Thursday, October 15, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1413: Unleash the Archers

This next band is on my wish-list to see in concert once the pandemic is over sufficiently to allow for such experiences again.

Disc 1413 is…. Demons of the Astrowaste

Artist: Unleash the Archers

Year of Release: 2011

What’s up with the Cover? Pretty much everything awesome. Magic swords, alien landscapes, beautiful women, and a couple of random corpses. This cover had me wondering why every other genre doesn’t do covers as awesome as heavy metal artists. Folk music in particular would benefit from some swords and sorcery and a bitchin’ band logo with lots of pointy edges.

How I Came To Know It: I was introduced to Unleash the Archers last Christmas by a coworker who put them on a playlist for me. Once I was hooked (which was pretty much immediately) I fell hard, digging deep into their back catalogue, which is where I found this album.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Unleash the Archers albums, which I believe is all of them. I have dived so deep so quickly I don’t have the background to know which ones are best. However, since you aren’t not-paying me to equivocate, I’ll rank “Demons of the Astrowaste” at #2.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Like the album cover, there is a hell of a lot going on with “Demons of the Astrowaste” both musically and lyrically. The record is an ambitious journey into sound and story that may not land every single concept it launches but doesn’t want for effort.

With their fanciful tales and anthemic vocals, Unleash the Archers owe a heavy debt to Iron Maiden, but they’ve built from there to something uniquely their own. Mixed in with that traditional eighties metal is a heavy dose of European power metal. They also use more than a casual smattering of that growling double-bass thing which is either black or death metal (my palate is not refined enough to say with certainty in this case).

I will say it all works. Everyone plays brilliantly, although there is no getting past the particular brilliance of drummer Scott Buchanon. They guy is a master, hitting with military precision and metallic fury whether he’s just banging out a frenetic beat or slipping into aforementioned double bass.

At the other end of the wall of sound we are gifted with Brittney Slayes’ brassy and powerful vocals. Slayes soars over everything like Bruce Dickinson, lifting your spirts on a tidal wave of glory, with melodic structures that land somewhere in that sweet spot between Celtic folk and opera. It can’t be easy to sing the complicated yarn “Demons of the Astrowaste” spins and stay emotionally in the moment, but Slayes is up to the task.

So what the hell is this record on about? Because I could tell right away there was some complex concept album action going on, but it was hard to follow the plot. It involved some kind of epic battle and maybe an epic journey through time and space. I think. Was the main character good or bad (I guessed good) and how about the Galactic Guard that shows up in Act Three (I guessed bad). It doesn’t matter, because with all that rising tide of metal music, it all sounded Very Important Indeed.

While I could have left it there, curiosity got the better of me, so I went and read the lyrics (but only after making the guess in the above paragraph). Turns out I did…OK. The album is about someone who finds a cursed magic sword (see album cover) which turns him into some ultra-powerful dude filled with bloodlust. I think he becomes some sort of evil general and enslaves the world (or that’s another guy, not 100% sure).

Anyway, eventually he is overcome with despair at all the killin’ while under the sword’s influence (one of the record’s best tracks, “Despair”). But then some entity comes down from the heavens and offers to help. He is reborn into something even greater, defeats the Galactic Guard (who were once good, but are now evil – so I was half-right) and then tears through the fabric of space and time and is hurtled into the distant future, hoping he’ll be purged of his crimes at last. The record’s final lyrics summing all this up are…

“Defy the laws of quantum gravity
Break through the dimension
Hide in a world of super-symmetry
A space-time horizon”

Cool but also nerdy. Anyway, still with me?

That’s a lot of plot, but you don’t need to absorb it all to enjoy the record, which has a natural flow and power that is just as fun to float away on. I enjoyed the way the lyrics explore the complexity of what constitutes a hero and a villain, with evil characters overcoming their natures, and good organizations falling into decay, even though the record got too wordy and obscure in places. If you decide you just want to raise your fist and rock out, you’ll enjoy that too.

“Demons of the Astrowaste” is the last album with the original lineup (only Buchanon and Slayes appear on all five LPs) but I don’t know the band intimately enough to compare the differences yet. I will say all five band members play tight and hard, so I had no complaints on that front. A couple of the songs plod a bit in an excessive service to the plotline, but generally the music is solid, particularly when heard in sequential order.

Best tracks: Dawn of Ages, The Realm of Tomorrow, General of the Dark Army, Despair, City of Iron

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