Ghost in the Machine: Unleash The Archers Explore the Darkness of Technology on “Phantoma” (Interview)

Published: May 09, 2024

British Columbia’s favorite power metal band, Unleash The Archers, are set to release Phantoma their first new record since 2020’s Abyss, with the newer record taking on a notably darker tone than its predecessor since it was written in the darkness of Pandemic seclusion. Frontwoman Brittney Slayes and her partner Scott Buchanan welcomed a little girl into the world in the fall of 2022, but the band was still able to crank out a record, albeit with all-new life experiences and challenges afoot. 

I chatted with Brittney about the process behind writing Phantoma including the dystopian state of mind that came along with writing such dark themes, especially for a power metal album. We talked about the sentient AI for whom the album is named and the façade of the world that it comes to know, only to have that image shattered before her very own eyes. We talked about the prospect of touring across three different continents while also making time for the most special part of their lives, parenthood. A lot has gone on in the years between records, but Unleash The Archers wouldn’t likely change any of it at all. Read on below to get Brittney’s thoughts on all of that and more, including a very special band that she and this writer hope are back for good.

I can’t believe it has been 4 years since Abyss came out, but it is understandable given how you have been the good kind of busy. How has it been becoming a mom in the last few years? What was it like to create a new album after creating a new life?

Brittney Slayes: It has been a huge change; it has been eye opening. She was born in late 2022. Unfortunately, there was no chance for us to tour on Abyss in 2020. We had originally planned to have kids earlier, so we took a break and had a kid and we decided to get back to it but it was initially slow going. It was so difficult to find the time and get into the studio and practice. It was a learning curve and since we are both in the band, it was nuts! We had to get on with it since when you stop making music, you stop making money. We were flying by the seat of our pants.

Touring in particular will be tough since we are both in the band and we can’t leave for months at a time. Everything takes more time, and the logistics are crazy, but I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. 

When you think about it, it is a “problem”, but how you learn to manage and enjoy it is what makes it all worthwhile.

BS: Yeah, you really need to find a rhythm.

If you had it all correct on day one then they would probably write a book about you.

BS: *Laughs* Exactly.

In terms of concept with this record you clearly have a lot going on and with your family situation being what it is the two seem to go hand in hand for you. What was the main driving force lyrically for Phantoma?

BS: The whole idea came from the character, Phantoma which is an A.I. that gains sentience and models herself after the internet and specifically the metaverse. It’s about social media, which is typically all false fronts, especially what people are willing to put out there, the things that they want other people to see. Unfortunately, that’s all that Phantoma has access to, since she’s not actually around any humans because she’s inside a computer inside a warehouse that just services the biomes that the humans live in now. 

The story is set in the future and the planet has been destroyed by climate change leaving the air barely breathable, so they have to live within these biomes completely separated from each other. They live their lives online basically. So, she sees that and she thinks of humanity as so loving, kind and special; it becomes what she models her own humanity after. She finally escapes the bonds of her slavery and is among humans and she realizes that none of it is real. She then realizes how terrible that is and begins to question who she really is as well. We wrote this in the pandemic during 2021 and it was everything that was going on at the time and we just dialed it up to 11. 

The actual seclusion of the Pandemic, the glass biomes and what it felt to be away from other people beyond your household.

BS: It was my headspace at the time, it was the inspiration of it all, the journey of this being (Phantoma) who now appears even more human than the humans now. She is faced with loss, profound agony and sorrow; that’s when she really becomes what humanity is now. She becomes an unfeeling entity that is seeking vengeance. It just felt that the world was so angry at the time. We didn’t have much faith in humanity that we were going to make it. 

With the harsh vocals here, the growled sections, who is behind those?

BS: Our guitar player, we use him for that. I write the part and he gets used as another voice or the bad guy. 

It gets peppered in there. The soaring power metal with the harsh vocals interspersed feels like a 3 Inches of Blood track, with Cam and Jamie going back and forth as a cool contrast, likely years before I had heard Painkiller. People were throwing around the metalcore label at the time and nobody really knew what it meant. The 2010’s were interesting in what people were calling metalcore in those days.

BS: They played a reunion show a few months ago and it was phenomenal. Just hearing those songs from Advance & Vanquish and Fire Up The Blades again was awesome. Cam was just banging on and Justin did his screams. They were one of our biggest inspirations for when Unleash The Archers first started. Me and Scott started the band with his guitar player from his old band and he was a screamer and we said let’s do this 50/50 singing/screaming thing and it was so rad to have that 3 Inches of Blood dichotomy going on. 

I didn’t want to assume they were a big influence for you since you are all from British Columbia and all, back when they were riding high on the “horde” as they might say. But it makes sense. I would love for them to hit some US dates as being a local to Metro NYC I’m not used to waiting.

BS: I really hope they’re back, they aren’t saying anything yet, but maybe it feels like they are. I loved going to their shows, it felt like the best time ever, every time. 

Is the album art indicative of what Earth looks like within the Phantoma microcosm?

BS: The cover opens up the whole piece of art, all of these glass cities surrounded by all the greenery and all the agriculture that is contained within them. If you go see the inner spread of the art, the planet is an arid desert and completely desolate. The sheen of the planet is a front and the rest of it is the heart of the matter. Phantoma sees it all through rose-tinted glasses. Dusty Pearson did this green and glass moment of art for us. He did the work on the Explorers EP and we got him to try something new. He got some great sci-fi inspirations for the piece.

How did the video for “Green and Glass” come to be?

BS: It was tough to pick a single since we liked all of the songs and we picked something new and had a bit of a vibe from Abyss to straddle the line between the two. We wanted to use AI where we could in the production of the album and since the album was about AI, it seemed fitting. We trained the model to paint the greenscreen footage of us into a living version of the art. The guys built the models using the Unreal 5 Engine and it turned out great. AI didn’t tell the story, we did. We could never create a cinematic masterpiece like Interstellar or The Lord of the Rings which might be necessary to properly tell this story. If we had made our own android costumes, we would have looked like complete trash. 

What does your tour schedule look like nowadays with the little one at home and maybe more of the longform touring taking a backseat for now?

BS: We are going to Australia and New Zealand in June, and we are very excited about it, seeing as it is our first time going there. We are doing a 5-week festival run through Europe where we can use a home base to have the little one out there with us as well. In September we are going on a 2-week tour with Powerwolf complete with insane drives. We are planning something for Europe for next spring as well and we would love to go to South America but we shall see.

I remember seeing you covering a Queensryche song on karaoke night, how did that come to be? It seemed a bit unfair with your range.

BS: We covered “Queen of the Reich” as a bonus track on the Japanese version of Apex. It was my one shot to do it since we weren’t likely to play it live. It was pretty hilarious, and I was totally warmed up to pull it off. Normally I’m not a big karaoke person, because if I screw it up as a singer, they will look at me funny. There is karaoke on 70,000 Tons of Metal and maybe with the karaoke options there we can try and make it happen again.

How is everybody in the band feeling about the prospect of Phantoma’s release?

BS: We are in the throes of getting all the shows together and with the release imminent we are kind of nuts over here. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it and listen to it from front to back as we intended. 

Phantoma releases May 10th via Napalm Records.

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