LEGION OF THE DAMNED – Masters, Not Slaves
January 15, 2019, 3 months ago
Mention that you like metal out of Holland and, following the obligatory comments about coffee shops and the procurement of weed, conversation will presumably revolve around the latest and greatest female fronted symphonic metal band to crawl out of the Dutch woodwork. Unless you happen to be a Legion Of The Damned fan, which puts you well ahead of the curve and in a league of your own. Seven studio albums since 2006, plus another five as Occult between 1994 and 2003, the quartet is a juggernaut that has somehow (impossibly) flown well under the radar all this time even though they offer up a thrash and burn akin to greats like Destruction, Exodus, Sodom, Slayer and Kreator. Make no mistake; Legion Of The Damned do indeed have a loyal following, but even if you've never heard of them before today, a single listen through their new record, Slaves Of The Shadow Realm, will leave you wondering how in hell you were this late to the party.
Frontman Maurice Swinkels settles in with BraveWords to discuss the origins of Legion Of The Damned's sound, the new album, and the band being a down to earth bunch that are comfortable with, and even grateful for, their lack of fame.
BraveWords: You've worked with producer Andy Classen seemingly forever, and you obviously have your own sound as a band before a producer touches it, but do you feel he has a major influence on the trademark Legion Of The Damned sound at this point? What role did he play on the new record?
Maurice: "We've recorded most of our albums with Andy Classen; Descent Into Chaos (2011) was recorded by no less than Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, Pain). Before we were doing Legion Of The Damned, still operating under the name Occult, we didn't really know what we could end up with in terms of sound. Of course, we wanted this bizarre heavy sound, but who was capable of doing this? In the period of doing Occult we went to different producers on and off. We even recorded one album with the legendary Harris Johns, who produced early albums from Pestilence, Kreator, Voivod, Assassin, Sodom, you name it... but once we recorded Elegy For The Weak (2003) at Andy's studio (later released as Feel The Blade in 2008) we were blown away with what he produced. It just made our band sound completely different from what we had done before - that was freakin' it! From then on this marked Legion Of The Damned, so we have been recording with Andy ever since."
"Also, the more we started recording with him, the more he started to know us, what our capabilities are, how far can we go. The more albums we recorded the more he got involved. The pressure for him to produce a good album for Legion got higher and higher the more popular we got. On the last record, Ravenous Plague (2014), he even listened to our rehearsal tracks so he knew what songs we would bring into the studio; he gave us some ideas on how to change song structures and whatnot. As a joke we sometimes call him the fifth member of Legion Of The Damned."
BraveWords: Is there any major reason, or reasons, for the five year gap since Ravenous Plague? Or was the creation of the new album based on just waiting to feel motivated rather than trying to honour record contract obligations?
Maurice: "We've been touring and playing festivals and shows since 2006 non-stop while releasing, recording and writing new stuff. After our former guitar player Richard (Ebisch) left the band and Twan (van Geel) came in, I really felt we should take some more time for the next record and also lay low in Europe. We're not living off the music so it was easy to do that. I wanted fans to be hungry and excited seeing Legion again. We did one tour with Sepultura to promote Ravenous Plague and some gigs here and there, and focused more on doing some great things abroad. We did an Asian tour, Latin America, and played in Dubai and Lebanon while also slowly working on the new record. I also became father two years ago, so all in all this break came in handy."
BraveWords: Slaves Of The Shadow Realm is very reminiscent of classic Sodom and Exodus. Is that classic / traditional sound calculated, or was it a case of just putting your heads down, writing and seeing where the musical ideas took you?
Maurice: "That's how it usually goes with us with every album. Nowadays, everybody tries to be original by adding this, adding that, but all in all it comes down to great tunes, and if they sound like or similar to a riff you heard 30 years ago, yeah well, so be it. Enjoy it (laughs). I remember in the early days of Legion Of The Damned, Richard came in with a heavy sounding riff and Erik (Fleuren / drums) yelled 'Sounds like Slayer!' Great, keep it, and why not? (laughs). Songs like 'Feel The Blade' or 'Son Of The Jackal', or even 'Legion Of The Damned' are our most popular songs. We have a different guitar player now and Twan tends to be more black metal in his riffing, but it has to sound like Legion Of The Damned. No songs or riffs are structured or carefully planned, we jam together and what sticks in our heads, we keep. Inspiration still comes from the early days of Slayer, Sodom, Kreator and Destruction, but with today's studio technology and sound."
BraveWords: The term "old school" has been used to describe Legion Of The Damned, but how do you feel about the tag? It should be enough to call it a thrash band; nobody will every mistake you for a pop or farm emo group...
Maurice: "I think the term 'old school' refers to the first album, Malevolent Rapture, but yeah, what's old school? It's inspiration from the old days - Slayer and Sodom and Kreator - but with a heavy sound. I don’t really care what brand they give it. People have been saying we're thrash, then someone says death metal, others say black / thrash, and this goes on and on. I like how Nergal of Behemoth describes their music as extreme metal without labeling themselves in any category, and I think that comes close to us. We play extreme metal."
BraveWords: Legion Of The Damned is from the nation that has become known first and foremost for female-fronted symphonic metal bands. People have a tendency to forget bands like Gorefest, Pestilence and God Dethroned are also Dutch. Are people surprised to discover you're from Holland rather than being from the US, Scandinavia or the UK?
Maurice: "Yeah, people sometimes think we're from America, but on the other hand if they don’t know Legion is Dutch they've been living under a rock in my eyes (laughs). Symphonic metal bands…not my type of music. I'm more of a traditional old school kinda guy. I think we'll leave it at that (laughs)."
BraveWords: You're seven albums into your career but people are still just discovering Legion Of The Damned. Does that surprise you, or is the band comfortable not being a bigger deal than you are?
Maurice: "You know, we are totally down to earth, and that's even an understatement. If you call us cult favourites or whatever else, I never see the band like this. I’m not a great singer, Erik is a tight drummer but he is not the best of them all... but together we match and this makes it Legion Of The Damned. I'm proud of what the band has accomplished and that's what matters. There is a lot of jealously around, even in magazines. Sometimes we're the only Dutch band playing Wacken, and when there's a festival report on Wacken in a Dutch online or printed magazine they don't even review us. Fine with us, but it's a bit childish. We do as we do, we don't try to grow and grow and conquer the world. Music for us started as a hobby and it's still a hobby; it would be totally frustrating for us if we would try to earn a living and we didn't get bigger (laughs). And what's being bigger? We have the luxury to do nice tours, play the biggest festivals, travel around the world. But whatever comes, and with a good deal, we do it."
"I get mails from US fans that totally don't understand how we've been around since 2006, toured with Behemoth, Amon Amarth, Kreator, Watain, Celtic Frost, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse and Sepultura in Europe, but never did one single show in US. It's not that we don’t want to play the US, it's usually not up to us to be there. But if it's not happening, that’s too bad and we can live with it. Of course, there are always younger fans coming in, discovering our new records, and those are the fans that still need to discover our full discography. Sons Of The Jackal and Malevolent Rapture are still the foundation of Legion Of The Damned."
(Top Photo - Tim Tronckoe)