Recently I was asked to invent a fantasy supergroup but every band I came up with sounded like something from the Judgment Night soundtrack. I should've followed Invasion's example. Imagine Dimebag Darrell, Aretha Franklin and John Bonham hooking up. Then imagine them all younger and hotter. Now imagine Bonham as a flame-haired girl. That's basically Invasion. Motown meets metal. Really heavy doom metal, but the upbeat, ecstatic kind. Axeman Marek, drummer Zel and Chan, the dynamite-voiced niece of PP Arnold, make up this unholy trinity. I spoke to Marek about witchcraft, Dungeons and Dragons and quality metal.
You guys have a pretty unique dynamic, how did you all meet?
I've been playing thrashy doom since I was 17. I was actually playing and gigging during stoner rock's first exciting wave in the early '90s. Various line-up problems and wasted time led to me needing a new drummer again three or so years ago. I put up one ad and as soon as I met Zel we could tell we were on the same wavelength. Jamming with her was hilarious—she was so heavy I couldn't stop laughing. Our singer saw us play instrumentally in Camden on New Year’s Day 2007. She was looking for a riffy new project. It was all very easy and we still agree on most things musically which is a rare pleasure. We just try and have good riffs and generally make it as heavy as we can with one guitar. Chan has an awesome voice and she does her Motown meets Dio thing over the top. It's not subtle but we keep the songs short to compensate!
What made you decide to mix metal with Motown?
Quite honestly it just happened naturally. I definitely was open to different types of singing over heavy riffing. I love riffs and often my favourite bands often give me a new way to listen to them. There aren't loads of great female voices in metal but I like the different energy they bring to it when it works. Motown is obviously incredible and great vocals are great vocals. That said, what we do is not something that I would expect to work on paper, and we do confuse some metallers still. But it's too easy to make a band that sounds exactly like Sabbath—you have to try and do something new right? So yeah, we stumbled on it by being open minded, but we're not re-inventing the wheel, it's just different vocals to the usual. I have taken confidence from bands like The Sword to make the music more traditionally metal recently. Our newer stuff will be heavier and more classic metal sounding for sure. Our most recent single is a track we wrote as a joke really, it's cool but doesn't represent our live show which is just lots of heavy riffing. I think we'll improve a lot in the following records, we haven't really been trying that hard yet, haha.
You recently toured with The Sword and you’ve interviewed bands like Moss, White Wizzard and Saviours. You really seem to know your metal.
Yeah I've been basically obsessed with quality metal since a little kid. I first got into the classics like Judas Priest, Maiden and Sabbath and then after hearing early Metallica and Sleep I never looked back. I quickly got into extreme metal and just caught the end of the last really exciting period for doom and death metal in the early '90s. Basically I'm still into the best "true metal." It's been bleak for the last 10 years with hardcore and metalcore completely dominating the sound. Recently a few bands like The Sword and Municipal Waste have had success playing quality metal and the tide is definitely turning in the US. It's interesting to see it unfold but I'm surprised how slow the UK is picking up on it. I recommend Blood Ceremony, Saviours, White Wizzard, Cauldron and Danava. There are loads of great bands in the US, and some great new classic metal bands like RAM and Enforcer in Europe. It's exciting being the underdog but it's gone on waaaaay longer than I thought it would. I've been saying that quality metal is coming back for about 15 years!
Like dance music, metal really thrives in its ever-evolving sub-genres. What are your favourite kinds?
Definitely. Bands hate genre terms but they serve a purpose to identify scenes and trends. People in bands seem to have roughly the same ideas at the same time. Like right now everyone in metal seems to be getting into the NWOBHM. And there is a load of cool formative metal from the UK out there to be discovered. I love doom—and bands that really understand Sabbath—but there are so few that really do it well. I love St Vitus, Pentagram and Sleep who all peaked a long, long time ago. My other main love is late '80s extreme metal. Grindcore, death metal and thrash were seriously exciting genres back then and this music is being plundered by cool kids now. That's pretty much all I Iisten to—very little music that was made after about '93. But of course there are always great bands around if you look for them.
I heard you recently visited the awesome-looking Museum Of Witchcraft in Cornwall...
I grew up with hippy siblings and was taking LSD a lot when I was 17, 18. I used to listen to early Hawkwind and I realized that everything is one and that we need to worship the planet (if anything). At university, easily the best and most inspiring lecturer I had was a well known "pagan" author named Brian Bates. Long story short—I fucking hate the Church! So yeah, a week in Cornwall was generally amazing. There are some very well preserved Iron Age villages that I want to live in and stacks of stone circles. It reeks of history. The Witchcraft Museum is incredible. It's crazy to go to this little seaside town, have a cream tea then go and read up on curses, Satanism and the old Gods. I can't recommend it highly enough, it's very entertaining, beautiful and thought provoking. "Do what thou will, but harm none."
What will metal geeks do now that fantasy and wizards and majick has gone mainstream?
Most geeks won't even have noticed, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been aware it all slowly becoming more trendy for a number of years. I could talk about this kind of thing for hours to be honest. The short answer is that all this stuff being more popular has made me cooler by proxy. I've literally always been into metal and fantasy but for most of that time I felt pretty isolated and was definitely not popular with girls and stuff. Seeing it come in did galvanize me to get my shit together by doing a Wizard Rock club night and gave me the confidence to make my music the way I really wanted. And the last couple of years has been a lot of fun and it all still seems to be building. There are times when it's annoying that I can't wear a dragon t-shirt because it looks like I'm a hipster, but I'll always have these things in my life. You can't take metal away from me—it's always been there and always will be, no matter what. In fact I desperately WANT more people to get into decent metal. The more the merrier. I do anticipate some pretty shoddy copycat bands springing up in five-or-so years, but if that happens it means that the form is popular so won’t be complaining. I want proper metal to have a solid ten year run like hardcore has done. And I think it will.
Who is The Master Alchemist?
Well actually it came when we were having a laugh trying to come up with album names driving to a gig. Zel was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book and I noticed that a review on the back called the author "The master alchemist of modern literature" or something. We all thought it fitted with our songs and was suitably epic, and Iiked the hidden literary angle too. Basically all our songs have an unapologetic fantasy theme that's (like all the best fantasy) loosely based on Tolkien's classic mythology. It's lightweight, escapist fun, really, but I don't have much interest in making songs about anything else right now. Despite fantasy artwork being trendy I don't think many bands would want to write songs taken from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players guide. Either way songs about Gold Dragons are awesome, so who cares? We did the album very quickly with no overdubs or computers at all. Producer Jas Shaw is a total legend and Toerag is a lot of fun but a bit pressured I guess. I'm happy with it but I would have liked a beefier guitar sound if we'd had more time. I know the second album will be more mature and sonically expansive. But hopefully this one will make a little mark for us. It's all fun right now, I feel very lucky.
Invasions debut album The Master Alchemist is out soon.