The ethical boundaries of music and AI are still being explored, discussed and pushed. Unleash the Archers, Canada's premiere power metal force, are among the very few that seem to be finding thoughtful, creative and meaningful ways to experiment with this radical new piece of digital technology that's striking both fear and wonder in people around the world today.

What You Need to Know About Unleash the Archers

From: Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)

First Album: Behold the Devastation (2009)

New Album: Phantoma

Unleash the Archers play a majestic style of power metal that serves as a refreshing take on the epic genre, a notion validated by their 2021 Juno Award victory in the Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year category for 2020's Abyss.

The award-winning record's followup, this year's Phantoma, finds the group taking even greater strides, delving into a conceptual sci-fi realm with themes of artificial intelligence.

About Phantoma's Concept + Using AI

"On the new concept album, listeners join protagonist Phantoma, a Phase 4 / Network Tier 0 unit - model A, on an inspiring yet harrowing journey as she discovers the brutal truths behind the manufactured sheen of social media posturing on a dystopian, near-future planet earth," a press release on Phantoma summarizes.

Unleash the Archers, 'Phantoma' album cover

As you'll learn more about below, Unleash the Archers found ways to engage with new AI technology in multiple phases of the creative process. Make no mistake — this was not an election to opt out of creative work and let the machines do the work for them. This is about evolving alongside brand new technology, which is the story of music in the most broad sense. The marriage of cutting-edge tech and music are and have been inseparable.

From licensing one artist's work as two digital artists then used computer programs to build a breath-taking music video to lyrical inspiration.

Singer Brittney Slayes addresses some of the biggest concerns fans and fellow artists have with AI, as well as how even through utilizing the tech, this is all still a very, very human process. And she has some concerns of her own about how major tech companies are impacting us all on a level beyond music.

Follow Unleash the Archers on Instagram, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter). Get your copy of 'Phantoma' (out May 10) at the Napalm webstore.


Unleash the Archers, Brittney Slayes Performs At The Regency Ballroom
Miika Skaffari, Getty Images

Is AI taking away work from artists like many claim? Who gets paid on the art end in AI?

We aren’t experts in this field, we haven’t done extensive research or anything like that, we just get the info that makes the headlines really, so we honestly can’t answer one way or another on this.

We do have personal opinions though, being that, yes, there is definitely the potential for AI to take work away from artists. However, these companies will still need to hire someone who knows how to use programs such as Midjourney and Dall-E and in such a way that the imagery isn’t horrible (as we know AI imagery to be right now in the hands of amateurs).

Beginners Guide to Midjourney

The process still takes a human and still takes time, so why not just hire an artist with a style you like?

Perhaps it takes much less time to create more pieces, and thus keeps the costs lower… In that case I feel that it could be something that artists learn to do in addition to working as they do now.

If they have both options in their wheelhouse, they still get the work. One client has the budget for a fully custom piece, another does not — the artist gets both jobs. I watched an interview with an artist who learned how to use Midjourney to create imagery in his same style, almost exactly matching what he does by hand, so that he has both options.

Maybe this could possibly be the way forward.

Music videos are complex and humans have always used computer technology to create. What does the human creative process look like while constructing an AI video or artwork such as an album cover?

Our album cover was a commissioned piece by Dusty Peterson, who paints on canvas and digitizes it, so I am not sure of the AI process for those that choose to do that.

For our music video, 90 percent of the work was done by Adam and Danny at Runegate Studio.

We filmed all of the character work for "Green & Glass" in front of a green screen. All of the androids, the human council, the antagonist in the flashback... that was us “acting," if you can call it that.

Unleash the Archers, "Green & Glass" Music Video

Then the RuneGate boys built all of the backgrounds in Unreal Engine 5 from the ground up. They said this part took months to get it right.

They inserted all of the effects as well — the blast from the hand, the sandstorm... every little detail they created themselves using the assets in Unreal Engine 5 plus a few effects/asset packages that they had to purchase a separate license for and import into Unreal.

Then they trained an AI model with the artwork that we licensed from our graphic artist and ran the character footage through that to sort of ‘paint’ our green screen footage in the style of the art we purchased. Then they rotoscoped it onto the Unreal background footage.

All in all, it took about six month  and the only part that was AI was the ‘painting’ of the footage.

I think a lot of people thought we just put a prompt into a program such as SORA and got a music video that perfectly followed the lyrics and that is very incorrect.

Unleash the Archers used AI to generate UTA-styled lyrics, and ONE line was used as the basis to create an original song. How does inspiration differ from reliance?

The prompt we used was, ‘Write a song about assassins in the night in the style of Unleash The Archers.’ It pumped out a poem, basically — three stanzas with a semblance of a chorus in between them.

It did not work at all with the music and vocal melodies that I had already written and I am not sure how anyone could make it work in that way. I used the result as reference material, more like a thesaurus. I wrote most of the lyrics in the way that I normally do, and then when I was stuck trying to think of a word or phrase to express a certain moment, feeling or action, I would look at the ChatGPT poem and see if it had anything I could use.

READ MORE: We Asked an AI Chatbot Why 20 Classic Albums Are So Great - Here's What It Said

I had open throughout my lyric writing as well and I consider it to just be another tool similar to that. There were a few phrases that I managed to work into the song. I had to use something because I wanted to be able to say that I used AI to write a song about AI.

We thought it was fun. It was just a one-off idea we had in the studio because the whole world was talking about it at the time. We’ve never really considered it as the future of songwriting because I just don’t think it works well for that.

Besides, one of the best parts of being a musician is writing lyrics and getting to tell a story with our music. I wouldn’t give that up even if AI could write a whole album that actually made sense [laughs].

Does it depend on the scope of the project? For example, Steven Wilson had AI write Christmas lyrics in his style, then wrote an entire song around it — a one-off endeavor.

It sounds like he was just experimenting as well.

AI is new and it’s interesting, but I doubt he’ll continue to use it moving forward. Perhaps there are those that will create all-AI projects that try to use it in every facet, but I think existing musicians will probably continue to use it as a novelty and not as something they incorporate fully into their process.

Steven Wilson, "December Skies"

Concerning instrumentation and AI, is there a way to use AI creatively or does this feel like a more slippery area than lyrics?

Again, I really don’t know enough about the technology to have any sort of informed opinion on this, but I’m sure that some creativity is involved.

All generative AI requires a human being behind it (right now), does it not? Choosing the direction, the vibe, shaping the sound...

I don’t think it will be the future of songwriting for existing musicians, but it may open the door to those who were never able to write music before. If people want to make music with AI, then all the power to them. I don’t see how it is any different from someone choosing to start a band in their garage.

Unleash the Archers, "Seeking Vengeance" Music Video

Are we in a phase of curiosity as bands find ways to use AI in any facet of their career or business?

Right now, it’s new and bands are seeing what they can do with it, but I think eventually the hype will die and it will take on a more monotonous role.

I don’t think it will be a matter of ignoring it. I think it will just be everywhere and no one will care any longer. Eventually it will be ingrained in everything that we do, in all aspects of life, and it won’t make the news anymore.

Remember when having your music, phone, and internet all on one device in your pocket was amazing? Yeah, now it’s the norm. Now it’s the standard.

Will it take more artists taking risks by using AI in different ways to find where the line is before arguing anyone has crossed that line?

A lot of people think the line has already been crossed. Generative AI takes from a pool of work that is not regulated and can’t be measured or copywritten. Aside from releasing a piece of art or music that is directly stealing a particular style or voice, there is no way to tell whose work has been used. This upsets people.

But why are we surprised? We have been glossing over the terms and conditions of the internet for years. Most of us have signed away our intellectual rights just by choosing to post a single word on social media.

Only when that blissful ignorance is punished do we get angry. Meta, Amazon, ByteDance, Google — they own everything. They own us already. We should be up in arms at the betrayal of capitalism and the lies it feeds us, not attacking each other.

Life is not supposed to be this punishing. The government caters to the massive corporations that pay for their fourth and fifth homes instead of the people they are actually there to serve and meanwhile we are placated with cat videos on Instagram.

It’s embarrassing.

Unleash the Archers, "Ghosts in the Mist"

How is the AI backlash comparable to other adoptions of technology in metal? Guitar synths, Pro Tools, PhotoShop, etc. Is this just more of the same?

Why not keep going? Amp modelers, sample-replaced drum kits, orchestra plugins, live backing tracks, filters on TikTok/Snapchat/Instagram, auto-tune… It’s never ending. Music isn’t even real anymore.

The difference is that everything else has been an industry secret, just part of the production process, happening in the background. AI is in everyone’s face because it is everywhere, not just music, so it’s being scrutinized every time it is mentioned.

When orchestral plugins were introduced in ProTools all of a sudden bands didn’t need to hire a cellist for that cool moody solo or hire an orchestra for that epic symphonic part, but did it make the news? Maybe in some music publications for a week, but the damage had already been done. All those musicians could do was move on and hope that the session work would keep coming despite this.

But what about the drummers who played for those sample kits? Or the violinist that lent their bow for the plugin? That was paid work for them — it was their choice. Do they represent for all musicians? In that moment they did.

Unleash the Archers, "Blood Empress" Music Video

If a new AI image generator program asked for art and photo submissions to build a database and paid for it instead of stealing it, would sending in your work be a betrayal of the community or an opportunity to get paid for something that is going to happen anyway?

It’s terrible that we are at the place where artists have to make a decision like that, but it sometimes feels like AI is an unstoppable force over which we have no power. We have to move with it and adapt, take it as it comes and hope that those in positions with influence will work with the best interests of the majority at the top of their minds.

Thanks to Brittney Slayes for the interview. Follow Unleash the Archers on InstagramFacebook and X (formerly Twitter). Get your copy of 'Phantoma' (out May 10) at the Napalm webstore.

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Gallery Credit: Loudwire Staff

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