Legion of the Damned might just be the most well-traveled band in metal that North Americans have never heard of. The Dutch quartet has been actively bringing their orchestrated twist on death-infused thrashing blackness to all corners of the globe since shortly after their 2006 formation, but remain comparatively unknown on these shores.
Napalm Records just unleashed Slaves of the Shadow Realm, the band’s seventh full-length and, as has come to be expected, fans from the Middle East to South America and from the European Union to Central America will snag their copies while most of America and Canada shrugs its shoulders. A tragic statement unfitting of a group that once emblazoned its logo into the side of a block of cheese for limited edition copies of their 2008 album, Cult of the Dead.
We figured it was time to rectify the situation or at least help in upping the band’s profile in some way over in this part of the world, by contacting vocalist Maurice Swinkels and lyricist (but non-performing member) Tony Manero and have them to submit to our penetrating line of important promotional queries. Take it away, kids...
First, have a look at the guys’ latest music video for “Slaves Of The Southern Cross!”
It’s been four or five years since Ravenous Plague. What had the band been up to in that time? Did the time away allow you any opportunity to recharge, refresh and re-evaluate how to do Legion of the Damned? What did you learn most during this time period? Maurice Swinkels: Yeah, actually we have been playing a lot since the beginning of Legion of the Damned in 2006; touring, shows, festivals, and recording and writing new music. Since the departure of previous guitar player Richard Ebisch, when Twan van Geel replaced him, things were turbulent. We had to learn to play with Twan, and since we had festivals and tours planned and we had no time to really get to know Twan. Of course, he was someone I knew for a long time, but not well enough to share a tour bus with (laughs).
So, this time was turbulent; he got to know us, we got to know him and meanwhile, we were playing festivals and touring with Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse. When Ravenous came out (in 2014), I really felt we had to take a break and take more time to write new material. Also, at that time we had a second live/session guitar player. Of course, we still kept doing things, like a tour with Sepultura in the EU and doing small tours in Asia and Latin America, but it was good to take it easy. Now, we are definitely recharged and pumped like never before and excited about this release coming up!
When did you start writing Slaves of the Shadow Realm? How long did it take and what would you say were the major motivations that spurred you towards writing this new album? Swinkels: It actually started when Ravenous, our previous album, was out. One song off the new album was actually done four years ago. We just took it slowly and started writing when possible, did some shows between, etc... We also took more time to talk about the songs, come together and talk about which riffs have to go and which ones stay. It took longer, at least for our sake.
Was there anything done differently in terms of the way the album was written or recorded compared to the past? Was there anything about the studio sessions you wanted to experiment with, mistakes you wanted to avoid, etc? Did you find yourselves doing anything different or experiencing anything novel in the studio? Swinkels: Yeah, what we did differently was getting together and actually talking about the songs. We have never done this before, although I had always wanted this. You know, get together and everyone can express his dislike and likes about certain songs/riffs or elements, and also talk about what we could do here and there. That changed a lot, and I, for instance, was able to get rid of some riffs I really didn’t dig. That was a good process.
In the studio, we did not really do something different. Twan and (producer Andy) Classen spent a day or two on recording solos and melody elements or whatever. I heard them myself for the first time when Classen sent the first mix, so we all in all had to trust each other doing his own thing. For instance, when I did my vocals, only our bass player Harold (Gielen) was in the studio. Drummer Erik (Fleuren) heard the recorded riffs, bass, vocals, and melody/solo elements once the mix was done; he had not heard anything before.
How long did it take to record? Swinkels: We always take three weeks, tops! I remember our Feel the Blade album took only ten days altogether, which is extremely short for recording an album, and that album is fierce! I think we only succeed under pressure. When there are four or five or eight weeks to spend, things get dull and boring. We work better when things need to get done. We also always get into the studio when everyone is 100 percent prepared and knows what he should do. We never go to studios when half of the songs are done or whatever. This also gives us a bit more room to experiment, but the basics are there and recorded very quickly.
What is the significance or story behind the album’s title? Swinkels:Slaves of the Shadow Realm refers to those who walk the path of adversity towards the organized ‘white light’ religions. The lyrics all deal with various aspects of the Shadow Realm, which ranges from left-hand path occultism, demonology, carnal indulgence, and anti-religious hatred, to ‘narcosatanism’ and disciples of the gods of war.
Remember this one? Here’s the music video for “Mountain Wolves Under a Crescent Moon” off Ravenous Plague.
Lyrically, the band has always tended towards the darker side of expression with horror, occult and religion as themes. What would you say has changed more: the topics that you’re singing about or the improvement in how these topics are expressed? Swinkels: I think both have not been changed. Tony, the lyric writer, has used these kinds of topics since the early beginnings. For this album, they are mostly real stories, like “Widows Breed” is inspired by actual ritualistic murders carried out in the ‘80s by a black magician and his acolytes who were involved with ‘narcotrafficantes.’ This was dubbed a case of ‘narcosatanismo’ in the press, but in fact is more a case of Afro-Caribbean black magic, not actual Satanism. Some of the victims were sacrificed alive and murdered by the individuals who were situated in an environment where life is cheap. Central to the ritual practice was a cauldron filled with rotting human remains and blood.
Tony Manero: The lyrics could be considered as antireligious and extolling the quest for freedom from oppressive religions and thought systems and to carve your own individual path of self-realization, rejecting the pipe dreams of higher ‘spirituality.’ To what extent do the lyrics have a message? First of all, the lyrics attempt to convey a certain dark mood fitting the music, but can also be seen as antireligious horror inspired by actual events, persons and occult thought. Through the lyrics shines defiance, pride, vengeance, embracing the carnal nature of man, the quest for wisdom and altered states and the quest for self-godhood and the rejection of the Absolute while embracing the flow of chaos. Deconstruction of the feeble religious illusions.
Although the lyrics of all Legion of the Damned albums address related content, the lyrics on this album are darker and more esoteric than some of the previous albums. In that way the lyrics on Slaves of the Shadow Realm are closer to albums Sons of the Jackal which had a strong Left Hand Path flavor, and Cult of the Dead which was more explicit in its antichristian nature (although this album is less apocalyptic in tone than Cult of the Dead). The predecessor, Ravenous Plague had also of course it’s share of dark occultism, but also had some more mundane tracks like “Bury Me in a Nameless Grave,” while the war lyrics on this album (“Nocturnal Commando” and “Warhounds of Hades”) have occult or more apocalyptic elements as well.
"The Widow's Breed" is one of the standout tracks off of Slaves Of The Shadow Realm.
How would you characterise Slaves of the Shadow Realm against your previous albums? Swinkels: More power, fiercer, darker, melodies that are subtle but sound evil. It has a mature sound, but sticks to Legion of the Damned’s recipe: aggressive, brutal, no-nonsense banging madness.
Your Facebook page appears to be pretty active with documentation of where you’re at and what you’re doing on any given day. Is this something you see as a necessary evil or something you tire of? Or, given that you’re the band who had its logo emblazoned into a block of cheese, is this just you taking advantage of the way things are in the modern age? Swinkels: We get a lot of comments on the block-cheese! This was something our manager in Germany came up with since we are Dutch-y cheese heads, although I dislike cheese myself, only when it’s on a pizza and I don’t think the band are cheese eaters (laughs). But it was a nice stunt and limited to a few copies only. As for Facebook, I try to post things that are important. I used to post things that show other things rather than the band on stage or backstage, like the band on tour sitting in a restaurant, what we’re eating, etc... I think fans like to see that, but I also got negative responses to that. Fans want to see us live and in full action. There are two sides of the coin really, but I think since the internet is future, it’s good to keep posting. That’s what basically keep you running and fans up to date.
What’s the plan once the album is out? Will you be doing more touring? Hoping to get on as support to a bigger tour? Plan on getting to new places in other parts of the world? Swinkels: At this point, no. We are doing festivals like Graspop, Rockharz and some other festivals that will be confirmed within a few months. We have been discussing a tour in the EU, but nothing for sure yet. We are easy about this; if something good is coming our way, we will do it; if not, then no tour. Easy as that. As for playing around the world, we have been playing tons of places, from Asia, Dubai, Lebanon, Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Turkey, Chile, and Brazil. There are still places I would love to play: Japan, Australia or even the U.S. Since the existence of Legion of the Damned, we have never played a single show in the U.S. That would be nice to do!