wasn't right for it either, so I just left it blank and then sprung it on Andrew when we were doing gang vocals. He was totally down and did a killer job so, we left it at that! I think I might actually write a few parts on the next record specifically for him ;)
MM: Since he is immortal, the Immortal's trials aren't difficult for him. Should we assume his only real problems were internal?
BS: Yes, it is all very much an internal struggle for him, but it's not like the trials weren't difficult, he just wasn't particularly concerned about them. Facing ten thousand soldiers on his own was not easy, but it was just the kind of thing he excels at, and so he relished in the challenge. He has lived for thousands of years, he has seen it all and lived to tell the tale; sometimes it's nice when something he's never done before get thrown his way.
MM: You're using some very delicate singing this time on tracks like "Ten Thousand Against One" and "Apex". You've rarely used it on past records. No real question here other than can we get more in the future?
BS: As you wish! Yeah really I just wanted to use some of the dynamicity of my voice, but to be honest it's the soft parts that are the hardest! Anyone can belt, but nailing a quiet part and keeping it in tune is far more challenging ;)
MM: The title track "Apex"... wow, that chorus is catchy! It has a latter-era Iron Maiden vibe to it musically. How was it developed?
BS: Being the last track, I wanted to break the fourth wall and call out to the fans a little bit, to let them know that the story and the album was for them. It was kind of like me saying, I hope you liked what you just heard (the album) do you want to come with me on this journey and do it all over again? I wanted something the fans could sing along to but I also wanted it to be a message for them. It was the very last thing I wrote actually! I'm glad you like it :)
"I wanted to break the fourth wall and call out to the fans a little bit, to let them know that the story and the album was for them. It was kind of like me saying, I hope you liked what you just heard (the album) do you want to come with me on this journey and do it all over again?"
MM: At the end of Apex, "Something is coming" ...can you reveal if the Immortal is being called out again making the story circular or something else? Maybe a "Patriarch"?
BS: I'll be honest and say that the album was originally conceived in two parts, so right from the beginning I have always known there would be a sequel. I even know the name already, but I won't spoil the surprise ;) The Immortal and The Matriarch will definitely make a return, no question about it.
MM: We talked before about how the prior release 'Time Stands Still' had a hero's journey underlying it. The 'Apex ' story does not. The Immortal doesn't have to utilize courage, there's no redemption, there's no treasure, and he's back to the mountain having killed a lot of people...but there is his "Apex". Did you plan the final song to be uplifting to leave listeners with, in a sense, a high note?
BS: Absolutely. I knew the album was going to have a very dark undertone so I asked the boys to make the last track an uplifting, super-melodic, Maiden-esque track with dueling guitars and solos that go on forever. I wanted it to be a song that would leave you smiling at the end, even after all that death and despair. I was also aiming to leave you wanting more so, hopefully I achieved that!
MM: You covered the classic "Queen of the Ryche" from Queensryche as a bonus track for the Japanese release of Apex. How did that get decided?
BS: I don't really remember to be honest... I think I was just like, well I love this song, and the boys didn't hate the idea, so that's what we did! I have always been a huge fan of Geoff Tate's voice, and have actually been wanting to cover that song since the band first started but we never did covers before so, this was my chance!
MM: It sounds like a different production than what's on Apex. Was it done separate?
BS: Sure was! We actually recorded a different cover song in the studio, but then decided we wanted to save it for something special, and quickly recorded QotR as the Japanese bonus track when we got back to Vancouver. Jacob Hansen still did the mixing and mastering though!
MM: Rumor has it there may be other cover songs to come. Care to mention any?
BS: It's a secret, but yes there may be one or two cover songs still to come ;)
MM: Fans are wondering if you'll continue the Matriarch/Immortal saga. Any chance we could see the Apex concept expanded into a larger universe or is it basically contained? How about the Apex concept expanded into other media?
BS: There will be a sequel album, as I said above, but I would LOVE to make the story into a graphic novel. I'm searching for a comic artist willing to work for royalties if you know anyone! I have the whole thing pretty much written out already, and if I was any good at drawing it would already be on the shelves, I can tell you that. :)
MM: Did any of the Apex tracks or lyrics come from specific media like songs on Time Stands Still did?
BS: Not really, no. Pretty much everything came from the imagery that the story inspired in my mind, or the motivations of the characters and how they would act in certain situations. The movie Willow will probably always influence what I do, but this album for the most part just came from my general love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
MM: This time, UtA changed artists and went with Ken Sarafin at Sarafin Concepts for the cover artwork. Any particular reason?
BS: A little of this, a little of that. We saw his work on a Black Tongue record and loved it, and also we were just ready for a change. He did an incredible job, we are so proud to have been given the chance to work with him!
MM: There seems to be less melodic death vocals in Apex. Are they being phased out so the music can have broader appeal or did they just need to only fit in certain spots of the story?
BS: I used them very strategically on this album, considering them more of a literary tool than an instrument. I will probably do more of the same on the next album. But really, if I could have my way, there'd be just as much screaming as singing... I'm a big fan of melodic death metal! I've actually wanted to have a full time screamer in the band for a long time now...
MM: Apex is certainly your best sounding release. Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Primal Fear, Mercenary, U.D.O., Amaranthe) handled the production. How important was the production of Apex?
BS: Thanks! The production was seriously NUMBER ONE on our list for this record. Not kidding. We spent so much money recording with Jacob and it was worth every penny. We were just tired of feeling like we were not realizing our full potential and were dead set on changing that.
MM: How much did Jacob push you all individually and as a band?
BS: He's actually a super chill, laid back guy. I definitely pushed myself harder than he pushed me! We were so ready when hit that studio though, he didn't have to push us because we were pushing ourselves and had been for the last six months in preparation. Time is money baby!
MM: Who decided on some Drop-D guitars which aren't always used with power/traditional metal? The production crunch is phenomenal:
BS: We've always played in Drop-D, but the guitars were Jacob's choice. That crunch is seriously his signature sound. He has specific guitars he uses for rhythm that provide that chest-rattling foundation, and specific guitars for melodies and even different guitars for solos. He is a guitar player himself so he knows his stuff! We pretty much just told him what we wanted to sound like and he figured out how to make that happen. Incredibly talented guy :)
MM: One of our guys says he hears bits of similar sound in bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Killswitch Engage going back through some 90s power. Was the Gothenburg scene ever an idea for the sound quality?
BS: For sure it was! Seriously when the band first started those two bands were HUGE influences for us, and only now were we finally able to come close to the production quality of their recording styles. We were looking for that same fullness, where everything stands out on its own but still comes at you at once like a wave of sound crashing into you. We had a very specific tone in mind and Jacob is the pro at that tone; we had been eying Jacob to produce the new record since 2014!
MM: For Grant Truesdell: How has playing in an Iron Maiden cover/tribute band, influenced your playing for UtA?
BS: Playing in an Iron Maiden tribute band has had a definite influence on me as both a guitar player and a songwriter. Although, Maiden had already played a big part in my introduction to and upbringing in heavy metal. In 'Powerclown', we would only play the first 5 albums, so Iron Maiden, Killers, Number of the Beast, Peace of Mind, and Powerslave. There's so many great songs in that mix of albums, I would have to be out of my mind to not let the influence of the 80's come out in my playing. I also really admire the way Adrian Smith would construct his solo's and phrasing so I definitely took a few of his tricks for my own arsenal.
MM: For Scott Buchanan: Where do your rhythmic choices come from since you don't play like a standard power metal drummer?
BS: Prior to being in the band I hadn't really listened to power metal a lot so, it was never a big influence on my style. When I really started getting into metal drumming I was listening to metalcore and deathcore a lot and I think those genres had the biggest influence on my earlier stuff. Since then, as I've gotten more into power metal, I think it's sort of blended into what I was doing before and kind of made my style as it is today. I also try to work in a lot of pop sensibilities, the "right part for the song" and all that stuff.
MM: For Andrew Kingsley: You made a guitar playthrough video on YouTube for "Cleanse". Will there be others?
BS: Yeah, I'm planning on doing more playthroughs. I've just recently got my new studio set up, and once I have a decent camera, videos will follow!
MM: Brittney... you said in a video that bassist Nikko Whitworth was a music instructor. Was he able to add any theory to the Apex music or was it already set before he came in?
BS: Absolutely! He wrote all of his parts on Apex himself and definitely threw in some of that eclectic Nikko talent. We were so stoked with what he came up with, he's such a great musician, he knows when to light it up and when to tone it back.
MM: Would any of the guys like to note their main rigs from recording Apex:
BS: Well, seeing as everything was Jacob's, none of our endorsement instruments were played, except I think maybe Andrew played with his Swiss Picks ;) But pretty sure they used the Engl Fireball for the rhythm guitars and a 5150 3 for leads.
MM: So far, you've done a handful of full production videos--"Dawn Of Ages", "Tonight We Ride", "Time Stands Still", and "Cleanse the Bloodlines". Who's most comfortable behind the camera? Who has to be dragged along?
BS: Well to be honest, Scott, Andrew, Grant and I are always willing to do whatever it takes to make a rad video. Scott often has a lot of help in the concept side of things, as do I, and Grant and Andrew are gung ho for whatever we come up with so, we're a pretty good team when it comes to videos! We have had some hellish days together I will tell you that much!
MM: How did you get back with Richard Olak from "General Of The Dark Army" to do the new "Cleanse" video?
BS: We sent him an email! We remained friends with him after General and have supported some of his other projects, and we look forward to working with him again in the future! He just gets our aesthetic, and we love him for that. We never have to worry about how it will turn out because he's so fricken talented behind the camera. He pulls out all the stops for us, and for that we love him and will always consider him a friend and honorary member of UTA!
MM: Some people may be curious about the facial markings in the "Cleanse" video. Assuming they are binding runes for the Matriarch, what does each mean?
BS: To be honest I can not remember for the life of me what everyone else was wearing, but we basically just picked what looked cool ;) The only one I can be sure of was that I was wearing the death rune on my chin, which I thought was pretty appropriate. I think the other two were sadness and renewal, if I remember correctly! Not all of them worked on the human face so we had to be strategic about what we used unfortunately, it would have been nice for them all to be symbolic but alas, that's show business!
MM: Does your label Napalm Records help out with the videos?
BS: Monetarily, yes. Everything else is us!
MM: UtA has over 5 million hits on YouTube for "Tonight We Ride" and over 3 million for "General Of The Dark Army". What kind of party are you throwing when "Dawn Of Ages" hits a million?
BS: Hahaha we're all gonna go dance in the forest and drink PBR with our sasquatch friend! No but really, we are beyond stoked at the support the fans give us on youtube, and it really does mean the world to us. [Note: "Dawn" and "Time Stands Still" just broke the million views mark.]
MM: It's been kept a secret so far...care to answer who the three metal gods are at the end of the "Time Stands Still" video?
BS: We kind of all agreed to never reveal the gods in writing anywhere ever... So I can't say exactly, but I will say that there is a comment on the youtube video that gets them all right, if it's still there!
MM: Any chance of a full acoustic version of the Apex title track possibly as a homemade video like what was done for "The Outlander"?
BS: I've never thought about it but if the fans are asking for it I'd totally be down! Let me see what I can do about getting that done ;)
How fun would it be for UtA to redo the cheesy glory of the "Queen of the Ryche" video with the band as the Five Freedom Fighters?
BS: Hahahaha that would be AMAZING!!! Aw man I would love to do that... But videos are expensive (yes even the cheesy ones) and so I think we'll have to save our funds for the next record ;) Plus we'd probably get nailed for copyright infringement or something for stealing Geoff's intellectual property... Haha!
MM: Just to get it out of the way...the Apex story is pure fantasy, not a veiled look at you wanting to kill off the four males in the band:
BS: Hahaha despite the rumours that this is the case, it most definitely is not... Looking for new members sucks! Why would I ever want to put myself though that four times over?! ;)
MM: Who was dumb enough to sex up the Matriarch and produce sons?
BS: Hey man, all ladies have needs! But no, she definitely seduced four different men over the years in a very strategic plan to have four sons of certain ages in certain positions of power. It was always a part of the grand plan.
MM: Who wins in an anything goes deathmatch throwdown--The Matriarch vs Queen of the Ryche?
BS: The Matriarch for sure! Only because she is my creation and the possibilities of her power are endless!
MM: The Immortal vs the General of the Dark Army. Who would win at Trivial Pursuit?
BS: Bahahaha oh man, wow. I am going to say The General, he is just so much more calculated and involved. The Immortal sleeps for years at a time and misses a lot of stuff, meanwhile the General travels the cosmos defeating civilizations and stealing all of their resources so, he's a pretty knowledgeable guy!
BS: The shows were absolutely incredible. We played some of the biggest venues we've ever seen and it was such an honour. There were so many people at those shows, lots of them were sold out, so we were so excited to be exposed to so many potential new fans.
MM: Is there any touring setup in 2018 yet?
BS: Nothing is booked solid yet but we are working on North American dates for Fall!
MM: Any special plans or setlists you can mention?
BS: Nothing special at the moment, no. When I go to a show I expect to hear the singles and the classics so I think that is what we'll stick to.
MM: Outside of UtA, you did some vocal work on the Vivaldi Metal Project song "Meaning of Life". Can you tell us about your role and how you got involved with it?
BS: Mistheria actually just reached out to me on facebook, and we talked a bit about the project. As soon as he said I would be doing a duet with Fabio I was hooked ;) He did a great job and I was proud to be a part of the project! I'm always down to do guest vocals on other projects, so long as they achieve at least a certain level of professionalism and songwriting ability.
MM: Who's been listening to what lately? Feel free to plug those bands 'cause every bit helps:
BS: Personally, I have been listening to The Dark Element quite a bit, Anette Olzon's new project with Jani Liimatainen (ex-Sonata Arctica), the lyrics are super simple but the grooves are catchy as hell! I am ashamed to admit this but, I have also been listening to the new Trivium album, A LOT. The Sin and the Sentence... It's so good! To be honest I had never listened to Trivium at all before, except for maybe a single or two from waaaay back in the day when they were first popular... But seriously, I'm so down with their new record, would love to see it live :)
MM: Creating music that people hold in their hearts is a type of immortality. Do you feel at this point you've achieved some level of it?
BS: Not really, no. I mean we have a lot of fans out there and we love them sooooo much and will NEVER take them for granted, but I can't help but feel that if we dropped off the face of the planet tomorrow, they would eventually forget we ever existed... But that just might be my own self-deprecation so, who knows! I know we have helped a few people through some hard times, and right now that is good enough for me. So long as one person remembers you, I guess that is immortality in a sense... so maybe the answer is actually yes? Oh man I don't know ;) Hard question!
MM: Thank you, Brittney Slayes for Apex and taking the time to answer questions for Maximum Metal!
BS: Thank you for once again having me and for your endless support of UTA!!! We will always love you guys and all you do for heavy metal :)
UTA Members: Brittney Slayes - Vocals Scott Buchanan - Drums Grant Truesdell - Guitar, Vocals Andrew Kingsley - Guitar, Vocals