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Like some of the other bands in the Hellenic scene, Legion of Doom started out playing a rather boring form of death metal. However, by the time they released their debut album, 1995's Kingdom of Endless Darkness, Mortuary and Demogorgon had shifted the band's style more in line with the Second Wave Black Metal sound that was spawned in the north. This record has little or nothing to do with the typical style played by the likes of Rotting Christ or Varathron.
Musically, Kingdom of Endless Darkness seems to owe a great deal to the Norwegian bands that preceded them. In particular, many of the riffs are reminiscent of early Burzum and Darkthrone. Upon first listen, this comes off as being rather generic and one may be quick to write the band off as merely another copycat outfit that listened to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Transilvanian Hunger too many times. (This is especially obvious during "The Desecration", which makes use of a familiar-sounding synth line and a guitar melody that seems lifted from "Det Som En Gang Var".) While the overall approach is similar, being rather minimalist with the fast tremolo melodies, grim vocals and high-speed drum programming, there is a level of quality to the songwriting that is absent in the case of many that hoped to mimic the hordes of the north. The manner in which the riffs are constructed displays the skill of the musicians, as they are able to create such a dark and menacing atmosphere with so little. Most of the songs are relatively brief, though the title track is over fifteen minutes in length. This one offers subtle changes in the main theme that slowly unfold, as the song progresses. Much like Burzum's older works, this allows the listener to be pulled in and put in an almost trance-like state as the guitar melodies wash over them and the atmosphere starts to bleed forth. Also of interest is the track's placement within the album, coming second rather than at the beginning or end of the record, which is more traditional for such epics. The rest of the songs are below average in length, by any standard, yet they manage to accomplish nearly as much as the title track. Each one maintains a similar style, being rather straightforward and rarely straying from the consistent pace that is established early on. The one song that stands out the most is "The Black Queen", mainly due to the sheer bleakness and overwhelmingly dismal atmosphere created by the main riff. It also has a little more room to develop, as it stretches a little beyond five minutes.
The production is pretty grim for its time, moreso when considering how many bands were already offering up more polished and fake-sounding albums by this point. There is a decent level of fuzz that remains throughout the whole record. The drum machine is fairly easy to detect, but not because of its level in the mix. It may have been hidden a slight bit more, but there was no real need for that. It was common enough, among some of the Hellenic black metal bands, to utilize such things in the absence of actual drummers. The vocals are kind of in the middle and rather difficult to decipher, though this is more a result of the style than the production. Again, this would seem run-of-the-mill and average to someone that did not pay close attention. However, the mix favours the guitars enough to allow the riffs to accomplish their intended goals.
For those that pick up a copy of Kingdom of Endless Darkness in order to hear more typical Hellenic black metal, you will be sorely disappointed. It is simple to tell that Legion of Doom were far more influenced by Burzum than Rotting Christ. That said, there is still enough going on with this record to make it of interest to fans of either scene. Of all the bands to spring up around this time period, Legion of Doom were certainly among the more skilled. By 1995, many of the northern hordes were losing their way and churning out uninspired filth that only served to tarnish their legacies. However, the evil that once possessed them was still wreaking havoc from the dark corners of Europe. Toss the experimental / symphonic garbage aside and seek this out.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Legion of Doom have an interesting parallel to Rotting Christ in that both bands started their careers within the death/grind mold and then branched out into the black metal genre. However, the end result of this mutual transformation were quite different. Where the latter breathed new life into the style through their glorious, unique writing imbued with the dry thrash tone and melodic climes, Legion of Doom simply hammer the listener with a hypnotic repetition not unlike one might find in the majority of Scandinavian black metal, or perhaps earlier Graveland (though these Greeks are less sloppy). That's not to say that this more predictable approach is worse for wear, because they can write a half-decent riff and slather it in a ghastly architecture and atmosphere with the best of them, but I've certainly felt like nodding off at several points on this album, despite its strengths.
Kingdom of Endless Darkness was their first full-form release, after a handful of splits and demos starting in 1990, and it seems primarily centered around the 16 minute bloat of its title track, "Kingdom of Endless Darkness (ADES)". Pretty ambitious for your debut album, and sad to say that this track becomes too highly repetitious, with only mild variations in the actual riff construction. I'm not opposed to the technique if the core guitar lines are suitably expressive and evocative, but these are not, and it seems to rely too heavily on the grisly vocals, which stretch above it the monotonous mass like a blood lusted raptor wheeling above its prey, the clarion carrion calls drifting some distance on the death stench. Once you get to the shorter tracks like "Hymn to the Fiendish Veleth" or glorious, driving "ARIS...God of Brutal War" (with its potent subtext of distorted bass), the album is far more successful. For 2-5 minutes, these chaps can carry a tune like a battle standard, and such can also be said through "The Black Queen". There is one other, extended tune in "The Desecration", but this is choked with infernal, thriving melodies and variation which rescue it from the same claptrap as "Kingdom...", not to mention its only about half the length.
I do love the production here. Archaic and ghoulish like an unending nightmare, but not without a subtle hint of glory spiked through its warlike carapace. The vocals are superb, the guitars at the right amount of abyssal fuzz, the drums solid and the bass ugly where it needs to be. Of all the 'first wave' Greek black metal acts (let's say from about 1991-1995), Legion of Doom is closest to creating an aural mirror to the tale of Tityos, the giant who was doomed to have its entrails fed on daily by a pair of ravenous vultures, in the hellish prison of Tartarus. Malevolent, assured, and steadier than almost any of their peers, they also presented one of the more spiteful extremes of the genre, lyrics wreathed in hatred for the devout who walked in the light above. Kingdom of Endless Darkness might actually represent the most 'traditional' or approaches to the black metal genre in all of the Hellenic sect, but outside of the far too swollen title track, they make a reasonable and appreciably wretched work of it.
Apart from the band's rather lackluster demo era, Legion Of Doom has always been a cut above in the greater pantheon of black metal. The details of why this is are somewhat difficult to articulate; Legion Of Doom has never descended into the field of novelty or gimmick, or really done anything to make them stick out from black metal. You could almost call their music plain; it's unadorned with particularly unique features that would make them stand out from the crowd. However, much in the vein of Gorgoroth's 'Pentagram', Legion Of Doom's music is completely unmistakable despite this first-sight genericism. It's actually perhaps because of this usage of only the most basic elements of black metal that really shows how the band's songwriting ability is so far above most others in the black metal scene. 'Kingdom Of Endless Darkness', the band's first full-length, still exhibits the band in a relatively unrefined form, but leaves no doubt to the listener that Legion Of Doom is a band that exists on a completely different level from the majority.
'Kingdom Of Endless Darkness' is impressively structured, with a natural flair for songwriting rarely seen in the underground reaches of black metal. Even the shortest tracks on this album, though certainly more rockish and traditional than some of the more elaborate ones, are written intelligently, with sequences of riff development and logical use of repetition making for memorable and surprisingly vast tracks. The production is raw, even a little cheap, but this is certainly an album where, though the production is not an asset to the music, it's completely ignorable due to the pure quality of the work at hand. Similarly, the instrumental performances have occasional blips of error here and there, but they're also easy to let go; the way this material is constructed is just that good.
Legion Of Doom's music doesn't follow the ultra-melodic, somewhat rocky conventions of most Hellenic black metal, and could probably be more easily compared to the Norwegians or Swedes in delivery. Blast beats aren't exceedingly common, but double bass and thrash beats are, and the riffs are primarily articulated through tremolo and strummed chords. While Legion Of Doom's music isn't the pseudo-Gothenburg derived melodic work of many Hellenic bands, they're still melodic, though in an austere and arrogant sense; in many ways this feels much closer to Manowar than Marduk, though certainly without the flash. Influences from traditional heavy metal are present but subtle; there aren't any Iron Maiden riffs to be found, but certain sections certainly sound like they belong in the '80s despite the brackish production and (exceedingly well delivered) harsh vocals.
Now all this articulates that this music is great, but not really how or why, so let me try to get to the heart of the matter. Take what is most certainly the crown jewel of this release, the sixteen minute title track. The typical black metal band would try to make his an epic track through use of keyboards, or perhaps some clean vocals. If they're not quite so gimmicky, they might attempt it through protracted intros and interludes, or with some intensely melodramatic structuring. And if they're not subtle enough for that, they might just repeat themselves endlessly and hope to god the riff they have is good enough to carry it. Legion Of Doom take a much simpler and more daring route than all of these. This track operates at essentially the same tempo and musical style throughout its length, but it generates mood and creates an intensely narrative piece simply through an amazingly developed melodic sense and unbelievable ability to captivate the listener through electric guitar. The magnificent main riff bends and shifts into new configurations, regularly leaving you at a completely different place than you began before crashing back into its main theme with absolute certainty. It's the sort of black metal track that takes you on an absolute journey, which is not something that many can say.
It's placement is also pretty surprising; only the second track in, it leaves you with a number of shorter, simpler tracks behind it, where most bands would use an epic track to shoot their proverbial load at the end of the album. Legion Of Doom isn't concerned about this though for one reason: they're aware that the shorter tracks have just as much time and care put into them as the title number. These shorter pieces are phenomenal on their own, from the sudden blitzing of 'Hymn To The Fiendish Veleth' to the simple yet majestic 'The Black Queen'. Each track, despite its relative simplicity or complexity, shortness or length, has been clearly engineered to be its very best, no matter its goal.
In the end, like many of metal's great works, the very fact that it's so hard to articulate what makes it great is a testament to its greatness. Legion Of Doom does what makes many black metal releases remarkable: taking simple elements and creating something vast and stirring with them, without concern for what those unacquainted with these sounds might think. This is not what you listen to with friends, nor what you put on when you just feel like listening to some music, or any other methodology that provides too little significance to this album's weight. It's a release which demands attention and appreciation, and you'll find yourself disappointed if you don't feed this release appropriately. Listen when you're willing to invest your time and energy into something of great scope yet modest flash; if you can do it, it's certainly worth your time.