The 1980s were the glory days for a multitude of musical disciplines. The genre that had the biggest and longest lasting impact – at least in the realms of heavy music – was undeniably thrash. Whether it’s Master of Puppets or Raining Blood that instantly jumps to mind, it was a decade that saw a golden age for metal, with genre creation and definition going hand in hand. It all fizzled out in the 90s with the advent of grunge and nu metal – even Slayer turned their hand to the latter, lest we forget – and the resurgence took its time. With bands like Havok and Power Trip, the genre has been revitalised, but the question is, do we need a thrash revival? Should the past stay in the past, or should we welcome a secondary reign (in blood)? Enter Dutch outfit Legion Of The Damned.
From the outset of Slaves of the Shadow Realm, it’s clear that Legion of the Damned live and breathe the once dominating sub-genre. The Widows Breed explodes into a high velocity riff without respite for its near five minute running time, with all members of the band playing at breakneck pace. This is thrash as thrash should be. The willingness to return to a bygone age is palpable in the vinyl crackling introduction to Charnel Confession, and hammers home LotD’s devotion to the ideology. They love thrash like Madball love hardcore.
There are elements of outside influence sown into the coarse tapestry Legion weave. The vocals have a distinctly blackened feel to them, but lack emotion in the extremity. They certainly sound kvlt enough to satisfy listeners searching for something on the heavier end of the thrash-o-meter, but lack the claustrophobic frost of Emperor, or the intense incendiary blast of Rotting Christ. There’s no geography embedded in the performance, and it brings a feeling of insincerity. The death inflected groove of Slaves of the Southern Cross acts as a diverse respite in the thrashing maelstrom LotD have created, and stands as a moment of intrigue in an otherwise one paced record.
The songwriting is solid enough; it’s thrash by numbers and ‘thrash til I die’ fans will be ecstatic at the headbangable riffage presented. For fans looking for something more, some depth and complexity, the songs can begin to drag on well beyond their running time. Four and a half minutes begins to stretch into a drab eternity in the likes of Warhounds of Hades, though the grooving stoicism of Into the Eye of the Storm mixes things up. It’s a frustrating listen as there is so much untapped potential on display.
There’s certainly a sophistication to Legion of the Damned’s output, and it is an album that will satisfy fans of very early Slayer. As a thrash band they play with the verve of elder statesmen, and all the composure that would come with such an accolade. It may however be a touch tame for fans coming in for the extremity angle; Watain fans will find it as imposing as a coloured Weezer album. The inconsistency of the record’s quality is a difficult obstacle to overcome, despite its one paced nature. Thrash upon thrash becomes tedious, and in the slight genre shifts the album reaches peaks of interest, but never so satisfying as to give the listener a unique experience.
Slaves of the Shadow Realm is out now on Napalm Records.