Invasion have reinvented the heavy metal genre, stripping it of all the frills and trills brought on by bloated ’80s hair acts, and infusing their sound with a little bit o’ soul by way of starchild diva front woman Chan Brown. In taking metal back to its thrashing, writhing early days, Invasion’s debut album, The Master Alchemist, proves itself to be a sleeper hit, a sludgy though short-lived glimpse of what the future may have looked like if metal had never allowed itself to be weighed down by Aquanet.
Clocking in at just under 22 minutes, The Master Alchemist plods and twitches through an enchanted and magical realm under the iron-fisted rule of some dark tyrant. Invasion categorise themselves as “drunk wizard metal” hailing from “the Dark Realm of London.” This description, daft as it may seem, really isn’t too far off. The drunkenness is apparent in the sonic attack, but so is the band’s penchant for spectacle, and one can almost hear Zel Kaute’s drumset catching fire on every jarring, twisting, thumping backbeat.
With song titles like Evil Forest, Six Red Wizards and Spells Of Deception, Invasion are obviously deeply entrenched in their own medieval mythology. In counterpoint, Chan Brown yells the lyrics like a drugged-out visitor from another dimension, squealing and seething behind the mic, and axeman Marek Steven plays the fire and brimstone out of all three of his guitar strings like a man possessed.
The band may only be comprised of three members – no room here for a bassist, and no need; the low end is provided by Kaute’s and Steven’s illogically tight and well-tuned chunky assault – but the muddy thrash of their attack amounts to at least a bit more. The splendidly under-produced low fidelity of the recording�harnesses the slap echo of the garage, and Chan’s oft-squealed vocals cut through a thick layer of sludge like flaming arrows over castle walls. There are nuances in the noise that hint at a larger army of invaders waiting just beyond the gates.
It’s obvious that Invasion have energy to spare, but only a couple of songs reach the two-minute mark, and there’s not even the hint of a guitar solo or drum interlude, no extended jamming, no pomp whatsoever. In these drunken, short-lived spasms, though, Invasion have strung together a relentless, never pausing epic, working with a frenetic synergy, its songs becoming only pieces of the overarching breadth of the album’s breathless scope.
On first listen, The Master Alchemist comes across as shocking, jarring and utterly bizarre. It seems to rest in some gray area between metal and garage rock, shoegaze and thrash. But isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll, and more particularly metal, is about? Consider the godfathers of loud and fast The Ramones, or Iggy And The Stooges before them, or The MC5. Invasion hit on that same level: they strike fear into the hearts of the unprepared, those unwilling to go along with such sonic violence. But to the stout of heart, to those prepared to invest something in the music, indeed to take up arms alongside the band, Invasion is a re-imagining of the rock ‘n’ roll mythos, a chance to start again in a scorched earth scenario.
No frills, no guitar solos, no hairspray. Invasion is metal in its purest form, and with The Master Alchemist, this unlikely trio of Londoners have turned in what may well be the most original and inspired metal record of the year.