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Very uneven, but the high points are worth it - 70%

Jophelerx, December 16th, 2015

Releasing an epic heavy metal album (partially) that also used vikings as a major theme, Legend were much, much ahead of their time. Epic metal masters Manilla Road were in their infancy, not yet having released their first full-length, and Manowar didn't even exist as a band yet. Metal wouldn't really take off as an entire genre until the following year, yet here in 1979 we have a set of mature tunes in a subgenre that didn't even exist yet. When speaking of the 4 relevant tunes here (which I'll be mostly referring to throughout this review when I talk about "the album"), there really wasn't anything like it out here at all at the time. Rush come the closest as far as I'm aware, with 1976's 2112 being epic in scope (for the most part) and fairly heavy; not consistently metal yet crossing over that line frequently, as this album does. The two aren't really terribly similar, though, just the closest things to each other as of From the Fjords' release. Vocalist Kevin Nugent doesn't really sound anything like Geddy Lee, and the songwriting is different enough, at least, that I wouldn't think of Rush when listening to the album unless I was specifically trying to pick out possible influences. Sure, there may have been some Rush influence, and it may resemble them here and there, but it's by no means worship or even overtly similar.

As I mentioned earlier, there are really 4 relative tracks, in my opinion; certainly anyone who's heard the album can agree that there are two distinct categories here; four tracks are epic heavy metal, and the other four are essentially progressive rock. Still, for a band's debut album and considering this was fucking 1979, it's overall quite impressive. Manowar's debut only had 2 epic heavy metal songs, and that wouldn't come out for another 3 years. I'll mostly be talking about the 4 epic heavy metal tracks on this album, although I will mention the other songs briefly to give an idea of what, specifically, they sound like. Kevin Nugent, while completely clean in his vocals and not "powerful" or aggressive at all, is also somewhat ahead of his time in vocal style, I would argue, at least in the context of the epic heavy metal subgenre. Since its inception, and continuing as it's grown in popularity, one of the two major subsets of epic heavy metal (which I describe in detail in other reviews, and will not here), what I've often referred to as western epic heavy metal, or WEHM, uses this vocal style more often than any other. Longings Past, Graven Rite/Eternal Champion, Avalon Steel, Terminus, and to some extent, Tales of Medusa, have all made use of it. The style is peculiar, doesn't sound terribly good on paper, and can be hard to digest, but it has been used by all of these groups for good reason; it works well in the context. This style is a sort of non-aggressive, low-to-mid range, "everyman" or almost nondescript delivery, often not technically impressive but usually full of character and possessive of a certain "storytelling" quality, as of a bard imparting a tale. That may not be an incredibly accurate or objective description, but if you listen to the vocalists of the aforementioned bands you'll understand what I'm talking about. The vocalists differ somewhat, with Tales of Medusa's singer possessing a bit more of a gloomy and indie rock quality, but still mostly fitting the general sound. Kevin Nugent can be pretty definitely pointed to as the originator of this vocal style in this context.

So enough on the vocals; what does the riffing in a 1979 epic heavy metal album sound like? About what one might expect from that description, I'd say. There's definitely some Priest in the riffing, as is more or less always the case for pre-1980 metal bands that aren't primarily inspired by Sabbath. However, Legend definitely have their own thing going. As with the vocals, the riffing isn't especially aggressive, certainly nothing that would warrant a gasp as far as heaviness in '79, but it is fairly unique. Even in the 36 years (as of writing this) since the album's release, I haven't come across anything that truly sounds similar. Fundamentally, the riffs are definitely "Priest with some prog rock going on as well," but the structure combined with the context of the vocals definitely provides something different, the closest point of reference maybe being early Manilla Road, specifically Invasion and Mark of the Beast. In fact, even of the 4 songs I called "epic heavy metal" only 3 are really heavy metal unambiguously; "The Golden Bell" is definitely the most epic in scope of the songs here, but it's not very metal, with only a few sections that even come close. That track definitely brings to mind Atlantean Kodex, except not shitty; similar in theme/style, though. "The Destroyer" and "The Wizard's Vengeance" are even more in a realm of their own, with Longings Past's Meadows of Maseilya sometimes being in the same general ballpark, but no closer than that. "From the Fjords" is most reminiscent of Manilla Road's "Triumvirate," with the obscure and unfortunately quite awful epic doom band Shelder also coming to mind.

Of the remaining 4 tracks, 2 are instrumental (I guess "The Confrontation" is actually pretty metal, but not at all "epic," and without Kevin Nugent), while "RARZ" and "Against the Gods" are on the heavy side of prog rock, but not metal and not very epic (the latter has hints of epic qualities, but to nowhere near the extent of some of the other tracks). Overall, it's really just a shame the band didn't do more after this. Nugent died in 1983, and it doesn't appear that they released anything in the interim. Nugent was definitely a promising young vocalist and Legend were definitely a promising young band, with potential to rival Manilla Road had they continued making music. The 4 epic heavy metal tracks on their own already do; if I were judging solely those tracks, I'd give the album a 97-98% or so. If they had improved in consistency and maturity, taking in more influences as heavy metal itself was evolving, they certainly could have been a classic, legendary (pun intended) heavy metal group. Unfortunately, things happened as they did, and we're just left with this dusty partial gem. Still, it's interesting to look at in its historical context and I'd definitely recommend it as far as the tracks that I rated positively. Their contribution to epic heavy metal certainly isn't forgotten.