INVICTUS – Unstoppable (Album Review)

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For ages, debut albums have often been regarded as the purest form of a band’s sound, before they seek a broader appeal, or perhaps a direction that combines a wider array of influences. I myself am partial to preferring a bands debut more than I would say a latest release of theirs, I adore the purity of the vision laid out in them, the excitement of an artists raw creative form being laid bare, without obstruction from overly fancy production, the pressure of record company expectation and without a fanbase to inevitably cater to. Invictus’s “Unstoppable”only affirms this notion of mine to me with its distinctively nuanced and intricate weaving of both technical and melodic strains of death metal that ends up being one of the freshest and most engaging sounds I’ve heard in 2022.

I personally cannot imagine how hard it is to decide exactly how to compose the first song on your first full length release, do you make it a manifesto of sorts? One that encapsulates the notions and idiosyncrasies you hold dear to your creative process. Do you perhaps instead break people gently into your sound, providing the most instantly consumable derivation of it in order to convince fleeting listeners to stay for the duration of your album? I suppose with a tile like “You Will Know Who I Am” the intentions of the track made extremely clear, indeed with groovy, pulsating and ever so slightly monotonous riffage, the core blueprints of Invictus’s sound are all on display, glistening with golden touches of expert musicianship that nicely tie off what is otherwise a hard charging and energetic ode to self-definition and rebellion against oppression, political and social. I feel there’s a dualistic sense of harshness within “You Will Know Who I Am” in the sense that not only is there an obvious abrasiveness to the sound, with down-tuned guitars and guttural vocals aplenty, but also a thematic and emotional darkness that juxtaposes fierce determination with venomous disdain and aggression. This sort of complex and delicate interplay between compositional elements generates a well-rounded and notably cohesive sonic palette that conducts a full-frontal assault on the listeners initial skepticism and immediately crushes such uncertainty into a fine dust which is blown away into the notional aether by the forcefully enjoyable nature of the track.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well soaring to even further heights is “Eagles” which is a veritable wall of menacing rapid guitar chugging that bleeds over into a gorgeous harmonious chorus section, getting more and more technical with each pass. “Eagles” isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as the opening “You Will Know Who I Am” and yet it feels like the emotional context of the opener provides the concrete foundations of the ideas presented in “Eagles” which deftly uses its softer, more ethereal and fleeting nature to further emphasize the emotional center-point of the album, and richly develop it into a more broad reaching and at least to this listeners ears, sentimental direction.

Such an emotively intuitive grasp of the way in which music has the power to move, to trigger reflection, to inspire contemplative turbulence is a beautiful thing to behold both in direct digestion of the phenomena, but also in the way which one may, with rational merit, seek to expand the lyrical and contextual content of the opening two tracks. So many of death metal’s detractors (myself once included) would no doubt attempt to proclaim that a paradox exists in doing so in a genre so famed for its traditionally uncompromising brutality, which is supposedly ill suited to the deployment of such virtuosic faculties, and yet I defy them to sit and simply listen with an open mind to the previous two entries on “Unstoppable” and remain unshaken in their presumptuous belief.

Indeed then it is no great shock that the vengeful and wounded agony of “Bleed Me Out” continues the alien and yet immediately endearing auditory translation of unconventional beauty that “Unstoppable” is rapidly converting into a prestigious hallmark. With occasional hints of orchestral strings in the chorus, staggered and intentionally varying percussive approaches and an absolutely outstanding vocal performance, this professionally accomplished track layers into an anthem for the damned and betrayed wherever they may lie in both time and place.

If perhaps things were becoming too intricately evocative by this point however, then the fourth track of the album “Exiled” crashes back into more familiar territory for the genre, perhaps sacrificing some of the theme-led focus of the previous songs instead for a more conventional brutality, which acts a craftily deployed redirection of the listening focus, enabling a revived listening focus for those who had thought that they already had everything Invictus and “Unstoppable” was about. Of compositional note is the somewhat brief yet meaningfully implemented solo work, of which it can be called an oddity within what has been presented thus far.

“Unstoppable” Album Artwork

I am so firmly entrenched in my belief that this album is such a perfect example of why debut albums can be so great that it would take gale force winds to move me from it. It is frankly undeniable that “Unstoppable” is an excellent example of the raw, wild and distinctive nature of debut releases. It would be a lie to say that instrumentally it is a whole world away from bands such as Fame on Fire or Horizon Ignited, two bands I have covered and enjoyed before, but the blending of melodeath and tech-death elements together in such a seamless way, combined with the intricately emotive nature of the compositions that I have already waxed lyrical about generates an ineffable sense of explorative excellence that only an artist making their debut or the greatest of multi-album bands can evoke.

Now if you’re a fan of sludgy, groovy, driving sounds, you’re in for a treat with “Get Up” which actually to me sounds like it could easily have come out of Slipknot’s early litany of work, even the vocal performance has an air of Corey Taylor about it. It’s still distinctively in keeping with the sound I am beginning to expect from Invictus but it perhaps leans into its influences a little more, which is no bad thing, as doing so provides an enjoyable change of sound that keeps listening active and adds an air of unpredictability to the middle portion of “Unstoppable.

Eliciting intense headbanging is the aim of track number 6, “Weaponized” which appears to combine strong Deathcore influences with a more recognizable and delicate melodeath chorus section. “Weaponized” is an uplifting and energizing track that makes further good use of Invictus’ ability to combine genre approaches in a way that feels organic, allowing for an engaging composition that successfully once again sets the perfect stage for the thematic overtures of the music to perform upon.

It should be noted that Invictus’ founding member is none other than Maurizio Iacono (God I love Italian names) who was a member of two other projects in the metal-sphere that generated notable cult followings – Kataklysm and Ex-Deo. In both projects, Maurizio’s presence is felt keenly, and perhaps then it is no great surprise that such an abundantly talented musician is able to so phenomenally deliver performances as great as are on “Unstoppable.” Now I don’t think you have to be the most accomplished musician in order to create good music, but I think in Maurizio’s case, you’d be hard pressed to suggest that his personal virtuosity did not significantly contribute to the dizzyingly high quality of the record. This is only further accentuated by the broad musical ability of the other members of Invictus.

Song number 6, “3656” is by and large similar to the majority of the work on the album, which is hardly a bad thing. I enjoy the vocal harmonies in the chorus quite a bit, they’re nicely mixed in, prominent and rich without overpowering the instrumentals, which themselves are nicely accomplished and present. With a much faster tempo and perhaps even vaguely black metal sounding guitars (I’ll never fail to hear them!) “Ghost of My Father” is a rather dark and dejected song, with a tenuous energy that threatens to boil over into an outright breakdown at many points. It’s nice after some slightly less emotive tracks that the resounding thematic gravitas of other songs on “Unstoppable” has returned so vividly in “Ghost of My Father.”

It’s safe to say that whilst I enjoy pretty much every song on “Unstoppable,” that it is at its best when the songs are emotive, as opposed to when they are perhaps a more standard affair. There’s enough in the instrumentals and base sound to create a good listen regardless, but it almost at points becomes a victim of its own success, with reflective thinking leading me to notice a mild gap in quality between the best and worst songs of the album. (Even if at its very worst points, it is merely very good instead of outstanding)

Track number 9, “Darkest of Enemies” turns the groove up to 11 in the verses, but is joined to another smooth and anthemic chorus with further excellent harmonization and complex juxtapositions of harshness and traditional beauty that cascade wonderfully into a crescendo of meaning and purpose, in a wider narrative that embodies a spirit of resolute defiance and the indomitable spirit which perhaps can be encapsulate succinctly in the poem which shares its name with the band, “Invictus.”

As we rapidly approach the end of “Unstoppable,” 10th song “American Outcast” perhaps represents the zenith of societally disenfranchised themes on the album, which takes aim at the sick underbelly of contemporary US society, and perhaps wider western societies. I suspect my personal beliefs would differ from Invictus’s members, and yet in spite of such a supposed clash, I think the lyrics are presented in a bi-partisan and universally agreeable manner without being to aimless or mild. Though it is rather odd that a Canadian band would consider themselves “American Outcasts.” Of particular note are the swirling, rousing synth strings which add an orchestral flair to “American Outcast’s” chorus sections, which creates a rather epic and almost gladiatorial sound in the song that no doubt bolsters the revolutionary credentials of the track.

Fulfilling my rather baseless desire for piano in literally everything is a brief, yet satisfying piano interlude in the 11th and final entry onto “Unstoppable,” “Keeping the Wolves at Bay.” It’s much of the same occasionally chuggy, often aggressive and rather technical sort of song that exists elsewhere on the song, probably falling into the middle of tracks on the album in terms of quality. I think I would’ve liked to see a longer song here that made greater use of the clearly well envisioned synths and melodic sections that exists elsewhere on the album. There’s a missed opportunity to create a grand manifesto of sorts here, a magnum opus so to say. Still, it’s hard to be too harsh about “Keeping the Wolves at Bay” when it’s still a pretty damn solid effort.

I feel that Invictus’s debut effort “Unstoppable” is an album mature beyond its years, with a completely resolved sonic basis that consistently elevates the nuanced and emotive thematic ideas of the album to stratospheric heights, leading to an album that save for a bit more diversity in style, wants for very little. If this is the start for Invictus, then who can say where the end is?

Released By: MNRK Heavy
Release Date: October 21th 2022
Genre(s):  Melodic Death Metal / Technical Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Maurizio Iacono / Harsh vocals
  • Chris Clancy / Clean vocals
  • Jeramie Kling / Percussion
  • J-F Dagenais / Guitars

“Unstoppable” Track-listing:

  1. You Will Know Who I Am
  2. Eagles
  3. Bleed Me
  4. Exiled
  5. Get Up
  6. Weaponized
  7. 3656
  8. Ghost of My Father
  9. Darkest of Enemies
  10. American Outcast
  11. Keeping the Wolves at Bay

Order “Unstopabble” here.

8.6 Excellent

A stellar first effort for Invictus leads them looking destined for a place at the top of the genre. Get in early and listen to their debut album now and you certainly won’t be disappointed

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 9
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