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March 9, 2020

Unleash the Archers: From ‘Queen of the Reich’ to Slaying San Francisco

By Brian Heaton

There’s a reason why a lot of bands don’t attempt to cover classic Queensryche—the vocals. Yes, the music is deceptively complex. But Geoff Tate’s style of operatic singing, and the difficult vocal lines he and guitarist Chris DeGarmo wrote, particularly in the 1980s, defined the band’s unique sound, and ultimately helped establish the sub-genre of progressive heavy metal.

So, when I see bands pay tribute to Queensryche, I’m always skeptical of their ability to pull it off. It’s just not easy to do that material justice. But then I heard singer Brittney Hayes (Slayes) from Unleash the Archers sing “Queen of the Reich” on YouTube, and my cynicism was quickly replaced by awe.

Standing in a karaoke bar, Slayes belted out an opening note to “Queen of the Reich” that would have made a 25-year-old Tate blush. The power and conviction in Slayes’ delivery was undeniable, and to top it off, her performance was after a few drinks and Unleash the Archers’ gig that night, closing out their tour. I’ve seen a lot of good karaoke singers over the years, but if there was ever the proverbial “mic drop” moment to close a bar, that was it.

I immediately went to check out Unleash the Archers’ latest record at the time, Apex. A concept album that expertly blends traditional heavy metal, power metal, and a slight touch of melodic death metal, the Canadian band’s sound was polished and professional, harkening back stylistically to the early years of Queensryche and Helloween with a modern feel. Featuring a great blend of ripping headbangers, big choruses, and epic progressive moments, Apex quickly became a personal favorite.

Months later, I discovered that Unleash the Archers put a version of “Queen of the Reich” on the Japanese version of Apex. Once I tracked the song down, I was impressed that the band decided not to alter the vocal melody. Just like she did in karaoke, Slayes went for it and nailed those high notes throughout the tune. Musically, it was a straight cover, but Unleash the Archers (who, along with Slayes, features guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley, bassist Nick Miller, and drummer Scott Buchanan) made it their own by changing up the guitar solos. As tributes go, I haven’t heard a finer recorded version of this song.

All of this spurred me to take in Unleash the Archers’ show on March 8, 2020, at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. In the direct support slot to DragonForce, Unleash the Archers hit the stage with a furious version of “Awakening” from Apex, giving a shot of adrenaline to a quiet Sunday night crowd.

By the time the band had finished its second number, “The Matriarch,” Slayes had the crowd in the palm of her hand, as her soaring vocals incited a huge mosh pit. Hundreds of people poured onto the main floor from the merch area to witness a master class on modern metal and stratospheric vocals. The highlight was a new song, “Soulbound,” set to appear on the band’s upcoming and as-yet-untitled next album. Slayes opened the tune with a note showcasing three distinct layers of her high range, which was met with raucous approval from the Bay Area audience.

Unleash the Archers played for roughly 45 minutes, and a total of seven songs. Sadly, they didn’t play “Queen of the Reich.” But the ovation they received after the set closer, “Apex,” was deafening, with the crowd begging for more. Clearly, Unleash the Archers made a huge impression on DragonForce’s crowd, and I suspect it won’t be long until the former is headlining the same venue.

Set list:

The Matriarch
Northwest Passage
Ten Thousand Against One
Tonight We Ride

Unleash the Archers - "Awakening" (live, Mar. 8, 2020) [VIDEO]

Unleash the Archers - "The Matriarch" (live, Mar. 8, 2020) [VIDEO]

Unleash the Archers - "Soulbound" (live, Mar. 8, 2020) [VIDEO]

Unleash the Archers - "Apex" (live, Mar. 8, 2020) [VIDEO]

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