Interview by Arianna Govoni
A year after the release of the previous EP “Explorers”, Unleash The Archers gets back on track stronger than ever and confirms its own extraordinair music talent in the band’s fifth studio album, “Abyss”. Another concept record depicted by bombastic and majestic atmospheres, full of musical nuances that leave its mark. On the occasion of the upcoming release, already considered by the press as one of the best metal records of this year, we introduce you a very exclusive interview conducted with the band’s lead singer Brittney Slayes!
Hi Brittney, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine! It’s such a great pleasure hosting this chat with you today! Hope you’re feeling good?
Brittney: I’m doing well, thank you! Glad to be here 🙂
I’d love to break the ice asking you this: how come did you opt to release a brand new record a short time after the release of “Explorers”? Did you feel that you had a lot of material you wanted to share with the fans or was it simply due to the fact that you didn’t want to stop your creativity and you dedicate yourself to the writing process of these brand new tracks?
Brittney: Explorers was a bit of a ‘happy accident’ actually; we had originally recorded Northwest Passage as the bonus track for Apex, but then decided that we loved it too much to just tack it on the end of a record, and felt it needed special treatment. So, we held on to it, and decided to release it when there was a lull. Our rep at Napalm had the idea of recording another cover song of a Canadian artist (NWP is originally by Canadian folk hero Stan Rogers) and release them both as a 7” EP. We decided to do Heartless World by Teaze, and released them in summer 2019 right before we started writing for Abyss. We knew it was going to be a while before Abyss was going to come out so we thought it would be a nice surprise that would tide fans over for a while!
From a very first listening, what I really perceived is indeed a big step forward in your artistic development, where the music seems to be very personal and not “so much inspired” by someone else, if you get what I mean (I mean that in the past a lot of people said that you were more oriented to the Iron Maiden and the German power metal sound, now I feel your sound is more mature and personal). Personally do you feel satisfied about this latest record and the path you pursued with Unleash The Archers in these 13 years?
I completely agree that Abyss has a different sound for us, definitely more mature. We experimented a lot with different genres, and didn’t set any rules for the album. We don’t normally try to sound like any certain genre in particular, but on this record we really threw the genres out the window and just wrote what we felt was right for the story. Being that Abyss is a concept record it was super important to us that the songs reflect the emotional tone of what was occurring in the story at that exact moment. We wrote all of the songs with every other track in mind as well, and made sure that each song flowed well into the next and that no riff was out of place or unnecessary. We really took our time and dissected every riff on every song to make sure everything was exactly where it needed to be. It took a while but I think it was worth it.
The path we have taken these last thirteen years has been a long and winding one, but we have learned so much and would not be where we are without all the actions we’ve taken. We would not be the songwriters we are today without the mistakes we made on previous albums. I wouldn’t give our experiences up for anything 🙂
If I’m not mistaken, we might consider “Abyss” as a sort of a concept album. You know, usually the writing process and the composition of a concept album requires a lot of study and a lot of dedication. In your opinion, what has been the most challenging part in the writing of the songs or the composition of the music?
Brittney: It is definitely a concept album, no sort of about it! 😉 When we sat down to start writing Apex back in 2016 I told the boys it would be a concept album, and that it would have two parts, and would continue into our next record, which I already knew would be named Abyss. The story for both records was written at the same time, back in 2016, though details did change throughout the writing process for the actual music. We wrote the riffs for Apex in 2016 and the riffs for Abyss in 2019, but a few pieces did get written for Apex and actually made their way onto Abyss instead… As I said it was very important that the songs reflected the story and there were just some parts that were better suited to Abyss, so we held on to them. The writing process for both records was really fun, actually; I wrote the story out in track-by-track chapter explanations that told the boys exactly what was going on, how the song should sound, how it should make the listener feel, and what the emotional tone should be, and the boys used that to write their riffs. There was a lot of back-and-forth, to make sure that the riffs fit the story perfectly, so that was probably the most difficult part, but once the foundation was laid everything else came pretty easily from there!
In the record we can also hear some growl vocals, sang by you of course, which make your music even more attractive. Where does this more pronounced nuance come from? Do you feel more comfortable in singing with the clean vocals or do you also like to test yourself with more highlighted screams?
Brittney: I actually don’t do the growls, Grant (Truesdell, guitar) does. I do only the clean vocals, and all the harmonies, but any time you hear death screams it’s Grant. I do write them though, as they are super important to the song writing process and I often use them as the voice of a particular character or as a tool of introspection. I think Grant does a killer job at them, he has a very black metal vibe to his screams and I love that, being that I am a huge fan of black metal myself!
In order to give a little appetizer of this brand new records, you’ve released three singles: “Abyss”, “Soulbound” and “Faster Than Light”. What kind of reception did you get from worldwide fans? I’ve read some comment and everyone was very enthusiastic about it!
Brittney: The reception has been super positive, yeah, and we couldn’t be happier. When you write a new album you never know if anyone is going to like it, but luckily it has been very well received by fans and critics alike so we are very honoured by that. 2020 has not been a great year and we are just happy to have been able to bring some new music to brighten everyone’s pandemic!
Please correct me if I’m wrong but listening to the album, I’ve perceived also some “Devin Townsend” influence and also some “tolkkien” reference. I explain better: listening to ‘Afterlife’, we can clearly hear the string section and also flutes, that make everything so dreamy. I really think that this song is beyond amazing, my honest and sincere congrats to you and the guys! If I’m right, the lyric is the same that we can hear at the beginning with the opening track “Waking Dream”. What can you share more about this beautiful piece?
Brittney: There is definitely a bit of a Lords of the Rings vibe to Afterlife, you nailed it! We wanted the last track to be an epic closer to the album that felt very cinematic and left the listener with a triumphant, positive feeling, so Andrew (Kingsley, guitar) did an amazing job of including some folk-ish symphonic elements on that track to do that. Also yes, we wrote Afterlife and Waking Dream at the same time, taking parts from one and using them on the other so that they would bookend the album. It was important to me to harken back to the dark feeling from the beginning of the album but to lighten it and show the emotional growth of our main character; he started in a very unhappy place and ended the album as a free man with a bright future ahead of him, and I wanted to make sure the music reflected that!
I hope you won’t get offended with this statement of mine, but I can clearly see you singing or even composing some fantasy movie soundtrack like “The Lord Of The Rings”. Beyond being a great singer, in my honest opinion, you’re also a great writer, so would you ever consider to take into account such a peculiar offer like this one, in case somebody offered you?
Brittney: Absolutely! I honestly think Andrew could be the next Hans Zimmer, he is so good at writing music, and I would love to do some vocals on the soundtrack he writes 😉 That would be a lot of pressure though hahaha, but definitely fun to try!
The track also sees the cooperation of Francesco Ferrini from Fleshgod Apocalypse, who managed to work on the arrangement of the music. What can you tell about his contribution to the song? How did the idea of working together come to birth?
Brittney: It was actually Jacob (Hansen, Hansen Studios)’s idea! He heard the song, and the orchestrations that Andrew wrote on it, and suggested sending the song to Francesco to add some polish. Basically, he took the existing midi and put better instrumentation over it, and wrote some flair for it as well. The ocarina is the original written by Andrew, but that is the only part that stayed the same. Francesco did an amazing job of making something that was originally written on a computer sound like a real symphony! He is so talented and it was an honour to be able to put him name on the album!
Reconnecting to the “influence” topic, I’ve also perceived some reference to the music of the 80s, especially in songs like “Carry The Flame” and “Through Stars”, which kinda blend very well to the music variety overall. I know that at the very beginning of your career, Unleash The Archers was very closed to Iron Maiden’s music and also to the German power metal scene, but in “Abyss” we can also hear some Finnish power metal reference, as I heard in “Faster Than Light”, which sounds very “Stratovarius-ish”, or again we can also sense some more oriented prog melody as we can hear in “Legacy” or again in “Return To Me”. Which are the bands you feel more connected and inspired to?
Brittney: I personally am influenced by so many different bands, and UTA as a whole has so many influences from a lot of different genres, but I suppose the main ones lately would have to be Iron Maiden, Lost Horizon, Devin Townsend, Helloween, Queensryche, Symphony X, Iced Earth, Soilwork, FM-84, and many more!
Recently you’ve announced a live streaming event in order to present digitally this brand new record, since you were unable to offer a proper live show due to the global pandemic that is bringing every band to its own knees, especially the whole music industry. Would you mind telling how did you live this experience that might sound a bit atypical for Unleash The Archers?
Brittney: We actually purposely filmed the live stream to feel as much like a live show as possible, due to the fact that we knew were weren’t going to get to play a show for a long time and a lot of people (including myself) are really missing concerts, so we encouraged everyone to clear their living room and treat it as much like a regular show as possible, just that it’s happening in your own home 😉 We played quite a few new songs but also a lot of fan favourites and album singles. It was the longest set we have ever played so it was very tiring, but we had a lot of fun. It was very strange, playing to a bunch of cameras instead of a crowd, but we tried our best to imagine the fans that were behind those cameras, and brought as much energy to the stage as we could. Everyone that watched it said they had a great time and really enjoyed it so, hopefully we can do another one in the new year!
What’s your own opinion about this brand new trend in offering live streaming shows? A lot of bands already got along with this thing, without having a crowd, as you know, even if the fans are always present and helpful in giving their own support in these hard times. Do you think that live streaming shows could replace somehow the real live shows, replacing definitely that magic and synergy that a band can only create with a present crowd?
Brittney: I don’t think livestreams will ever replace actual live shows, but they might become something that you do as a special one-off event during a live show? So that everyone can watch no matter where they are, say for a ten year album anniversary or some kind of hiue production like at festivals, that kind of thing. Personally, I do not like them nearly as much as real shows, and am very excited to get back on the road so we can see our fans in real life! There is nothing else in the world like it, and I don’t think any amount of money put into a livestream will ever change that.
This global pandemic has brought everyone to its own knees, as I said earlier. As a great vocalist as you are, how did you personally live the quarantine period and this bad historical moment? I must assume that it’s wasn’t easy at all!
Brittney: The pandemic hit North America right when we were in the middle of a US tour, so that was horrible. Everything was suddenly shut down and we had to book emergency flights home before the borders closed; we just barely made it. Then once home we got to watch as all the festivals we had booked for that summer were cancelled one by one, even Wacken, which would have been our first time playing. It was heartbreaking. It was a very hard time there for a while, hard to stay positive, but then all the press for Abyss started so we had to get back to work. There was so much to do in preparation for releasing the album so there wasn’t much time for anything else!
Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to see you playing live in Italy the last time you came here. On that occasion you shared the stage with Rhapsody Of Fire and Orden Ogan. What did you recall of that beautiful experience?
Brittney: Our shows in Italy were smaller but they were so much fun. We tried our best to hang out with our fans after the show and had a really great time. We got to meet some people that we have been talking to online for some time in person finally so that was amazing! We can’t wait to return.
I hope you won’t get mad at me, but I think you’re an amazing artist and I already can imagine, for example, Unleash The Archers sharing the stage with the Italian power metal band Kalidia. Maybe I am way too naive but I feel some connection with the music and also with the vocals lines by Nicoletta Rosellini. Indeed, I really hope to see you on stage, sooner or later. At the moment which are the band’s plans, given the very difficult time that is continuing?
Brittney: I have never heard of that band unfortunately, so sorry! I will definitely give them a listen now though! We are working on getting back to Europe in support of Abyss in the fall of 2021, but for some reason it is difficult to book shows in Italy. I think we may be able to fit one in Northern Italy, but I am not too sure. Europe is so big it is hard to fit everything in! But yes, absolutely we will do our best to get to Italy next fall if Covid allows!
Thanks Brittney for being with us and for giving us this spot. As our tradition wants, I call the interviewee to share the final words with us!
Brittney: Thank you so much for having me! Thank you to all of our Italian fans for supporting us over the years and for listening to the new album! We hope to see you on the road next year but in the meantime, stay safe and stay metal! \m/
Unleash The Archers Official Website
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