With their unique blend of power metal, traditional heavy metal, modern prog and catchy pop sensibilities, you can certainly call them Canada’s most exciting metal band of the moment. Four years after the award-winning album “Abyss” UNLEASH THE ARCHERS return to the scene with their new offering “Phantoma”, out May 10, 2024 via Napalm Records. For this occasion, we had a most interesting chat with powerhouse vocalist and lyricist Brittney Slayes about the concept behind the songs, the influence of AI on our daily lives and the challenges of becoming a parent.

Interview by: Isabell Köster


“AI is changing the world, it’s changing everything, and it’s going to continue to do so.”

You’re about to release your sixth album called “Phantoma”. When did you decide on the title?
Oh, the title was the first thing that I came up with. The story is about AI that gained sentience, and it’s very much influenced by androids in science fiction and popular culture and has a little bit of a “Ghost In The Shell” vibe (2017 movie with Scarlett Johansson). Another influence was this comic book series that I really enjoyed, called “Tokyo Ghost”. I really liked the idea of AI being this entity in the cloud. So, the whole idea of her being called Phantoma is because she herself is kind of like a phantom, like a ghost in the ether. That was the first thing that I thought of, the title, and then her as a character. I built the rest of the story around that.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS albumAt the centre of the story is Phantoma’s inner identity conflict: is she human or a machine? That topic has an almost philosophical dimension.
It’s about the future of AI for humanity, where it’s going, what it could possibly be. But it’s also about the struggle that we all, as humans, have internally. It’s a direct reflection of that. At this moment, partway through the album, she has been rejected by her own kind, and by humanity. Consequently, she doesn’t know who she is. Furthermore, she thought she knew what she wanted to be, and modelled herself after this ideal human that she had seen on the metaverse and believed to be real, even though it wasn’t. That’s why Phantoma is very conflicted and asks: “Am I human? Am I a machine? Which one do I want to be?” And often I feel like we have the same questions, wondering: “Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Am I doing the right things?” But that is just this struggle that we all have, so often we feel like we’re alone. And when we’re asking ourselves these questions, it’s an existential reflection that we all experience, and yet very rarely talk about. That is why, in our music, we’re trying to express to the listeners that they are not alone, that we’re all at this crossroads at some point in our lives. And that if you’re there, you can do it. You have the strength. It’s within you. Phantoma decides at that moment to go on and to try and be the best of both worlds.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS single2From what I gathered, you tried writing lyrics with the help of AI, but that didn’t really work out for you.
Not really. You know, I always write the melodies first, and I just do it in gibberish. And then at the very end, after everything is already laid down, in the studio, I write the lyrics. That way, if anything changes in the music, I can easily adapt to it. So, when we were in the studio this time, we decided to use ChatGPT to write some lyrics. We put in “write a song about assassins in the night, in the style of UNLEASH THE ARCHERS.” And this was for the song “Ghosts In The Mist”. But ChatGPT doesn’t even do iambic pentameter properly, it just rhymes words, has no idea of the melodies that I’m singing or the vowels that are required for certain parts. That’s why I literally just took words and phrases that I liked and put them in the lyrics. I basically used it like a thesaurus. But I couldn’t imagine it, writing all our lyrics.

You created a beautiful video for the first single “Green & Glass” with an artist and an AI trained on his work. Consequently, a bit of a shitstorm ensued. Why was that?
It’s totally understandable. AI is changing the world, it’s changing everything, and it’s going to continue to do so. It’s going to interrupt the very fabric of our daily lives. And that’s just the way it is. But it’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be a learning curve for all of us for a long time. So, I completely understand, especially where the artist community is concerned, it’s scary. And then like three days after we dropped that video, Sora (an AI model that can create realistic and imaginative scenes from text instructions) came out, and suddenly cinematographers and videographers were worried. Additionally, a couple of weeks ago, a programme was dropped that writes code for you. Now developers are threatened by it. Everyone feels threatened in a way, and that’s why I think we need to figure out how to work around it, and how to make sure that it doesn’t eliminate the need for humankind in the workforce completely. But I think we’ll figure it out because that’s what we do, right? We adapt and we grow. That’s why we’re still here. That’s why we were able to succeed. But yes, right now it’s scary times. I totally understand it all. I wish that some people maybe had gone about it a little less angrily. There was some pretty hurtful stuff in the comments. I don’t usually read comments, but this was one of those cases where we were in there. So, that sucked. But the internet is a pretty crappy place regardless of the presence of AI.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS singleHow would you describe “Phantoma” musically compared to the previous albums?
We tried to incorporate all our classic influences, like the 80s metal: Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, etc. We attempted to do something that was inspired by them, but with more of a modern vibe. That was kind of the whole theme in the songwriting process. I’m not sure if we succeeded, I have some people saying: “There are total Van Halen vibes on this song.” We already received lots of great comments to that effect. That was the main purpose behind things. Basically, we wanted to do what we had done on “Abyss” with the synth sounds and everything, but also change it up a little bit.

Which track would you say was the most challenging for you as a singer, and why?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I think “Seeking Vengeance” was hard, because in the chorus, there is nowhere to breathe. Like the whole time, I was like: “What were you thinking on that one?” Figuring out the phrasing in the studio was difficult. I mean, for “Give It Up Or Give It All” I had to work hard to get the emotion in there. And also, the vocal performance that I was looking for. That was one song that I spent quite a bit of time on. But I feel like I really figured it out on that one. And then I was able to take the feeling from that performance and put it in the rest of the album. Because this time, we didn’t record things in order, but just worked on the song that came to mind next.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS band

UNLEASH THE ARCHERS bandpicWhat is your favourite sci-fi film that deals with the conflict between men and machines?
I love the “Alien” franchise in general. The way that synthetic life is portrayed in those films is awesome. In the first “Alien” where Ash betrays them completely, and then the second one, “Aliens”, where Bishop is like the hero that saves them at the end, like just these two completely contrasting storylines. And then you have David in “Prometheus”, who is totally unaffected by the emotions of humankind. In my view, he’s the kind of AI that humans deserve, just unfeeling in his curiosity about the world around him and his place in it. So, those are probably my favourites. And they had a lot of influence on the album as well.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS BrittneygreyYou love reading as well, so which book that you recently discovered should everybody read?
Well, recently, I’ve been reading mostly science fiction or fantasy and murder mysteries, like quick things that I’m trying to go through fast. But for science fiction, I recommend the “Revelation Space” series by Alastair Reynolds. There’s a trilogy that starts with “Revelation Space”, but then he expands on that whole world with so many other books in the series and has this huge, developed universe that he dives into. The storytelling is just fantastic, and it’s all based in proven science.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS BrittneybabyYou and Scott became parents for the first-time in 2022. That must have shaken up your life and priorities a lot. How will going on tour work for you in the future?
Firstly, we’re going to be keeping the tours shorter. We’re not going to be out on the road for six weeks, like we used to back in the day, that’s for sure. But for the coming tour, our daughter is going to stay home with grandma and grandpa, and we’ll see how that goes. Basically, we’re planning as we go, flying by the seat of our pants.UNLEASH THE ARCHERS BrittneyreelThat will probably be difficult for the both of you, to be parted from your daughter Lennie for the first time for such a long period of time.
Yes, we’re hoping that we can take her with us eventually, that would be ideal. But life on the road is not easy, it’s very rigorous. So, we’ll see how that goes. But hopefully one day she’ll be able to be in the bunk beside us on the bus – at least that’s the plan at this point.