Unleash The Archers’ Brittney Slayes: 4 Rules For Writing An Epic Concept Album

Photo by Simon Karmel

To say that Canadian power metallers Unleash The Archers went big with the concept behind their new album Abyss is sort of a hilarious understatement. The album is the second part of 2017’s Apex, telling the tale of a protagonist named the Immortal as he tries to overthrow the galactic rule of deadly perfectionist The Matriarch years after he helped her wrestle power from her own children. If this idea sounds a little lofty to you, wait until you hear about how it was created: vocalist Brittney Slayes penned the entire overarching concept for both albums at once, working with the rest of the band to make sure every track, every riff, matched the tone of her far-flung space opera.

“I wrote Apex and Abyss sort of at the same time, story-wise,” explains Sayles. “I wrote a track-by-track guideline for each song, and in that guideline I explained what each song was, as chapters. So Track 1, Chapter 1 — this is how I want it to sound, this is what’s going on in the story, this is a song or two that I was hoping could influence it, I want this to be super fast or dark, this is how I want the listener to feel — and the boys took that and used it to write all their riffs. hen we were writing Apex back in 2016, it was very much fleshed out, and Abyss was kind of more of a vague outline. I knew what was going to happen, I knew whee the story was going to go, but I wasn’t quite as detailed as I had been for Apex. But by doing it this way, we definitely had an idea of how the album should sound, knowing exactly where it was going to be going.”

This kind of forethought is much of what gives Abyss its unfathomable power. Plenty of bands write heroic tracks about riding through space, but Unleash The Archers paint epic, Pierce Brown-esque pictures with each song, taking fans along for the Immortal’s journey with each lyric and solo. For Brittney, this kind of worldbuilding wasn’t something that happened in one writing session — or even a single year.

“After Apex, I’d had three years to ruminate on the story I wanted [for Abyss], and had decided what I wanted to happen to the Immortal, who’s our main character,” she says. “So Abyss got way more detailed and fleshed out, and then I did that same track-by-track guideline. Then Andrew [Kingsley, guitar and vocals] took that and wrote every single riff around it, to make sure they all had the right emotional tone. In that way, it is a direct sequel to Apex, and it was written sort of at the same time, but a lot of things changed. And I allowed myself to be a little elastic on that, I didn’t want to say, ‘Oh, this is how it goes, we have to write it like this.’ Sometimes, Andrew would bring a riff to me and say, ‘Oh, I really love this riff but I’m not sure it’s going to fit.'”

To aid future metalheads looking to create sprawling universes with their music, Brittney gave us some basic rules for how to world-build an epic concept album. Go forth and shred…

Have it organized as much as you can.

“Try not to do it on the fly. We did that with [2011’s] Demons of the AstroWaste, and it was a very fun time writing the record, but there was also no cohesion, there was no single motivating factor that drove us all. So I would say have an end goal, a final point where you want this story to go, and have it visualized through and through. “

Know what you want to say, but don’t force it.

“Don’t push it. And if there’s too much to be said, try writing the part again, or make it so that the song allows for a particularly wordy part, or whatever it needs to get out there. But don’t put yourself in this place where you have so much you have to say that it affects the music and takes away from the flow. Try and simplify it if you can, and if it’s a really convoluted story, think about simplifying that, how you can allow it to come across without speaking the words coming out of the characters’ mouths. Try not to be super pigeonholed.”

Know your characters.

“Know them inside and out. Know what they’d do in every situation. I think it’ll really help you find the emotion behind every song. It’ll help you instill every track with the heart of the story without even trying, because you feel them. They’re there, standing right there next to you as you write, telling you, ‘Are you sure I’d do that? I’m not sure I’d do that.’”

Tell your story — don’t get too worried about anyone else’s.

“I never had a moment where I realized I was just retelling Lord of the Rings, but I’m sure they were there. And I tried not to have too many tropes or cliches, but at the same time, I also just wanted the record to be fun. I wanted to say what I have to say. I don’t like putting boundaries on what I do or what I write. So if people are seeing correlations between this and other movies and shows, whatever, that’s cool — but I’m influenced by comic books and by books and movies. That’s what filmmakers do — they’re constantly stealing from each other and finding inspiration in each other.”

Unleash The Archers’ Abyss is available now via Napalm Records.

The band will host a virtual album release show on Saturday, August 22nd, with tickets available to purchase on line.

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Words by Chris Krovatin