Unleash The Archers, the Canadian power metal outfit, have released their most ambitious record to date, Phantoma, which arrived on May 10th via Napalm Records. This concept album delves into the world of AI, drawing inspiration from iconic science fiction films like Terminator and Aliens. In an era of rapidly advancing technology, some listeners mistakenly assumed the band relied on AI to create the album. However, this is far from the truth. Metal Insider had the opportunity to speak with Brittney Slayes, who not only cleared up any confusion but also provided valuable insight into her writing process and the band’s overall creative process to make another strong and impressive record. 

Could you elaborate on the AI concept behind the new album, Phantoma?

Sure. It’s not AI as we know it now, cause none of this stuff existed when we started writing the record. it’s more inspired by, like, science fiction movies and comic books and video games and stuff. It’s Terminator, Blade Runner, Star Trek, Star Wars, and one of my favorite depictions of a sentient android, Bishop from the movie Aliens. I just love his growth throughout the film and, just the way that Ripley treats him and how he still comes through for them in the end and, it’s a story that’s been told before, but I just wanted to put my own spin on it. And see if I could come up with something original on the usual, sentient AI turns against humanity trope.

Did you guys incorporate AI itself for a music video or the songwriting for one of the tracks?

I always write the lyrics last. It’s the very last thing that I do. So when we were in the studio, recording everything. I wait until the song is finished just to make sure I don’t write a part that tells an important aspect of the story, and then that part gets cut. So I wait until the very end and, basically, I’ll write the lyrics the night before I actually go in to record that song. We were all in the studio while I was writing, and I was just kind of like, hey, why don’t we use ChatGPT to write some lyrics for one of the songs just so we can say that we used AI to write an album about AI. And everyone was like, yeah, that’s hilarious, let’s do it. And, so we just put a prompt into ChatGPT that was like, write a song about assassins in the night in the style of Unleash the Archers. And, I don’t think it was in our style at all. There’s just not enough, you know, back catalog for it to actually be able to do something like that. It was just a poem, really. And then, of course, it didn’t fit my vocal melodies or anything that I had already written.

So I just kind of use it as a reference, the same way I would a thesaurus if I was stuck on needing some word or phrase or something that rhymes with blade or whatever. I just kind of look at it and see if it had anything for me. And, I used a few phrases, a few words here and there in the song “Ghosts in the Mist,” just to say that I did. And then for the music video, it was a program that could, kind of, paint greenscreen footage with a particular art style was the AI program that we used. So for that, we filmed the whole music video (“Green & Glass), on the green screen and then the boys at RuneGate built backgrounds in Unreal Engine 5, like, from the ground up. That is what took the most amount of time for them, because learning how to use Unreal Engine and finding all of the assets that they needed and, and, buying asset packages and stuff to kind of build exactly the background that they were looking for. And then we trained an AI model on the artwork for our graphic designer.

We purchased every piece of unlicensed artwork he had ever made, basically. And use that to train the model and then kind of painted our greenscreen footage with his art style. And then that was how the music video was made. So again, it was just kind of this opportunity to use AI in a song, in an album, in a video about AI.

There are so many complexities with AI. It’s not as simple as people may assume. It does require humans to alter and fix things. I remember when the single came out, everyone was like, I can’t believe they just used AI. And I’m just shaking my head, wanting to explain.

No, there was definitely some people that didn’t understand or care to even try to understand. when I know there was a tweet that was like the album written by AI, I don’t think so. And I was like, what? No, no, it was AI inspired. I don’t even know how you would ever write a song with AI and people are doing it and it’s hilarious. There’s a lot of stuff out there, starting to come to the surface. That’s all like AI created and stuff and it’s pretty funny. When we were writing this album, none of that stuff existed. And so it was all like, why are you singing about ChatGPT? It’s like, I’m not. I’m singing about The Terminator.

It’s like trying to remind people about classic films.

Yeah, exactly. if you turn against AI before it is even sentient, we’re totally screwed.

Yeah. I mean, it is in a way, like how Skynet is real now, and everybody’s, like, afraid that the machines are going to take over. So it’s kind of crazy how science fiction is turning into reality, thirty years later.

Yeah, I mean, that’s the way it works, though. That’s what science fiction is. It’s speculation about the future and it’s about what’s possible. And that’s why it’s so much fun and the best genre on the planet because you read these books that are written in the 60s and it’s like, oh my God, he’s talking about a frickin, you know, an iPod or whatever. It’s talking about a cell phone and you can just see the vision and, most of the stuff is just this is what humanity is imagining. So, yeah, it’s going to come to pass because it’s what we’ve got. It’s the dreams that are floating around in our heads.

And whether we like it or not, it’s here and it’s not going anywhere.

Oh, absolutely.

And I think it’s interesting that you guys tested out ChatGPT for a song. It’s kind of hilarious, actually. I mean, if you tell ChatGPT to write a list of the best albums that came out thirty years ago, it would tell you an album that came out five years ago. It’s very inaccurate.

Yeah, absolutely. And everyone’s talking about, you know, these things that make up the database of these programs and I can’t remember the word but, I watch a lot of Linus Tech Tips and ChatGPT has like 5 billion of these, but this other program has like 500 billion of these. AI is going to be really smart, but then it just makes the same mistakes because it’s being trained by humans. Anyways.

Can you talk more about the album opener, “Human Era,” and “Ph4nt0-ma?”

It’s a concept record, right? So every song tells a part of the story, a chapter, as it were. “Human Era” was originally going to be a little one minute intro kind of vibe thing to get you into the headspace of the album. And then it just expanded. I wanted to tell a bit of the story. I want to set the stage. I want to tell the listener what this world is that I’m dropping them into. So we ended up turning it into an intro song. So it’s not your standard verse chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. but we wanted it to prepare the listener, I suppose you could say, for what was coming. I had this sort of 90s, early era Iron Maiden kind of inspiration for it, with a little bit of like Queensryche and Tron and some other influences in there. Of course, Disney always, and just wanted it to be this sort of moody intro track that, allows the listener to not just hear the story as it begins, but to feel it as well.

And then, of course, “Ph4nt0-ma” is the title track, and it’s introducing us to our heroine. And so we wanted it to be the usual, boom, in-your-face power metal track that has soaring vocals and lots of guitar solos and fun, fast stuff going on and the usual Unleash the Archers stuff.

Now I noticed that this album is different from your previous work. at least it seemed so, sound wise, and I know it’s a very ambitious record but how would you compare it to your previous efforts?

It’s an expansion on what we did on Abyss. We included the synth again. We really, really love having synth in our music. We just think it adds another layer that helps to transport the listener to the world that we’re building. So a lot of riffs actually were written in synth first on this album, as opposed to Abyss, where it was more guitar first synth later. I think this one started with synth a lot of the time, so that set the stage for the writing style, and our main goal was to take our influences, our classic influences that we’ve always had and add some more modern elements into it. So we were looking to do more modern bands for our writing style on this one. And, like Ghost and Rivers of Nihil, Orbit Culture and a bunch of other bands that are doing something new. We wanted to put our own modern spin on what we’ve already done in the past. And that way it’s still our sound. It’s still something fans can expect from us, but it’s new because writing the same record over and over again is boring. And not just for our fans, but for us too. You know, we don’t want to play fifty different versions of “Tonight We Ride” on stage every night. You know, if you want “Tonight We Ride,” go listen to “Tonight We Ride.” We’re going to write something new. We always write with the goal of having fun in mind.

We know we’re going to perform these on stage every night, night after night, for days on end. So we might as well make it a good time. So that’s always the motivation behind what we do. And we know that if we’re having fun on stage that our fans are going to have fun, too. It’s just about writing something that’s new and exciting and gets you interested and excited to hit the stage every night.

Speaking about stages, you guys have a tour in Australia coming up. How did that come to be? And what expectations do you have for it?

It’s going to be a blast, that’s for sure. We’ve had fans down there since our first album came out in 2009. I’ve been shipping CDs down there in bubble mailers for years, and it’s going to be really nice to finally be able to get down there and see all those fans that have been waiting so patiently for us and to play for new fans as well that have just discovered us. Actually, we were originally supposed to go down there in 2020. We were contacted by the booking company down there, Hardline, and they were like, hey, we see you’re putting out a new album and, why don’t you come down in 2020 and do Australia and New Zealand? And so we were like, heck yeah, let’s do it. And it was all booked but never announced. And then of course, Covid. So they were just kind of like, okay, you know, we’ll just put it on the backburner and let us know when you’re ready. So when we started booking the support tours for this album, it was like first on the list.

I’m sure that it’s going to be incredible to go to the other side of the world.

Yeah, we’re very stoked on the opportunity. And it’s going to be intense because we like, fly to every city, because Australia is actually very big. And the main cities are all pretty far apart. So it’s going to be a lot of flying and a lot of hard work. But it’s totally going to be worth it.

Yeah, not a lot of people don’t really know how big Australia is now. A lot of it has a lot of desert.

Yeah. It’s like the central northern part of the continent is just crazy, uninhabited, wild.

Now onto this side of the world, you’re going to be joining Powerwolf for the North American tour soon. And, like, how did that collaboration happen? And I think that it is awesome for you guys to join Powerwolf.

Thank you. I think their booking agent is really tight with our booking agent because when they came through last year or 2022, they kind of did like a quick little jot just to test everything. And, one of the bands from our agency opened for them on that as well. So it was kind of just, hey, who you got? And we were like, we’re available. So, yeah, we’re very excited. It’s going to be big venues, and we’re going to get to see a lot of our fans, all in one place. We’re really excited, to just play for a whole ton of people. And it’s nice when you’re not the headliner because the headliner does all the work. So, it’s really going to be a lot of fun to be the openers and to just kind of trail along after them and not have to do all the logistics and everything behind it all. We’re very excited because we’ve been headlining our tours since 2018 and we’re just kind of ready to coast a little bit. So it’s going to be a good time.

Now that you’re, are there any other countries or parts in the world you’d like to tour to?

Yeah, we’ve been trying to get down to South America since. We had a little, kind of one week jaunt planned for down there in 2020 as well and haven’t been able to get that reorganized, unfortunately. So we would really love to get down. Yes, we want to come to Brazil, and you know, anywhere around there as well and just see if we can kind of book a few shows and, and make it worthwhile and, stop in Mexico City on the way. And, because we haven’t been there in forever. It’s just kind of an area that we haven’t been to yet. Would be nice.

Is there anything else that you want to say or add about the new album?

Just thanks for listening and thanks to everyone who pre ordered. And, if you can try and sit down and listen to it in one one shot from beginning to end. Because being that it’s a concept, record it. It does make the most sense when you listen to it linearly. but if you can’t do that, I get it too, you know, just listen to the singles and in playlists or whatever, however you like to consume media, that’s fine as well. We’re just happy you’re listening.

Feature Image Photo Credit: Shimon Karmel