Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. This month’s piece features an interview with Brittney Slayes of Unleash the Archers.
Canadian power-metal band Unleash the Archers present a hard-charging sound coupled with creative songwriting and storytelling. Early in their career, the band was often lumped into the symphonic metal genre, simply because they have a female vocalist, but they’re really straight-ahead power metal act, with vocalist Brittney Slayes roaring from song to song.
Unleash the Archers recently released a new album, Abyss, featuring stunning guitars and Slayes’ powerful vocals. Slayes checked in with Heavy Consequence for the latest “Beyond the Boys’ Club” column to discuss the new album, her experience as a woman in metal music, and why she loves inspiring the next generation of female rockers. Read the full interview below.
On the initial vision for Unleash the Archers’ new album, Abyss, and how it relates to 2017’s Apex
When we sat down to write both Apex and Abyss back in 2016, I said to the boys, let’s do two albums with a story arc, like a concept record. They were like, “Yeah, sure.” Originally, we were going to try and do a two-disc release. But, just with a time crunch and things like that, and we didn’t want to rush the songs just so that we could put out a two-disc record, we didn’t. So, I had written the story for both albums at the same time. At first, we just focused on Apex and wrote everything for that. We saved a couple of riffs for Abyss, and in 2019, we sat down and didn’t play any shows or do anything and just took a bunch of time off and then I’m really focused on this album. The story changed a little bit, but for the most part, it still remained the same. I wanted the first album to be very grounded, kind of like a fantasy-themed album, and the second to be more celestial and like a science fiction-sounding record. So, I think that it all kind of came together just like I had hoped.
On the genesis of the album’s title track, “Abyss”
That riff that starts that song off was one of the ones that [guitarist] Andrew [Kingsley] came up with when we were writing Apex. The second I heard it, I was like, this is definitely an Abyss track. I knew I wanted it to the be title track. So, when we finally sat down to write that record, we started with that riff and kind of the whole record was born from it. I wrote it in such a way that it’s like an introduction to the album. We brought it back to where our main character — it’s sort of his awakening. It’s a song that you could hear before hearing the rest of the album, and it’s not going to spoil the story for you. It gives you an idea of the sound that is going to be on the album but still hearkens back to Apex a little bit in that more traditional power metal style. We also tried new things and experimented a bit with different genres in that song.
On the experience of releasing a new album during the COVID-19 pandemic
It certainly was intense. There was a lot of expectation. A lot of people were really excited for it, without much else going on. People were step-by-step following us along the way. Every time we would release anything or talk about anything or post teasers, our fans were very much right there with it. It was a really immersive kind of process actually. I’m not saying that people didn’t have things going on, but as you know, people were in lockdown and there wasn’t too much happening in terms of nightlife, so people had a lot of time to hang out with us and follow along.
On whether Unleash the Archers plan to support Abyss with touring once it’s safe to do so
We are booking tours and have dates in the works in North America and Europe for next fall. But, even that is looking shaky already, so I’m not too sure. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to get on the road in support of the album in 2021. We’ve got a whole bunch of festivals that we’ve reconfirmed that we were supposed to play this last summer, confirmed for next summer. But, it’s still looking pretty shaky. So, honestly, I’m not too sure. We have ideas for an EP, and I think we are going to just kind of start casually working on those, depending on how things go.
On how she thinks concerts will be different when they return
I think it’s going to be different for a while. I’m pretty sure when concerts do come back, it’ll probably be mandatory masks and no moshing and all that kind of stuff. But, I think eventually it’ll be the same again. When shows are allowed to happen, I think everyone will be so relieved and so stoked to be there that it’s just going to be such a positive space regardless. It’s been so long. It’s going to be weird at first, but it’s still going to be awesome.
On seeing more women in metal today verses when she started out
When we first started the band back in 2007, there was only In This Moment, Within Temptation, Nightwish, Arch Enemy. The big ones were really the only ones that were kind of making waves. We definitely got a lot of side eyes because we were female-fronted and kind of power death metal. So, the fact that we weren’t symphonic metal was really weird to everybody, and we got grouped in with that a lot, just by people that didn’t even bother to listen or anything like that. So, it’s awesome seeing there’s a lot more women out there and not just singing, but also playing bass and guitar and drums.
On what changes she’s seen for women in metal music over the past several years
Just a little more acceptance and less judgment. They’re still being used as a novelty by a lot of people and mainstream media. Some magazines are still like, let’s get a hot chick on the cover, that kind of thing. So, that’s frustrating, and there’s still a lot of top 25 hottest women in metal polls and stuff like that. I can’t stand that, but there’s a lot less of that. It’s coming to the point where it’s not just about these chicks being hot. It’s also about the fact that they have talent, and that’s a really big step.
On if she feels there’s still pressure on women in music to look or dress a certain way
I think so. It’s not as prevalent as it was before. I do feel, though, that there’s kind of an unspoken thing with women that they feel like they need to look a certain way or be fit or be good looking to make people want to watch us. Like, you need to show a little skin or whatever. Even if it’s not said. But it seems like that’s becoming less important. And I think a lot of times now you look on YouTube videos, and people will say, “Oh, she’s hot,” and it’s like, who cares? You wouldn’t see that for a male friend in a band. Why not, she has a sweet voice? So, there’s that, but I do think that’s changing.
On being a role model for young girls looking to get into music
I guess, as the front-person in a band, I feel that people kind of look up to you a little bit. I’ll often get messages from parents that say, “My daughter loves you, and you’re such a great role model, and I just love that you’re someone that she can look up to and you’re not exactly sexualized or anything like that.” So, I really love that part of it, that I can be that for young girls. Also, whenever other vocalists message me about whatever they have questions about, whether it’s advice or just were we get our merch, I’m always happy to help and to kind of be that mentor person for people. That’s a really important side of it for me, as well.
On whether women still feel a bit intimidated going into metal music
Absolutely. It’s not always this way, but if you can start the band yourself, that definitely helps. If you have musician friends, ask if they want to start a project together. If you can put it together, then you have a lot more control. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from women that have reached out to me and said, “Hey, I joined this band, and they’re writing my lyrics for me, and I want to write my own lyrics.” It’s harder sometimes to join an existing project and have any say or control.
On what advice she has for other women looking to get into metal music
One big thing is don’t be afraid to speak up. If you’re a member of a band, you’re not a hired gun or anything like that, unless that’s what you want. So, you just have to figure out what’s right for yo, because there are a lot of opportunities out there, and there are a lot of options, and don’t think that this is the only chance that you have. Also, work hard. Work your butt off. Get out there, do interviews and be active on social media. Interact with your fans. Be available.
Our thanks to Brittney Slayes for taking the time to speak with us for this months edition of Beyond the Boys’ Club. Pick up Unleash the Archers’ new album, Abyss, here.