There seems be a lot of love in the room for Invasion, a psychadelic metal threesome from North London who are currently taking the metal scene by storm. Described by NME as ‘pretty much the most exciting thing happening in UK metal right now’, Invasion has embraced a weird and wonderful concoction of drunk metal, psychedelic rock, soulful Motown vocals and a hefty pinch of fantasy and wizardry thrown into the mix.
It’s difficult to know where to begin singling out the unique attributes of the band. Maybe the female vocalist Chan Brown, who dresses like a shaman-cum-monk and has a powerful, diva voice that is a satisfying shock to the system in a genre that is dominated by shouty male singers. Or maybe wizard-loving, almost seven-foot tall Marek Steven on guitar. Or red-headed female drummer Zel Kaute who has a penchant for heavy drinking and setting fire to her drums onstage. According to the unwritten laws of music genre mashups, this odd combination of heavy riff driven guitar, sexy soulful vocals and trippy rhythms should be a painful mismatch. But I guarantee that after only a few minutes listening to their debut album, The Master Alchemist, you’ll soon be dancing around the room like a stoned loon. In fact, Invasion provides quite possibly the best alternative to tripping out without taking drugs. And the band also makes the coolest music videos ever. If you don’t believe me, just check out the vid for ‘Follow the Smoke’ from the Conjure War promo. Very. Very. Cool.
I caught up with Invasion guitarist Marek ahead of their forthcoming headliner at the Topman CTRL live gig on 29th October in Birmingham…
Metal, Motown and wizardry sounds a bizarre mix but it’s a truly awesome combination! Did you consciously aim to take the ‘fantasy-soul-metal’ route when getting the band together or did it just kinda happen?
Thanks, no it just happened naturally really. I’ve been playing fantasy orientated thrashy stoner metal for a very long time and have always been open to different types of vocals. I think a lot of stoner and similar metal is ruined by some pretty average singing. It just came from being open minded and us meeting at the right time.
What’s the inspiration behind the band name ‘Invasion’?
We came up with it very quickly as we were after an intense name to suit our vibe. It’s not that original but at the end of the day a name’s a name I guess, and you grow into it as you go on. There are few other Invasion’s out there but I guess we are trying to be THE one.
‘Psychedelic metal’, ‘Soul rock’, ‘trippy thrash’…there is a tendency in the music business to pigeon-hole bands into subcategories, but it’s not obvious where you guys fit in. Did you have difficulty finding your niche on the metal scene at first? And how would you describe your music?
Yeah, genre terms are annoying sometimes but I have to say I do use them a lot myself too. I call us ‘wizard metal’ or ‘drunk metal’ sometimes, that’s pretty funny. I guess I would say we are thrashy stoner-doom with soul vocals. Pretty Sabbathy basically. It’s all good. I don’t mind what people call us at all. But yeah we don’t really have a popular scene we can jump straight into so things are going slowly but surely. More similar bands are around now, it’s cool. It’s fun being the underdog a bit!
I suspect that there are a wide range of musical influences to thank for contributing to your unique sound, but are there any artists in particular that you would single out as a major influence?
For me personally as a guitarist it’s all about Black Sabbath’s early albums. And Metallica. My favourite band is the Californian band Sleep – they rule all. And recently The Sword’s debut album really inspired me to keep the heaviness in my own stuff, it’s a modern classic undoubtedly. There’s a lot of stuff. I grew up with the best classic rock, metal, doom and thrash and that’s pretty much all I still listen to. I’ve been delving into some of the smaller NWOBHM bands recently and they sound really fresh right now.
The band is pretty wizard obsessed! Where did this fixation with fantasy and wizards come from?
I grew up listening to fantasy obsessed metal and my brother was deeply into Dungeons and Dragons and general war-gaming. I quickly got very into too and obviously loved Tolkien as well. I played a lot and started a little Advanced Dungeons and Dragons society in my first year at Uni. I also studied a fairly well known Shamanic Consciousness course there too, and generally I love both wizards as characters in literature and for what they represent in a ‘pagan’ sense (for want of a better word). But yeah everyone is picking up on a lot now which is weird. I want to get a good AD&D group going now actually!
I hear that your debut album, ‘The Master Alchemist’, was recorded in just five days without a sniff of a computer nearby. Would you ever be tempted over to the dark side in future, i.e. to abandon the ‘stripped-down’ rawness of a live take for an over-produced and over-edited, polished sound?
Yeah it was fun but a little intense. They really like you to do stuff in the first few takes and I literally only had time for one or two overdubs on the guitar, pretty insane. I really loved the sound you get in places like that but I would have liked to make it a bit tighter and beefier here and there so I would probably try and compromise next time by waving it in front of a computer for a day or two.
How do you go about the song writing process? Do you sit down together for a head-scratching session or do tracks emerge organically out of jam sessions?
Usually I’ll come up with a couple of riffs - or Zel might have a drum pattern – and we write something very quickly. It usually takes about 30 minutes for some reason. Then we tweak it for a while, often by playing it live. I want to take more time really crafting killer tunes for the second album. I hate it when musicians say stuff like this but I really am excited about it. We have found our sound now, particularly live, and I know exactly what will work now on record. It will be heavy.
‘The Master Alchemist’ is a brief album at only 21 minutes long! Does that make for an equally short live set?
Yeah, we keep it short for sure. We never venture over 30 minutes (unless we are asked to). I really think it’s good to get in and out and leave people (hopefully) wanting more. It’s fun being on stage but sometimes bands don’t actually realise people have had enough and keep playing too long. It kills the vibe slightly. Unless you’re Led Zeppelin, in which case, please carry on…
You’re a spectacularly visual band with shedloads of energy and theatrics on stage; shamanistic outfits, setting the drums on fire and I even hear rumours of a Perspex guitar! If funds, venue sizes and health regulations were unrestricted, what would comprise your ultimate ‘prop toolkit’ to take onstage?
Not sure how spectacular we are but we try and get a vibe going yeah. The Perspex guitar is a super cheap and crap one and I only used a couple of times to be honest but we like to have smoke, subtle lasers and so on, when we can. We were joking about a huge stage show last night actually. We came up with a concept for a full scale fantasy castle front with Zel drumming under the drawbridge and the other rising up through the towers to play on the battlements. With lots of fire of course, and some quality wizard action built into it somehow… yeah anyway, hahaha.
A love of Dungeons and Dragons and thrash metal used to single out individuals as über-geeks back in the day (speaking as a former Warhammer gamer!), but now fantasy and metal are considered cool again! Would you say that the band embraces its geekness or strives for cool?
Yeah, it’s so weird isn’t it? I’m be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed it becoming more trendy in the last few years but it’s literally who I am. I’ve always been a fantasy obsessed metal geek. I’ve come into fashion! I’m starting to enjoy things like the fact girls want to talk to me sometimes now. It really is a huge shift since I was a 16/17 year old kid writing a doom song called Wily Wizard. And it will move on soon I’m sure. Whatever happens I really want quality old school style metal to have a good run of things. I know I’ll be annoyed if doom becomes huge but fuck it, I’d rather listen to people playing that than crabcore or whatever… and yeah Warhammer isn’t my thing but I always loved how visual it was. And Bolt Thrower used some of their artwork – one of the best ever UK metal bands.
What can we expect from Invasion in future? Are you recording new material right now?
We’re recording one classic rock meets doom new track next week that I’m really happy with and we’re planning on having a new album done by very early next year. Like I said I’m confident the second album is going to blow away our first one. We’re doing a UK tour in February, a European tour and SXSW after. It’s a slow process for us but it’s recently picked up really nicely so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Happy geek.
Invasion will be headlining the Topman CTRL live gig, taking place on 29th October at the Flapper in Birmingham. Further details of the gig can be found at www.myspace.com/topmanctrl and you can find out more about the band at www.myspace.com/invasion.