Metal has certainly had its share of concept albums over the years. While perhaps more generally associated with Prog, truly outstanding concept albums have almost always been a part of heavy metal, dating back to its beginnings. Iron Maiden, King Diamond, Queensryche, Mastodon, Opeth, and many others have given us amazing metal concept records. 

And Canada’s power-metal masters Unleash The Archers are no stranger to concept albums – their last 2 albums, Apex and Abyss, were a 2-album concept cycle! They have returned in 2024 with “Phantoma”, which for me is the best metal album of 2024 so far with ease, and maybe in some time. It’s also UTA’s best work, IMO. 

When the album was announced though, I had concerns. The concept in this case deals with Earth in decline with sentient robots having taken over and human beings in hiding. My fear was in 2024 that’s too easy and cliche. But two things make it work and work well: this first is that the story is told from the standpoint of the sentient robots, who didn’t harm humans – the humans (sadly and unsurprisingly) ruined Earth on their own, and the robots are sad (“Gods In Decay”) and mad (“Seeking Vengeance”) that they have had to take over . They long for the days when Earth was beautiful (“Green and Glass”). And in the end even the robot beings may not want to deal with it (“Blood Empress”). 

But what really makes it work as an album is that the songs are SO GOOD, and they stand on their own easily and well. The weakest song may be the opener, which is always a mistake IMO. But there are some of the best songs of UTA’s already accomplished catalog here. And the songs exhibit the most diversity of any UTA album for sure. “Give It Up or Give It All” could easily have been on Heart’s 1985 s/t album, and had it been, it would have been a massive hit. Brittney Slayes, who has astonishing vocal chops, sounds so much like Ann Wilson on this track, without in any way trying to, that it’s spooky. But fear not metal heads, Slayes belts it out big time with her young Halford-like range on many of the power tracks. 

My music reviews for The Hook will always comment on the sound of course, and the sonics here are excellent. The production is skilled and clean, and exhibits excellent dynamics. The vinyl pressing is also very good and it is well worth having in that format. 

So there you have it – Unleash The Archers new “Phantoma” succeeds both in part and in whole, songs and concept, and sounds great doing it. It gets my very highest recommendation. 

  • Rob Hughes / @SkylabTapes

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