Photo: Stefan Heilemann
Dutch metal unit Legion of the Damned was formed nearly a decade ago by members of legendary Euro-thrash band Occult, releasing their excellent debut album Malevolent Rapture in 2006 to high praise from critics and fans alike. Their material remained consistently dark and horror-centric over the years, both in theme and musical style, reaching a menacing peak with the pitch-black Descent Into Chaos in 2011. Still, despite numerous personnel changes (including the tragic suicide of former bassist Twan Fleuren) and shifts in tone and production quality, it seems they may match that sinister success this year with the release of Ravenous Plague, which just hit North America via Napalm Records.
The band has wisely re-teamed with Malevolent Rapture producer Andy Classen (who packs a mighty metal resume) and enlisted the cinematic talents of composer Jo Blankenburg, whose music has graced trailers and TV spots for the X-Men and Harry Potter film franchises. The result adds even darker textures to the album's basic, straight-ahead fusion of thrash and slightly-blackened death metal styles. Blankenburg's contribution is front-and-center for the appropriately-titled intro "The Apocalyptic Surge," but quickly steps aside to make way for the speed-picking hurricanes that are "Howling for Armageddon” and "Black Baron," showcasing the blistering technique of guitarist Twan van Geel (who loosens up his attack a bit here, enhancing the grimy tone), the snapping snares of Erik Fleuren and the sneering mid-range voice of Maurice Swinkels. Bassist Harold Gielen turns in strong work as well, though a tad low in the mix for my liking.
As with most of Legion's output, the riff is absolute king, although some melodic elements occasionally come to play amid the carnage, and atmospheric touches of doom enhance excellent tracks like the "Doom Priest," featuring a haunting down-tempo intro, and accompanied by this appropriately gothic horror clip.
Pensive moments are few and far between, however, as the band dials up plenty more dark energy through the blackened chords of "Ravenous Abominations" and diabolical group-chanting refrain of “Summon All Hate.” The trio of closing cuts "Bury Me in a Nameless Grave," "Armalite Assassin" and "Strike of the Apocalypse" are a bit too similar to one another to distinguish themselves too much (unless you just think of them as a single lumbering track, which kinda works for me), but the gritty "Mountain Wolves Under a Crescent Moon” is a definite standout, as well as a thematic cousin to “Werewolf Corpse” from Malovelent Rapture.
Ravenous Plague benefits from the same rough-edged, grimy feel that made Legion of the Damned's debut disc a winner, and the band manages to build a wide, imposing sonic landscape without sounding too over-produced. It certainly won't score them any bonus points for expanding their creative horizons, but that's not what this band is about. If you're looking for mean, heavy and energetically evil Euro-thrash, you'll definitely want to add this one to your collection.