The Poison Chalice

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Saints in Torment
02. Contamination
03. Progressive Destructor
04. Skulls Adorn the Traitor's Gate
05. Behold the Beyond
06. Retaliation
07. Savage Intent
08. Chimes of Flagellation
09. Beheading of the Godhead
10. The Poison Chalice

When LEGION OF THE DAMNED first formed in the early '90s, under the name OCCULT, they could not have known exactly how enduring their bullish blend of death and thrash metal would turn out to be. "The Poison Chalice" is the Dutch band's eighth album and arrives four years after their last, the splendid "Slaves of the Shadow Realm". Plenty has happened in the years between albums, but no amount of distraction or trauma was ever going to prevent LEGION OF THE DAMNED from sounding like an outbreak of bloody war.

Death-thrash is a subgenre that appears simple enough in theory but is actually fiendishly difficult to execute without surrendering to cliché: "The Poison Chalice" shines a spotlight on this band's indisputable mastery of the form, and the subtle but unmistakable progress they have made as songwriters. Perhaps more importantly, it threatens to raze cities to the ground through sheer, swivel-eyed death-thrash power. LEGION OF THE DAMNED have always sounded a little like a marauding swarm of invading tanks, and the affect is magnified here. Erwin Hermsen's production is massive and almost cinematic in scope, but everything arrives coated in a thick layer of delicious grit and grime too.

None of that would count for much if LEGION OF THE DAMNED were merely reheating old ideas. But despite its unerringly straight-ahead nature, "The Poison Chalice" has hidden depths. Opener "Saints in Torment" slams down the deceptively inventive blueprint, allowing itself a somber, solo guitar intro before erupting in the expected, scabby-fisted fashion, with frontman Maurice Swinkels spitting unholy threats over rapacious, razor-slash riffing. Insidious melodies with a blackened edge swirl around from time to time here, but it's the spirit of epic, classic metal that is steering the ship. "Contamination" and "Progressive Destructor" are both fine examples of how to gently twist death-thrash into less easily defined shapes. The latter is particularly potent: like a charred-black re-imagining of KREATOR and DARK ANGEL's darkest moments, it leans hard into the deathly side of the equation and leaves an irreparable dent. A vitriolic salute to "the merciless invaders who scavenge and scourge with fire", "Skulls Adorn the Traitor's Gate" is LEGION OF THE DAMNED at their most brutally effective. Wickedly fast and lyrically bilious, it's the kind of balls-out, hell-for-leather metal song that reminds you exactly how exciting this kind of music can be when delivered with this much intensity.

The rest of "The Poison Chalice" is an object lesson in sticking ruthlessly to your own script. LEGION OF THE DAMNED generate colossal atmosphere at every tempo, even when in tweaked-out SLAYER worship mode, and so whether it's the militant assault of "Savage Intent" or the sluggish-to-hyperspeed morbidity of the closing title track, these are songs that resound with the vast confidence and creativity of their creators. Satan's army will not be stopped.

Author: Dom Lawson
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