In many ways albums like Apex are the hardest a reviewer has to deal with; a fine band, commercially probably at the height of their viability with a vocalist who has the potential to become a scene icon. And yet their new album leaves you, for the most part and despite your best intentions, as cold as the grave…
Apex is a solid album, nothing more, nothing less. But the world of heavy metal in 2017 is full of such releases, so solid doesn’t really cut it anymore. The album kicks off in promising style, portentous chords ringing over the sort of synthy backing bands in the eighties would have fallen over themselves to use as an intro tape – and then the band crashes in on an epic modern thrash riff, vocalist Brittney Slayes adding a seismic scream to these genuinely exciting opening moments. Awakening is a fine, fine opener, that’s for sure…
… But then things just sort of drift. Second track Shadow Guide also opens with an attractive riff and a Slayes scream, and though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either track, neither one really grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands your attention.
Third track Matriarch does make you sit up and listen, starting with a nice riff and – you guessed it – an air-rending shriek before settling into a compelling storytelling track that features the first truly arresting chorus of the record. Slayes is a terrifyingly impressive vocalist, who plays a blinder throughout, but she really does need consistently impressive material on which to shine to the best of her ability, and that really is lacking for the most part on Apex.
The slower, heavier Cleanse the Bloodlines, wherein Brittney drops down in register makes for a more satisfying listen, whilst Ten Thousand against One and Earth and Ashes both have their moments, but it isn’t really until the closing title track that everything clicks for Unleash the Archers.
Apex is pure trad metal nirvana. Borrowing from Iron Maiden and folk metal in equal parts to create something of epic feel and titanic proportion. Everyone in the band takes their turn to shine, though of course Slayes is the star, but as the track ends you’re left wishing the rest of the album could have captured just a little of the ambition and joyful performance displayed on this single track. Apex -the track – proves that Unleash the Archers have it within their grasp to be true contenders to the heavy metal throne, but too often on this album they seem happy to coast rather than to extend themselves. And that’s frustrating to listen to.
Apex is out now on Napalm Records.