It was pretty obvious that Unleash the Archers’ 2011 full-length, Demons of the AstroWaste, was a concept album. There were clues everywhere, from the fantasy-art cover of a warrior brandishing a sword to the rousing metal anthems about battle and confrontations with evil. Even if you didn’t bother with the lyric sheet, with song titles like “General of the Dark Army” and “Battle in the Shadow (of the Mountain)”, you could safely assume an epic narrative was at play.
It’s not so easy to discern a through line for Time Stands Still, however, the band’s 2015 release. There are still flourishes of the medieval and the mythic—like “Frozen Steel”, about “warriors, ungodly worshippers of cold” who ride down from “the frozen north” to “fight for what they believe”.
But there are also songs like “Going Down Fighting”, which seems to be about the all-too-real-world experience of being fucked over on the road by an unscrupulous promoter.
Truth is, the Straight is at a bit of a loss to spot the unifying concept until Brittney Hayes—aka Brittney Slayes, the vocalist and lyricist for the band—joins us at a Granville Street coffee shop to explain it to us.
“It’s about, basically, the struggles of being an independent band in Canada,” she says. Hayes is pleasantly nerdy and bespectacled off-stage, seeming more like a history geek—which she is—than a charismatic metal frontwoman. “It was all written before we were signed [by Austrian label Napalm Records]. Each song is about a different obstacle you have to overcome as an independent band.
“‘Frozen Steel’ is about metalheads in Canada, and how passionate they are, and how they would brave a winter storm to go to a show because they love metal so much.”
It’s a good bet, now that we’ve been given the magic decoder ring, that “Tonight We Ride”—which spawned a Mad Max–themed video, filmed in the Nevada desert using props from the Death Guild Thunderdome camp at Burning Man—is about facing up to the challenges of touring.
And the anthemic high point, “Test Your Metal”? “It’s about hometown heroes, really—about these bands that are so good but they just won’t tour or do anything. It’s like, ‘Get out there! Show them what you can do! You’re frickin’ talented, you’re incredible, why are you sitting at home playing to the same people every night?’ ”
No one can accuse Unleash the Archers of that. The quintet has just returned from touring Japan, China, and the United States in support of the new album. Would the band have toured so far afield without the help of Napalm?
Hayes shakes her head, taking a nibble of her scone. “Through Napalm is how we got hooked up with Spiritual Beast—they’re a Japanese label,” Hayes explains. “They said, ‘We’re releasing your album in two weeks, in July or whatever, and we’d like you over here in a month.’ ”
With only two shows to offer in Japan, Spiritual Beast then connected Unleash the Archers with Chinese metal magazine Painkiller, which booked the band for several more shows. Unleash the Archers joins a very short list of Vancouver bands—also including War Baby and D.O.A.—to have played China.
“It was all very last-minute, but it went very well,” says Hayes. “A lot of times, in the smaller cities, we’d be playing alone—it would be just us, and we’d be this little dinner-theatre novelty act. It was really funny, but in the bigger cities it was metalheads, and they were ready to go.”
Japan, meanwhile, had fans “who knew all the words, and they were wild, they were so excited to be there, they just wanted to participate so bad. I’ve never seen audiences so ready to get their fists up into the air, or to do the ‘heys’ along with you. It was really awesome.”
But there are still challenges and obstacles. Brayden Dyczkowski, who wrote most of the music on the band’s first two full-lengths, left the band shortly before the signing to Napalm because “it’s not exactly a profitable hobby,” Hayes says, smiling wryly. “In fact, it just empties your pockets at every chance, and all of our spare money was always going into the band. He finally just said, ‘I can’t do it anymore, I can’t live off ramen anymore, I need a Plan B for my future.’ He went and got his real-estate licence”—though he remains on good terms with the band, and is in the video for “Tonight We Ride”.
There’s also a learning curve in dealing with Napalm. “Everything is more expensive to buy from them, and you have to buy the album from them,” Hayes says. But “we got more exposure, a lot more reviews. North America has done really well, and there were good turnouts at shows. We have no idea how sales went in Europe right now.”
The band is waiting to hear back about that, but it’s a market Unleash the Archers is eager to crack—a challenge, since, as Hayes says, UtA is a “small fish in a big pond” over there, where melodic power metal proliferates.
Do the band members—also including cofounder Scott Buchanan on drums, bassist Kyle Sheppard, and guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley—worry that they might burn out on pressure from the label to tour?
Hayes shakes her head. “We want to tour!” she says emphatically. “We’re working really hard to prove ourselves—we’re working our butts off to try and prove that we’re worth investing in. We’re just, ‘Yes, put us out on the road as much as you can!’ We’re hungry for as much attention as they’ll give us.”