In a few days, one of the most anticipated metal albums of the year will be released as Canadian power metal collective Unleash The Archers latest studio effort “Abyss” will finally see the light of day. Abyss is a follow-up and direct sequel to the band’s highly praised 2017 release, “Apex”, and will be the conclusion of the Matriach and Immortal storyline. I caught up with frontwoman Brittney Slayes to chat a little bit about some of the story details, how the band’s been handling the pandemic, and we get a tiny teaser of what comes next. Be sure to pick up your copy here via your favorite platform.
Thanks for speaking with me Brittney, how are you and the guys doing?
We’re doing well! I mean, as well as can be, right? Just kinda keeping busy and take it as it comes, I guess.
The coronavirus definitely seems like it hit you guys pretty hard, you had just kicked off a tour, right?
Yeah. We got hit pretty hard. We had like a two and a half week tour with Dragonforce and we were I think four or five shows in when the whole thing went down. We basically woke up in Minneapolis, went to load in and the venue said, “nah, you’re not coming in here.” Everything is closing. And we were just kind of out on the street, like what the heck what’s going on?
And, you know, coronavirus had been a thing that we’d heard in the news, of course, but it was over in China and it was in Europe and it wasn’t in North America yet. So that all changed quite quickly. We at first tried to salvage at least a few shows, but everything just kind of felt like dominoes that first day.
It was just so fast. All the shows getting canceled and the promoters being like, yeah, you know, sorry, the venues are not letting us put on the shows and there’s nothing we can do. So we threw all of our merch at FedEx and hopped on a plane and went home with a gigantic debt of thousands of dollars and tried to work through it as best as we could. Then we watched all of the festivals that we had booked for the summer slowly be cancel one by one. So those were pretty dark days for awhile there, but things are looking up now.
Yeah, we were supposed to do some photo / live / interview coverage of your show in Detroit, which was only 1-2 days out before the world shut down. Its been so rough on the industry.
Oh, dang, and yeah, it has for sure.
Now, we’re almost a year in I think of the release of Explorers, you recorded that EP which was close to the time of the recording of Abyss, is that correct?
Well, it’s kind of strange, Northwest Passage was recorded back in 2016 when we did Apex. We really loved it and so we decided to give it its own release and held onto it and recorded something else as the bonus track instead. Then when there was kind of a lull there at the beginning of 2019, we decided that would be a great time to release it. So we recorded a B side and then released the Explorer’s EP on a seven-inch vinyl which it kind of did its own little thing.
It was recorded specifically just for that. Right after we put that out, I started writing Abyss and then recorded that in Denmark in January.
Speaking of Abyss, it seems like there has been some sort of time jump in the storyline, assuming I’m following it correctly?
Right. So this is the sequel to Apex, which was our 2017 release, and at the end of Apex, our main character basically is sent back into his mountain to sleep for a million years or so, until our villain, The Matriarch has need of him again. Then we fast forward 50 years or so, which the events of Abyss take place. Then, The Immortal wakes up on a Starship alone, out in space with his old master, The Matriarch, nowhere to be seen and realizes that he was actually awakened quite a bit earlier than he thought he would be. It turns out because he’s got a new master who is the grandson, and together the two of them are going to take on the evil Matriarch and rid the universe of her evil once and for all.
The band has perfected the art of combining just intriguing music, in-depth and sophisticated stories along with great lyrical content. Do you usually come up with a concept first or do you ever look to the music when starting out?
Well, when we first decided that we were going to write Apex and Abyss back in 2016, I knew that I wanted it to be a concept record. I said to the boys, we’re going deep on this one, so be ready. We originally were going to try and release them as a two-disc record. But then, you know, deadlines were fast approaching and we decided that it would just be too rushed to try and do that many songs.
Which then the songs would be throwaways and you wouldn’t be able to give them the attention they deserve. So we decided to focus just on Apex and the story of Abyss and the riffs that we had started for that were put aside for a little while. We just wrote Apex in 2016 and then put that out in 2017 and then came back to the story again in 2019 and wrote Abyss.
The underlying concept really kind of motivated everything. I wrote the whole thing out in a track by track guideline, so that each song was like a chapter of the story. I would say what’s going on in the story, how I want the listener to feel with the song, what I wanted the song to sound like.
For example, like this one should be dark and heavy, that kind of thing. Then I would give suggestions as to songs or bands or albums that could be kind of used as inspiration. The boys took that track by track line and wrote all the riffs. It was very much that way with Apex, but even more so with Abyss, because Andrew just kind of took the whole thing and ran with Abyss and he wrote everything for it.
He and I worked really closely to make sure that the emotional tone of the record and the rifts and melodies fit perfectly in that at all points in time, the music was telling the story just as much as the lyrics were. It was just a really interesting way of songwriting together. I’d never done that before, I mean, like I did it on Apex but it worked really well. We just kind of doubled down on Abyss which worked out great, because we were all constantly moving in the same direction.
So at the time of writing Apex, you had a rough idea of where everything was going for both records, from point A to point Z?
Yes. It was pretty solid because I did write the story of Apex and Abyss at the exact same time. So they were predetermined basically where they were going to go. Then some things changed a little bit with Abyss. Some riffs were kind of like, Oh, that’s super cool. I was like, you know what, maybe I can make it so that this happens instead kind of a thing.
Then after writing Apex and just kind of seeing where that went, it did change a few things with the Abyss. That original first draft that I wrote back in 2016 changed quite a bit over the years and over time. But for the most part, the basics just always stayed the same.
What sort of inspiration did you draw from? Because to me, it seems like the full story is some kind of Tolkien meets Lucas sort of thing.
(laughing) I was all over the place. Some comic books. There’s this one series called East of West that I’m really loving right now and that’s kind of where The Immortal was inspired from. The matriarch was definitely inspired by Bavmorda from Willow. That’s one of my favorite films of all time. And I was inspired by video games as well also various books. I’m a huge reader, so I love science fiction and fantasy books and probably stole a little bit from everything that I’ve read over the years.
And I can’t say exactly where the story came from. It mostly just grew from the two main characters, The Matriarch and The Immortal. And once I figured that them out and their motivations, and how they would react to one another and what makes them do what they do, the story really just came out of that.
Are you currently reading anything interesting?
I’m in the middle of the Witcher series. So I’m on book two of that. But I’m constantly in the middle of everything. There’s like 15 books on my night table right now, but right now that’s the one that’s got me the most invested. For comic books, I’m just finishing the Descender series.
Awesome. Well, Abyss is incredibly cohesive and it has amazing accomplishments in terms of production, composition, and performance. It just seems like it’s hitting the mark all around. What would you say makes this album stand out from anything you’ve accomplished in the past? And what do you think it shares with the previous work?
I think we really took our time on this one and we knew that we were going to do that. It’s why we took 2019 off from doing anything. We didn’t play shows or tour or nothing. We didn’t even really jam for the first half of the year just because we wanted to separate ourselves from everything that we had done before.
Give ourselves some breathing room to find new music and new inspiration and new influences. Then we sat down in the second half of 2019 and absolutely dissected this record. Every single riff has a purpose. Nothing is there just to fill space, everything is working towards one final goal.
We just made sure that every song was fitting where it should, and that the song that came before and the song that came after were where they should be, and it was all sort of written all at once. It was just like, “and that song comes after this song and, that works with this.” It was just really an all at once sort of writing style, which is kind of interesting. We were all really emotionally involved in this one. I think we all wrote each track to the best that it could be.
That’s not saying that we didn’t do that on Apex, but on Apex, we had so many other things going on. We were touring and we were working really hard at growing our fan base. Cause we had just been signed with Napalm the year before, or, and we’re working on music videos. We were just trying to kind of be noticed, whereas on this one, it was very much just about the album.
Also because of all the work that we’ve put in on Apex, a lot of people were starting to notice us and we gained a huge amount of new fans and a lot of people reaching out to us and say, “whoa, just discovered Apex, it’s a killer record and you got a new fan here,” and that was happening so much that we felt this crazy expectation for Abyss. We knew that we wanted the fans to really love this record. So we just kind of put everything we had into it.
The album seems heavy, but also very nuanced. So it sounds like you’ve had some specific goals in where you were going to take it.
Yeah. I mean, even just with the addition of a synthesizer that changed quite a bit. Cause we’re all big synth fans and when we sat down to write it, we were kind of like, yeah we’re going to have a synth on this record and it’s going to be on every song and it’s going to be an important part of the writing process. It’s just going to add this whole other layer to really transport the listener to a new place because we wanted it to have a little bit of Apex, but we also wanted it to be something completely brand new.
I think the synth really did that for us. We tried to do some new things and also we wanted people to not be totally alienated by it.
I love the synth and it’s great that it seems like you guys had a lot of fun with some experimentation on tracks such as Afterlife with the flutes, which almost gives off a folk metal vibe.
Yeah, that song was pretty fun because that was one of the last ones that we wrote. Andrew basically wrote the whole thing and sent it over to us. So granted Scott and I listened to it, we were just like, what? This is hilarious. Its awesome, perfect, yes, stamp of approval! Because it was so cinematic and it was such a triumphant end to really what are both albums basically, and a triumphant end to the story of The Matriarch and The Immortal. So we loved it right away. We were kind of like, okay, we’re really embracing the folk aspects of this band, you know?
Which we figured people would be okay with because of the Northwest Passage cover that we did the year before, and which had got a lot of attention and people really love that song. So we were just kind of like, let’s embrace that a little bit more. It was a really good time recording this and, we were lucky that Jacob knew Francesco Ferrini from Flesh God Apocalypse and that he was willing to kind of put his stamp on things. Because the original demo was definitely very much a computer playing a symphony. So he really kind of added that richness to it, which makes it sound the way that it does. We’re all pretty stoked on how that one turned out for sure.
When I saw that you guys had covered Northwest Passage, I was pretty excited that you might add some more folk elements into your songs, and here we are! That track is a really awesome closer. The albums limited vinyl release seems really cool. Do you have any plans on releasing any more extensive runs on those? Because I know that you guys to have a habit of selling out all your merch rather quickly.
(Laughing)Yea, We do. I think kind of what we had is what we had. Napalm put out another color cause they originally did purple I think, and then that sold out really fast. So they put out another color. I can’t remember if it’s yellow or blue, but they did another color and they said, you know, maybe in the future or something after the album comes out, maybe they’ll do another color or something. But that’s up to Napalm and we knew we wanted to have three limited editions, final variants based on the characters of the story.
So that’s why the ones that we sold on indie merchant called the matriarch, the immortal and the soul bound. That’s probably it for that, but you know, you never know. People love the record and they want more than we’ll see what we can do. But for the most part, we like to keep the limited edition stuff special.
And I mean, we’ll probably print black until the end of time. Then we did the book as well, which was a limited edition, but that one is strictly limited. I think there are a few leftovers on the Napalm site that are still available, but once those are gone, then yeah. That’s it for that one, unfortunately, cause it’s kind of a cool little piece.
I am working on a few other things that are kind of side projects a little bit. So not necessarily like Abyss merch, but may be associated with the story sort of. That’s still kind of out there, so I don’t want to say anything and put too much pressure on myself!
Now that sounds interesting! Well, needless to say, this is definitely been a strange time for bands. What have you been doing to, or how are you going to promote Abyss? Any live streams or anything?
Yeah. We should be announcing all the ticket information pretty quickly here, but so we are going to be doing an “album release show,” which will be live streaming the day after the record comes out. So it’ll be kind of like one of those in which you can access it for 24 hours.
You just buy a ticket and you can watch it wherever anywhere you are. That’s so that’s going to be our big show, but we also are hoping to hang out on Twitch a bit more this fall. So once the album comes out, and once everything slows down which we are super busy with all the PR and stuff right now, we would like to maybe get some impromptu jams going on Twitch, or Q and A’s or just hang out sessions, you know, pub nights, that kind of thing.
And just try and stay in front of everybody as much as possible. And we’ll also be doing a couple more music videos. So that should be coming out in the next couple of months here and try and entertain people as much as possible during these dark and dire times.
I think I might’ve been one of the first interviews in which you spoke about when Abyss would be releasing a few years ago, and I know a lot of bands are spending their downtime, writing new material. Do you have any new ideas floating in your head at the moment for what comes next?
Oh yes, of course! Always. It’s inescapable! We have started talking about something, but, we’re just focusing on Abyss right now and maybe when everything slows down, we’ll get back on the songwriting train, but for now, it’s just kind of ideas brewing in my head, nothing quite as extensive as the Apex and Abyss chronicle, but I still have some kind of neat storytelling ideas.
So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens, but right now, unfortunately, it’s really too bad, I mean, it’s great, but it’s also too bad that we have this happening right now because otherwise, it would have been some crazy good downtime for writing, but unfortunately, we haven’t had any time for that, so it’ll have to wait.
Ok, well we’re looking forward to what comes next. Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans?
Thanks for your time and thanks for listening. I hope you enjoy the new record and come hang out with us on Twitch! Of course all the usual haunts Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Bands in Town. If you want tour dates, just follow us on there and you’ll get an actual, real live notification when we book tours in your areas. So that’s definitely the best place for that!Get Abyss Here