This album will be 20 years old in a few months
I've always loved it, so I thought I'd give it a little write-up before bedtime tonight....
Over the years I had heard several of VS's early releases, either in full or in part, and felt they were decent overall, but this was the album that finally hooked me. I heard it via tape trading a year so so after it came out and it floored me. Over the following years I worked my way through most of their back catalog and kept tabs on their current releases. But this is still THE album for me.
What makes 'Invictus' stand out in the VS catalog? There is no hint of sleazy party rock mixed in, which tainted more than one of their earlier releases. There is also no overwrought storyline that is tediously dragged out for far too many songs/albums. Sure, there's still a theme to it, but the album and the songs that compose it stand on their own perfectly well. They stripped all that baggage away and delivered a powerful, even angry-sounding, album that perfectly encapsulated what they SHOULD have been doing all along. The vocals are incredible, the musicianship (which has always been a bit thin-sounding, especially for the grandiose vision they try to capture) actually roars, and the songs smolder with a barely contained, pissed off fury that propels them forward throughout the full length of the album. I know nothing about the band's mindset at that time- I never read any interviews with them written during that period- but the tone is reminiscent of ICED EARTH's 'Burnt Offerings', when the band channeled a huge amount of anger and resentment into their songwriting.
Another comparison (that might be somewhat controversial) is MANOWAR's 'Warriors of the World', which came out a few years later. Both bands had delivered some decidedly uneven albums through the early-mid 90s, and both tended to let too much cheese manifest within their music. But on these two albums both bands managed to shed the silly elements and deliver albums proving you can sing about battles, warriors, etc without sounding like total cheeseballs (sadly MANOWAR devolved on subsequent releases).
20 years later I don't get around to playing 'Invictus' as much as I used to. But when I do, the album still rocks me. The only time VS really came close to this same level of quality IMO, was on 'The Marriage of Heaven & Hell part 1'. 'Part 2' was a swing and a miss, the Atreus albums were OK but had too few high-quality songs spread out over an enormous length, and the post-Atreus titles have failed to impress me at all. It should be mentioned that 'Age of Consent' had some brilliant material on it that got overshadowed by some other, er, questionable inclusions.
It's a shame 'Invictus' went largely overlooked. At that time, the power metal scene was roaring back to life, but the lion's share of attention went to acts like HAMMERFALL (wannabes who at least knew who STORMWITCH were), RHAPSODY (the definition of pompous fantasy fluff), ICED EARTH (who never matched the brilliance of their first three albums once Todd MacFarlane gave them cover art) and STRATOVARIUS ("hey, it's been 11 months since we recorded an album, let's make another one and see if it can sound even more limp-wristed than the previous one!"). And thus 'Innvictus' was destined to become a dusty relic, much like those depicted on the artwork. But while 'Glory to the Brave' no longer gets played, 'Legendary Tales' gets more eyerolls than spins, and Timo Tolkki's discs have long since been traded away, there is still plenty of life among the ruins of 'Invictus'.
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"