Review of Album: UNLEASH THE ARCHERS Phantoma

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Phantoma – the sixth album from the Canadian band Unleash the Archers, introducing bassist Nick Miller – faces a couple of challenges. It not only needs to live up to the high standards set by their previous albums, such as 2017’s Apex and 2020’s Abyss, but also needs to appease fans who may have been disappointed by the use of AI in their “Green & Glass” music video.

While only time will tell if they’ve addressed the latter issue, they have, for the most part, succeeded in the former. Phantoma might not reach the same heights as their previous works in terms of freshness and allure, but it remains quite enjoyable. Hence, it is a valuable addition to their discography that is likely to satisfy fans of Unleash the Archers and the power metal genre in general.

Ironically, Phantoma is a thematic album centered around AI. As detailed in the press release, the narrative was conceived by Unleash the Archers frontwoman Brittney Slayes “before the surge of discussions around AI and its growing impact on society reached its peak.” Focused on the character Phantoma (“a Phase 4 / Network Tier 0 unit – model A”), the story “explores the journey of AI gaining consciousness in a dystopian, near-future world… [serving as a] poignant critique of uncovering the harsh realities behind the façade of social media personas.”

In terms of storytelling, it treads familiar ground for fans of Coheed & Cambria, Ayreon, and Janelle Monae‘s ArchAndroid saga (not forgetting movies like I, Robot and Blade Runner). Despite some clichéd and direct lyrics in tracks like “Give It Up or Give It All,” the emotional and philosophical depth remains engaging enough to captivate listeners until the album concludes.

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Ultimately, the effectiveness of Phantoma‘s narrative relies heavily on the musical and vocal execution, and in this aspect, Unleash the Archers excels more often than not. Beginning with atmospheric nature sounds, “Human Era” kicks off with powerful guitar riffs and rhythms complemented by memorable hooks. While it follows a familiar formula, the band excels in its delivery, with Slayes standing out as one of the genre’s premier vocalists. The harmonized vocals – supported by guitarists Grant Truesdell and/or Andrew Kingsley – add depth and grandeur, allowing “Human Era” to launch a substantial storyline effectively.)

Tracks like “Buried in Code,” “Blood Empress,” and “Gods in Decay” lean towards lighter, poppier elements compared to the album’s overall tone. However, Phantoma shines brightest when it embraces the heavier side of the band’s sound. Particularly, both “Ghosts in the Mist” and “The Collective” balance softer sections with growls and intense instrumentation. Meanwhile, “Buried in Code” and “Green & Glass” present a more aggressive approach before the epic conclusion in “Blood Empress.”

The main criticism of Phantoma is a common issue in power metal: tracks can often sound too similar. However, like many exemplary albums in the genre, deeper exploration reveals nuances that distinguish each track, granting them individuality and significance. In this regard, Phantoma might not push Unleash the Archers boundaries artistically, but it solidifies their position as a dependable and commendable presence in the genre. Therefore, it is easy to be fascinated by its storytelling and performances.

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