Abyss is the fifth studio album by Canadian heavy metal band Unleash the Archers. It was released on Aug 21, 2020, through Napalm Records. It is the second part, concept album about the characters named the "Matriarch" and the "Immortal".
An adventurous and worthy milestone to a stellar set of albums
Unleash the Archers have returned with 'Abyss', the follow-up to 2017's concept release 'Apex'. The story of the Matriarch and the Immortal is spread out across two studio albums. It's a fantasy about the selfish quest for power, the abandoning of self to control, and the path to redemption. Given that a tale is being told, we can look at the delicate relationship between the songs and plot points.
"Waking Dream" is a relatively short repetitive opener that moves from lullaby to explosive power introducing the motif melody of the Immortal and the dichotomy of light and dark that is referred to and layered throughout the album. As done prior on 'Apex', the lead-in track on 'Abyss' opens with a primal scream--the birth cry of the awakened protagonist. Undertones of wonder and apprehension are in the progression. Stellar constellations that once lit the way in the night now surround and offer no direction aside from a cold new world of hope and possibilities. Terrestrial has become celestial.
"Through Stars" has a tone reminiscent of early/mid-era Queensryche and along with "Carry the Flame" are Pop-friendly (Pop as a genre meaning not as much distortion, power, attack, volume, etc., as heavy metal). These songs have choruses that could garner attention from power ballad avenues even though the verses are tied to the story. Arguably, the most schismatic of the songs may be "Legacy", a pop-Black mashing together of soft rock and blast beasts jarring you from pleasant to chaos. "Return to Me" is fully the Matriarch's song with boastful verses and a supremely confident chorus. Harsh vocals are brought in for the first time to signify the entry of this main adversarial character.
"Soulbound" and "Faster than Light" are high octane wind-ups that shift us out of the contemplative first third of the album. The musical and story paces pick up with a movement into conflict and battle and are an excellent showcase for the band members' skills. Clocking in at just less than nine minutes, "The Wind that Shapes the Land" is the epic heart of 'Abyss'. It has the galloping riffs and tons of wall-to-wall filling vocal power of Traditional metal glory. "Afterlife" is the triumphant, cinematic closer with flourishing orchestral touches and bombast provided by Francesco Ferinni of Fleshgod Apocalypse. It also calls back the Immortal motif with slight lyrical modifications to bring resolution to the story.
Prior to 'Abyss' was a two-song EP release named 'Explorers', its title an appropriate segue as the band and main character both venture into new territories reaching beyond what they've done before. One progression in the album is Brittney's singing style. Her dark soprano voice has moved from quasi-operatic on early albums to the chest voice belting of classic metal in 'Time Stands Still' and 'Apex'. Here on 'Abyss', Brittney utilizes more softer approaches--less Daniel Heiman and more Timo Kotipelto.
Another change worth mentioning is the use of synth keyboards, in this case Synthwave, a style evoking sci-fi and horror film soundtracks of the 1980s; mood-setting of nostalgia and futuristic atmospheres. The keys tend to be used to follow melodic lines of the guitars or are in the background as spacial enhancements rather than be a prominent element that would make the sound overly fluffy. This, along with the vocal additions, moves them away from early Helloween and Iron Maiden ancestry and more into the Euro-power metal sound of bands like Stratovarius, Kamelot, Angra and even the more modern Amaranthe.
Artwork is by Adam Burke, this time heavy with orange, purple, and brownish colors--passion and fire held in check by grounded stability. Where the cover design of 'Apex' was petrified inwardness, Abyss' cover is a face-off on a decimated landscape exemplifying the battle of wills inside; both main characters are at their reckoning. Visually, we've moved from fantasy to sci-fi and classic poster brushstrokes that belie the crisp, modern production inside. Once again the band utilized Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Primal Fear, Mercenary, U.D.O., Amaranthe) to engineer, mix, and master the release giving it a polished shine. Brittney Slayes' vocals are preeminent and outstanding on all levels. The guitars have an extreme crunch, but are relatively non-abrasive with solos leaning toward legato smooth. The drumming is complex, precise, and light-touched. Their signature blending of clean and harsh vocals are there along with monumental choruses that will stay in your head from awakening to sleep.
'Abyss' is constructively consistent with ideas and music of equal weight on the scale. All flows together; peaks and valleys of a space opera. By definition, fantasy takes us away from our regular world, so we need something to connect our normality to. Becoming yourself is the human quality to identify with in 'Abyss' moving the entire story from discarding humanity to discovering it. Since an outer journey is also an inner journey, 'Abyss' is about saving the individual soul as much as saving the universe, and where 'Apex' was about obedience and enslavement, 'Abyss' is about freedom and finding purpose.
For Unleash the Archers, 'Abyss' is an adventurous and worthy milestone to a stellar set of albums.
Note: Look for the bonus cover track, Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night", on the Japanese pressing!
Recommended for fans of: Traditional and power meal