Legion of the Damned – The Poison Chalice (Napalm Records)Friday, 16th June 2023
One of this writer’s favorite sub-genres for kicking back and rocking out is death/thrash. Death metal brutality with thrash metal speed and vigor – what’s not to like? One of the top echelon acts in this sector is Legion of the Damned. Beginning as Occult in 1992, they changed to their current moniker in 2005, upped the aggression a touch, and the Dutch stalwarts haven’t looked back. Legion of the Damned have been a standard setter, and they’ve settled into their own design of death/thrash with a hefty blackened influence; a sound that has become a signature, as nobody quite sounds like them, though some have certainly tried.
Their latest full-length The Poison Chalice is nothing out of the ordinary for these veterans, with their fare of memorable riffs and breakneck forcefulness at the forefront. Opener “Saints in Torment” gives a false sense of serenity via a brief clean introduction, but don’t fret, as rolling thrashy shredding takes over with reckless abandon. All of the classic ingredients are here; smashing downpicked rhythm guitars, tremolo leads-a-plenty, a blistering low end, and the trademark blackened throaty growl of Maurice Swinkels. His instantly recognizable vocal delivery is key to the band’s sound profile, never wavering once in all these years. Long-time guitarist Twan van Geel and recent addition Fabian Verweij (making his recording debut with the band, their first as a five-piece) combine for a newly robust twin attack that hits hard from all vantage points, while the rhythmic section of drummer Harold Gielen and bassist Erik Fleuren bring unending power and thick low end that gives Legion of the Damned its weighty fortitude.
Tracks like “Contamination” possess a catchy chorus amongst a punchy, no frills assault, while “Progressive Destructor” and “Savage Intent” heavily lean into that old school thrash vibe that’s equally timeless as it is effective. Death metal aficionados will no doubt bang their head to the crunchy “Skulls Adorn the Traitor’s Gate,” while “Retaliation” will fulfill the need from speedy tremolos and sinister blackened Sodom-esque vibes. What may be the biggest departure from the norm, “Behold the Beyond” is a longer track which contains a darker and more chilling approach structurally, embracing a somewhat restrained, slower build that brutalizes the listener from a different purview.
Single “Beheading of the Godhead” is one of the album’s most memorable and classic Legion of the Damned style tracks that would fit right in on Malevolent Rapture, highlighted by thunderous riffs and that blazingly fast lead that is a standout moment on The Poison Chalice. The title track stands as the album finale, culminating with a methodical dexterity that mixes medium paced death metal elements with relentlessly fast thrash bits, ultimately resulting in a well selected sign off.
Quite simply, The Poison Chalice is a Legion of the Damned record through and through, serving up yet another impressive chapter in the band’s remarkably consistent career. While nobody can claim that they’re doing anything out of their traditional comfort zone, the album sounds fresh and at no point retreads or tries to re-make past achievements in a new wrapper. Legion of the Damned are one of the best to ever purvey their chosen style, and how they haven’t caught on to a much larger scale outside of Europe is an absolute crime. Having never played in North America, and as stated in our interview, they haven’t even received a concrete offer to come over to this continent (Maryland Deathfest, check your inbox and make it happen), which is puzzling. Nevertheless, The Poison Chalice showcases a ravenously hungry band who show no sign of letting up. May they continue in perpetuity.