Should I tell you a dirty, truly geeky secret? I kinda got a kick out of the Mad Max themed video Unleash The Archers released with their 2015 screamo Time Stands Still. Even if I just could not really get warm with this particular record in general. The yodeling and aimless speed crimes were just too bad.
This is the reason why their newest album Apex from 2017 kept on sitting neatly in the review queue. Now, as we just waded into disaster with another unrelated record, we thought to just go ahead and create some additional anxiety. And there are more records to dissect in this terrifying 2017 list of the lost. So stay tuned.
But – in truth – I am pretty smitten with Apex.
This time around the band introduced a fantasy theme so very typical to Power Metal. Something involving epic feuds, matriarchs, and nasty business, like the cleansing of bloodlines.
But – as always – the theme made them focus on the storyline. Which – again – turned out to be highly beneficial to the overall quality Apex can muster.
Also and contrary to their former offering, the record turns out to be a haven of variety. If this is possible at all in a Power Metal record, that is. And this definitely had a further positive impact on quality.
It really looks like the gods of metal told them to hold their horses some, and change course. Or maybe it was the gods of Napalm Records and some virulent feedback from fans.
But never fear, they did not fall off the deep end, far from it. ‘Tis still undoubtedly Unleash The Archers, and true to their credo. But Apex has focus, whereas Time Stands Still just sported breakneck speed up unknown desert dunes.
Yet, the speed still continues to clock at 350 mph, in its typical Unleash the Archer fashion. Apex races forward, where – truly – no Mad Max carts could ever follow. Sometimes almost reaching into Metallica‘s Thrash Metal haven.
And this time the screaming maintains bearable levels. Which – however – does not mean that Ms. Slayes stopped snarling about the stage like a bobcat. And what a nice contrast her savvy belting provides, contrary to the more operatic and – I daresay – cheesy musings some of the band’s brethren prefer in the genre. Add to that the pretty well executed Death Metal lisp à la Arch Enemy. And so, we can solemnly declare progress on vocals, too.
All of this goodness already becomes apparent in the definitely thrash-imbibed Awakening, the first track. And the song – of course – had to start with their trademark metal scream. But girls will be girls, and the outcome is a pretty sturdy track that will please even the grouchiest metalhead. To their credit, the idea of an intro went out the door, apart from a little ambient couleur.
You’ll get Power Metal instead, full steam ahead.
Not that we asked for anything less, right? Because the more you delve into the record, the more this becomes a Power Metal fanboy’s delight. As with the delicious track The Matriarch that just kicks them bad guys up that mountain with a stellar beat. And I am sure the somewhat solemn, yet decidedly high-octane qualities of Cleanse The Bloodlines make this track one of the filet pieces of Apex.
Then Unleash The Archers treat us measly metal adepts to much more of the Iron Maiden-esque Heavy Metal angle than before. From true galloping beats to more thoughtful, almost dreamy parts, it’s all there.
Like in False Walls, which mid-tempo ways juicily disintegrate into a rocky riff and solo fest that really made me stop for seconds. Even if the track has a tendency to noodle about the soundscape a tad too much. But this old-style Heavy Metal sound is something that talks to my metal soul.
Speaking of which.
Much to my surprise, a few acoustic beginnings, pseudo-ambient interludes, and even a few shy attempts at a ballad kind of show the way where this album should have gone more forcefully. I fully understand that we cannot move from light speed to a bicycle trot in just one album. Yet, fantasy themes are best served with a ballad or two. Or at least some serious and thoughtful interludes. Even Gloryhammer understood that. At least sometimes.
Now, let me break a lance for the two guitarists Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell. Whilst drums and bass need to confine themselves somewhat to the annoyingly simple song structures, the guitars on Apex are pretty outstanding.
Not only on their solos or riffs but also with the way they interchange and work together. Hearing them is like having the cake and eating it, too. The album delivers a typical two-pronged guitar approach renowned Heavy Metal bands thrive on. AND you’ll get all that thrashy energy boost of a Power Metal record on top, kind of as a juicy extra.
To conclude, Apex is arguably one of Unleash The Archer‘s best albums. Much more diverse than its predecessor, it is also the first to hit the Billboard charts. So, that’s recognition right there.
Maintaining Power Metal speed, whilst giving the Heavy Metal component its just reward is what made the change. That they – at the same time – increased the juice on the Thrash Metal offering to an astonishing extent is just the icing on the cake. In other words, variety really made them take a step forward and deliver an energetic, yet still thoughtful brand of Power Metal.
Cool record and what a change to their former album. It is a pity that I did not pick up on Apex already in 2017. I am sure it would have found a spot on the Top 10 Records.