Legion of the Damned – Slaves of the Shadow Realm (Napalm)

Thursday, 27th December 2018
Rating: 8.5/10

This veteran Dutch death/thrash outfit Legion of the Damned have built a solid cult-following for their uncompromising outlook on the genre. Previously together from 1992-2005 as the blackened thrash act Occult, ever since they’ve taken on more of a Teutonic-oriented attack that favors aggression and brutality with spots of melodic hooks – albums like Feel the Blade and Ravenous Plague satisfying many who need a dependable form of safe rage. Five years after their last effort (almost to the day), Slaves of the Shadow Realm balances out the older fury with a touch of maturity that expands horizons yet never wavering from what LotD followers expect out of this unit.

Eschewing any buildup intros, “The Widows Breed” bursts over the speakers through tremolo-fueled riffing and sandpaper raspy vocals, the layering of the guitars offering a hint of melody against this otherwise Slayer meets Sodom in a dark alley opener that crushes. As the first half of the record unfolds, the title track showcases a bit of their mid-tempo penchant where headbanging riffs and steady double kick supplementation induces non-stop pit motions – the measured, echo effect on the vocals another haunting reminder of the potent nature to this genre. The blackened and death edges show up in certain instrumental sections where the guitar play may take on extreme nuances – “Warhounds of Hades” sitting comfortably in that fine line between South of Heaven-era Slayer and aspects of older Sepultura/Dissection lurk in the background. The surprise of the record may be “Shadow Realm of the Demonic Mind” – introducing a beautiful piano passage against varied semi-galloping guitars and infection drumming that incorporates some traditional/NWOBHM influences, yet raw and powerful enough to not scream ‘commercial sell out’.

You often worry that bands who prefer the speed for speed’s sake approach in this genre wear out their welcome quickly – fortunately Legion of the Damned break up the all-out intense arrangements with the occasional mid-tempo swinging reprieve, even incorporating a cultural instrumental slant angle to “Palace of Sin” that mutates into this sick, progressive run a la Voivod. The sickles and skulled warriors on the cover match the feel of the record – and long-time producer Andy Classen (‘fifth’ band member to this quartet) gives Legion of the Damned that desired in your face/ brutal tone that doesn’t make things feel clinical or compressed to smithereens.

Slaves of the Shadow Realm keeps the band’s solid discography going strong – and hopefully could entice the band to make a North American tour jaunt more of a reality than a fantasy.

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