The first thing that strikes you is how satisfyingly heavy UNLEASH THE ARCHERS have become over the years. Not that the Canadians' early albums lacked cojones, it's just that power metal has become such a sonically predictable genre over the decades, and bands with the gall to do something different are always particularly welcome. With bottom-heavy shades of "The Dark Ride"-era HELLOWEEN, the sound of "Abyss" is immense: epic, bombastic and full of textural subtlety and shade. Hats off to whoever produced this thing. I really should read the press release [Jacob Hansen of Denmark's Hansen Studios].
The even better news is that "Abyss" is a world-class power metal record that gently obliterates everything UNLEASH THE ARCHERS have done before. Part of this subtle but significant transformation is in the aforementioned production, which really does make the band sound unstoppable and distinctive, but it's these songs that shout loudest about their ongoing evolution. Eschewing cliché in favor of a nuanced and melodically inventive approach to power metal, UNLEASH THE ARCHERS cover a lot of stylistic ground here, but it's all done seamlessly and with masterful skill. Throw in another powerhouse performance from the always great Brittney Slayes and "Abyss" is about as good as it gets, assuming that you have an insatiable appetite for power and pomp. You probably do if you're reading this, let's face it.
Either way, these are all great songs. Striking a sublime balance between all-out metallic might and super-memorable AOR sheen, everything from dramatic opener "Waking Dream" and the monumental, high-energy title track through to the absurdly catchy "Legacy" and the swirling, progressive feast of "The Wind That Shapes The Land" hits the target. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS exude plenty of warmth throughout all of this, but they're also audibly spurred on by real conviction and the kind of ambition that often separates the great from the, erm, not bad. Closing track "Afterlife" hammers the point home, cramming a ridiculous amount of ideas and influences into its seven-and-a-half minutes. It's got lashings of orchestral splendor, visceral death metal shrieks and a chorus so huge you could plant a flag in it and claim it for Our Lord Ronnie James Dio. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS always had a gift for writing classy tunes and delivering them with plenty of oomph, but "Afterlife" is on another level entirely, with Brittney Slayes nobly demonstrating that she's one of the finest metal singers on the planet right now. Similarly, Canada's finest must now be regarded as among the power metal elite. "Abyss" will swallow you up.