rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Human Era
02. Ph4NT0-mA
03. Buried In Code
04. The Collective
05. Green & Glass
06. Gods In Decay
07. Give It Up Or Give It All
08. Ghosts in The Mist
09. Seeking Vengeance
10. Blood Empress

From the explosive opening seconds of their 2009 debut "Behold The Devastation", UNLEASH THE ARCHERS sounded like a band with big things looming in their future. Harder and faster than most of their power metal peers, the Canadians had the aggression and verve of a death metal band, and a singer — the formidable Brittney Slayes — with a huge, classy voice and real star quality. 15 years and several lineup changes later, a major breakthrough is long overdue and "Phantoma" could easily be the album to finally deliver it. A multidimensional sci-fi concept album with songs that strike a sublime balance between the monstrous and the cerebral, this is what happens when an unstoppable force decides to stop slacking and really go for it.

There has always been a degree of AOR bombast to UNLEASH THE ARCHERS' music, but never to such a strong degree as is evident on opener "Human Era". This band know that they can batter people senseless with gleaming swathes of polished, speed metal bravado. However, they keep their powder dry here, forcing listeners into submission with the sheer scale of Brittney Slayes's vocal hooks and the gently simmering futurism of this album's grand, cinematic production. A song that demands to resound around arenas, it sparkles with freshness and vitality.

Then, of course, the pummeling kick drums erupt and UNLEASH THE ARCHERS deliver the expected knuckle sandwich. "Ph4NT0-mA" (harder to type than to say, it has to be said) is simply magnificent: this band's supercharged power metal template, updated and uproarious, with Slayes as forcefully mesmerizing as ever. The chorus is almost comically huge, and guitarists Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell pull off a startling number of dazzling lead breaks and bursts of blazing interplay. As ever, UNLEASH THE ARCHERS are measurably heavier than the melodic metal norm, but, when they need to be, they are as graceful, melodic and refined as it comes. Liberally sprinkled with electronic static, "Buried In Code" is another thrillingly direct and dynamic anthem, while "The Collective" begins with a shimmering ripple of digital scree, before Slayes takes center stage, armed with another emotionally potent chorus that soars off into the distance, powered by rampaging thrash riffs, two-footed machine-gunning and enough indulgence and pomp to completely envelop a marauding, enemy spacecraft.

In much the same way that DRAGONFORCE's "Warp Speed Warriors" is impossible to listen to without grinning, "Phantoma" is remorselessly uplifting, resolutely bright-eyed and sonically resplendent. From recent single "Green & Glass" — the finest power metal banger of the year so far, it barely needs saying — to the more epic and extravagant likes of "Give It Up Or Give It All", it feels like the culmination of UNLEASH THE ARCHERS' story so far: a supremely confident statement of renewed intent, polished to perfection, but still tougher, smarter and more charismatic than the rest. A brilliant, joyous record.

Author: Dom Lawson
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