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Shelton's first steps - 68%

Jophelerx, November 14th, 2014

Manilla Road have been a force to be reckoned with for over three decades; one of the great titans of heavy metal, they're older than most of the currently active bands, having formed way back in 1977. In terms of consistency, they're second to none, with the only remote competition that comes to mind being Japan's Ningen-Isu. Even their "worst" album, Atlantis Rising, has a decent number of solid tracks and certainly isn't a complete waste of time. That brings us way back to their 1980 full-length debut, Invasion - rough, unpolished, half-formed, perhaps worse than Atlantis Rising and even Shelton's side project, The Circus Maximus, yet still we can find merit here. This is hardly the Manilla Road we all know and love - far from it - and yet it's still interesting, revealing, and sometimes even enjoyable.

For a first effort, this certainly isn't anything terrible, although to see the progress they'd make even a year later with their long unreleased follow-up Mark of the Beast is astounding. They made some mistakes here, but they learned from them incredibly quickly, evolving into the monstrous, unique and mature Crystal Logic within only 3 years. So what is Invasion like itself? Is it as juvenile and sloppy as I've made it out to be? Well, yes and no. It's uneven, simple, and about as unsubtle as Manilla Road have ever been, but it certainly has its shining moments that are brimming with catchiness and charm despite the flaws. "The Dream Goes On" and "Cat and Mouse" start the album off on a strong point, with primitive hard rock riffing and a gruff, amateuristic performance from Shelton, but the songwriting is solid. With sweet riffs, manic energy and occasional periods of epicness, the first two tracks here manage to capture a small portion of the band's later magic while still maintaining a bumpy rock exterior.

If the whole album were of this quality, I certainly wouldn't call it the band's worst, and might even praise its virtues as another side of the band, yet another incarnation in the band's long and fruitful history, but sadly it's at this point that the quality starts to drop off. "Far Side of the Sun" has a forgettable intro that drones on for nearly 3 minutes, then goes into a fairly banal rocker that, while mildly enjoyable, is as forgettable as the intro and doesn't have much substance. "Street Jammer" is similarly banal, though thankfully not as painfully long. Admittedly the solo is pretty decent, but that's the only redeeming part of the song. "Centurian War Games" is the album's sole ballad, and starts off with a rather nice, mellow acoustic guitar riff, but Shelton's delivery and vocal lines are pretty limp, and ultimately the song fails to do very much at all.

Thankfully, the album goes out with a bang with the sprawling, epic "The Empire." The riffs here are still in the hard rock realm, but structured in such a way as to create the fantastical, epic atmosphere we know the band so well for. This is really the closest we get to a glimpse of the band's future. Sure, the melodies are simple and fairly straightforward, but the use of layering and tempo works very well to construct a truly immersive feeling. There's a lot of shredding and reverb here, bringing to mind perhaps Hawkwind, combined with a dash of Rush. Overall, the album is quite uneven as I've mentioned, but the highs are high enough to make it decently enjoyable, and it certainly served as a great drawing board for the band's later brilliance. If you're a diehard fan of the band, check this out, otherwise, move on to Mark of the Beast.

The Emergence Of A Giant - 83%

dystopia4, July 17th, 2013

Invasion marks the beginning of a long and interesting journey. Being the debut album of underground legends Manilla Road, this ushers in a truly intriguing career. Is it a worthy release for such an impressive band? Kind of. It's definitely an album worth listening to, although it can hardly stand among the group's finest work. This is not nearly as metal as the bands later work, being more of a psych-tinged hard rock album. While the metal elements are not completely absent, they are not at all at the forefront. Despite not being among the group's most convincing work, this is a debut worth checking out. While some of the seeds are there, it would be hard to assume this is the band that would go on to be one of the biggest powerhouses of USPM.

Seeing as it was released a year after the decade ended, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that this has an overt 70s vibe. The biggest stylistic leanings here falls under hard rock, and it definitely possesses proto-metal feel. Having lots of jam oriented sections and a few spaced out passages, this channels 70s psychedelic rock. This does remind of Hawkwind in sections. Extended solos are in abundance and weird spacey noises protrude into the mix every now and again. The riffage is generally very simple, although that doesn't mean it's not good.

This album is mired under a greasy layer of sleaze. It reeks of lingering acid trips and bar room fistfights between leather clad rockers. “Street Jammer” is the sleaziest and unfortunately the cheesiest. While it does retain some charm, it is silly and comes off as very outdated. It's meant to be a hard rock tough guy anthem, but just isn't that convincing. The whole “I'mma Street Jamma” thing in the chorus is all but impossible to take seriously. This album features a fair amount of variation, and two songs are especially unlike the others. “Centurion War Games” is basically the acoustic equivalent of an epic traditional metal track, which they pull of rather convincingly. Coming in at over 13 minutes, “The Empire” is by far the longest track on the album. It lacks the prominent influence of hard rock and proto-metal that encapsulates much of this release. Despite being a long psychedelic rock track, the songwriting is generally pretty straightforward. While a long ass psych track on a jam-heavy hard rock album could end up being excessive, this is one of the highlights of the record.

This is an interesting beginning for this metal giant, especially considering that it's hard to call this album full on metal. The sleazy hard rock met with jamming psych goodness is not a bad sound for the band, even if it's not their best. While this doesn't slay nearly as hard as, say, The Deluge, it certainly isn't some disposable first attempt. This is a worthwhile step on a lengthy lucrative journey. Some great lead work is put forward and the riffs definitely are worthy. This has a vintage 70s feel that won't let you down. It's far from being the pinnacle of Manilla Road's discography, but it certainly ain't a bad emergence onto the scene.

Originally written for The Metal Observer.

For the Empire We Shall Not Fail - 84%

Nightmare_Reality, September 9th, 2012

This is the album that started what was to become an incredible catalog of epic metal at its absolute finest, and it wasn't even a heavy metal album. Still, "Invasion," is well worth the time for fans of Manilla Road's other work, as there are plenty of seedlings for what Mark Shelton and (various different) company would later produce in their career. The six tracks on this record could all be considered proto-metal, as the music isn't too different from what bands like Heavy Load, Legend, Rainbow, etc were doing in the late '70s and early '80s, taking the rock n' roll attitude (and some riffs) as well and blending them with a heavier kind of sound. There are also some bits and pieces taken from the psychedelic bands of the time that could be plucked out of certain parts of the songs, but not enough to consider Manilla Road a psychedelic, flower-power band, because these guys were creating music about war games and mighty empires with songs that featured long, intricate compositions and an epic feel that would stick with the band for decades.

Aside from the ballad "Centurian War Games," the songs on "Invasion" clock in from five minutes up to thirteen minutes, leaving plenty of room for the Kansas metalheads to leave an impression. There are familiar aspects in just about all of the songs in that they feature Shelton's unique vocal stylings, scores of solos, rockin' riffs and plenty of catchy moments to keep the listener enthralled. The thirteen minute opus "The Empire" is an essential listen for fans of Manilla Road or the epic style in general, as this track set the bar for the longer and more grand style of songs that the band would create later on. Mark Shelton's ability to craft music that flows together perfectly is displayed throughout the album, from the opening "The Dream Goes On," which blends traditional galloping riffage with vibrant rock n' roll styled hooks, to the aforementioned album closer that shifts effortlessly between soothing clean guitars and distorted, uptempo riffs. "Cat and Mouse" is an absolute solo-fest that has probably had many old-timers whipping out their air-guitars, while "Street Jammer" is a fun tune more along the rock n' roll side as evidenced by the riffs.

"Invasion" is not the defining album for the prolific Manilla Road, but it was a great starting point for the band and their ever-evolving sound. Having the convenience of being able to listen to this group's latter music and then being able to come back to this record has allowed me to appreciate this one a bit more, because the overall sound of the music is obviously different, but the spirit of the music and the same fantasy-riddled atmosphere is present, having never left the fold from song after song and album after album. This album may not be one that strikes the listener upon the first listen simply because of how different the music is and it isn't necessarily "metal," but after giving it a few spins and letting the music digest, I would find it hard to believe that fans of "Crystal Logic" or "Open the Gates" cannot appreciate this record.

Highlights
"Far Side of the Sun"
"Street Jammer"
"The Empire"

Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
nightmarerealitywebzine.blogspot.com

Rewarding. - 85%

Nhorf, August 23rd, 2011

The first time I listened to this record was a couple years ago, but I initially despised it and considered it to be one of the weakest Manilla Road releases. If you compare it to, say, Crystal Logic or The Deluge, it sounds different, it sounds odd and it sounds a lot like the band was still searching for a musical direction and for inspiration. Well, after two years without listening to any of the Manilla Road albums, I decided to check this one out again, out of pure boredom. And I've come to two different conclusions. First, Manilla Road's music can be at times incredibly hard to get into, but when you finally do, it's very rewarding. The songs are very complex, but very well composed (which is a surprise since this is the debut of the band, and generally debuts can lack a bit on the "songwriting" department) and you will discover new things each time you listen to them. You only have to let them all sink in. Second, even the most obscure of all the records released by this group is really good, which says a lot about the quality of the stuff Mark Shelton and co. have been putting out over the years.

So, Invasion certainly isn't a metal record: it's hard rock mixed with progressive and psychedelic elements. There's a lot of odd time signatures here and complex guitar playing. There are also lots of solos (they absolutely kick ass) and Shelton really is the star of the album, his guitar playing is stellar and he drives the songs effortlessly. His vocals are technically a bit weak, but they are full of passion, and that really makes the difference. As for the songwriting, I'll say it again: it's absolutely awesome, all the tunes being carefully structured and composed, almost flawlessly. There's a lot of variety too, with a space rock number ("Far Side of the Sun", which shows that Manilla can also perfectly play psychedelic rock without sounding forced), an acoustic ballad ("Centurian War Games", which is the perfect soft song before the closing epic) and a long epic song ("The Empire"). The remaining three songs are heavier and closer to the sound the band would adopt later on. "Street Jammer" is the only song here that can be considered as catchy, but is also the weakest one on the album. "Cat and Mouse" is a lot better, with an intricate instrumental section, but "The Dream Goes On" is my favourite, with an awesome main riff and some more nice soloing. This one is a true Manilla Road classic.

This one is a complex and original album, odd at times, but it deserves some listens before it really sinks in. This is fine "proggy psychedelic hard rock" and if this description sounds great to you, you should definitely check it out. If you are new to the band, don't start with this one though. Concluding, I must admit that now I even prefer Invasion over Crystal Logic! And that's saying something!!

The Beginning - 80%

Lord_Elden, September 4th, 2005

Invasion is the debut of the criminally underrated MANILLA ROAD, in my opinion, the best band in the universe. As all other of their releases, it's unique and different from their other albums. At this point their music can't really be labelled Heavy Metal, it's more like Psychedelic Progressive Hard Rock with occasional hints of Hawkwindian influences (especially notable on the “space rock“ song Far Side Of The Sun). The MANILLA-sound™ isn't developed yet, but we can hear hints of future releases in the music. Strange riffs, unorthodox song structures, even a bit of epicness (listen to The Empire), and not to forget the trademark unique nasal vocals of mr Shelton, it's all present. However, it's more like an early experimental prototype of the sound they later on have developed. It's clear that they were at this point looking for their “sound“, the ideas aren't especially concrete, it's more like an unclear mish-mash of various directions that reaches the ear when the disc spins. This results in quite much jamming, or wanking as some would call it. The production is relatively bad and I don't know if that's the reason but Mark's vocal performance is weaker when compared to later masterpieces.

The first four cuts are all jam-based Hard Rock songs with psychedelic elements. The fifth, on the re-release (which I have), is a bonus track called Centurion War Games, it's a short (compared to the rest of the songs, it's short at 3:42) balladic piece with acoustic guitar. The main reason why you should get this record is the last song though, The Empire, an epic song lasting for a whole 13 minutes (13:32 to be exact). This song is quite similar in style to the recently released songs on the Mark Of The Beast album.

The songs needs some time to sink in (as always with MANILLA ROAD releases) but for fans of the band, it's definitely worth it. For everyone else, I recommend to check out the albums Crystal Logic, Open The Gates and The Deluge first.

The birth of legend - 80%

Abominatrix, March 19th, 2004

This is the oft forgotten debut record from Manilla Road, one of the absolute greats in all of metal. Recorded and released way back in 1980, it showcases a band with a large degree of talent, great ideas, but a somewhat uncertain direction. In many ways, I could compare the slightly tentative steps of this album to Judas Priest's "Rocka Rolla". Both albums are great in their own right, yet both feature a band playing with more psychedelic, rock n roll elements they're not normally recognized for. Though I'd say this record is a bit more "metal" than "Rocka Rolla", there sure isn't a hint of the semi-thrash of later albums, nor is there much of the epic grandeur for which this band is duely recognized. However, one can still see the psychedelic influence present in even the latest Manilla Road material, so it's clear that "Invasion" wasn't just a misstep for Mark Shelton and his two compatriots.

One thing I must say in warning to those who may come across this album is that there's an awful lot of jamming. This may turn off some prospective listeners, as many of these songs are more noisy guitar antics than riffs. Bass and drums don't do much to distinguish themselves, so Mark Shelton's guitar is definitely the principal player on this album, and it's got a lot of space to do whatever the hell it wants. However, opener "The Dream Goes On" definitely features a stellar and rather strange riff, and is maybe the first indication of where Manilla Road would be going in the future. The verse riff here is staccato, choppy and just unusual (one really has to hear it to understand), and right away after the soft howls of feedback that signal the album's introduction, you know you're in for a somewhat unconventional ride. Mark Shelton's vocals are not quite the powerful wail they would become on later albums, but they're still as distinctive as ever, and in fact quite growly and sinister on this record for the most part. The nasal quality that turns many people off his singing (but which I think sounds totally unique and great) is still very much present, and there isn't any mistaking him for anyone else. At times his voice sounds a little weak, namely when he gets a little too passionate, but it's a minor quibble.

"Street Jammer" sounded pretty silly to me at first, but somehow has managed to grow into one of the album's highlights in the interim. It of course features lots of guitar wanking (I think Mark may have taken a few hints from Eric Clapton during his Cream days), and some really catchy vocals (Shelton sounds so damn cool growling out "streeeet jaaammerrrrrrrah). "Far Side of the Sun" starts out with an orgy of strange guitar noises, feedback and assorted squeaks and pings, along with a dreamy spoken monlogue..this intro could have come right out of Bob Calvert's rants on Hawkwind's "Space Ritual" disc, though of course it's not nearly as spastic as Mark Shelton isn't absolutely loony, but that's another review that doesn't even belong on this site. "Far Side of the Sun" is basically another mostly instrumental guitar-fest, and it's allright, though nothing really too interesting. The absolute and total classic on this album, though, is the closer "The Empire". This is a real epic at eleven or so minutes, and starts out with some mellow verses and an excited, powerful (if slightly poorly sung) chorus before breaking into a monstrously great riff for about ten seconds and then another orgy of guitar soloing, this time reaching to truly fantastic heights. Whatever Shelton says about this recording now, it's clear that even at this time he was a formidable guitarist, not because he could play fast or neoclassical, but because he imbued a huge amount of passion and feeling into every note he played...and the ending solo (all four or so minutes of it) of this song completely sores with conviction. This song actually reminds me quite a bit of Iron Maiden's "Children of the Damned", recorded two years later...probably a coincidence, but I definitely think the Manilla Road tune is superior. It's, of course, the most indicative hint at where the band was going, and probably the most metal sounding piece on the album...find this song, whatever you have to do to obtain it.

Now, I don't think there is much one can do to hear this album nowadays aside from getting it on a limited CD release with the subsequent album, appropriately and simply titled "Metal". Neither of these recordings are what I'd suggest as an introduction to the Road, but both are absolutely essential for fans of this band, and both are also great albums in their own right. This one is not exactly perfect, and the lack of experience and recording budget shows itself starkly in places, yet it's still a testament to the abilities and sincerity of this sorely underrated band.