You can often tell the quality of a band by the t-shirts they wear. A promo picture of Last Legion shows them sporting Mgła, Morbid Angel and Black Sabbath merchandise. With songs about gunpowder scent, automatic weapons, and body armour, it should come as no surprise that the Swedes take their metal as seriously as an elite platoon in the theatre of combat. This means they avoid the tongue-in-cheek irony of most blackened thrash bands. Martial masculinity and the hell of warfare replace infantile devil worship; Teutonic thrash riffs predominate. The sorrows they conjure are for fallen comrades rather than the lonely beauty of the natural environment.
Though formed in 2009, Metall, Blod & Aska is the group’s debut album following 2021’s Division Skaraborg EP. You wouldn’t know that from the maturity of their musicianship, nor would you expect this level of raw energy from a band that formed over ten years ago. The opening title track is the type of heroic thrash metal that aims to create the audio equivalent of the restless soldier who abandons all fear for the glory of a certain death. Drummer, Tomas Jeppsson, plays the double-time beats as if given a brief to keep the logistical supply running at all times through the advance. Olle Olsson’s vocals hiss with the violent delight of a man who relishes the prospects of committing war crimes on the battlefield. You can headbang or raise your fist to the down-picking thrash, and you might even believe the band want to sound like Immortal covering their favourite artists from 1985. Originality is almost impossible in this genre, but that’s not the point. The chromatic power chord riff at the end is like an international language beyond words. It will always receive an answer to its calling no matter what the year or the state of heavy metal.
Last Legion are keen students of the Teutonic thrash metal of the 1980s, but their art looks towards the bombast of black metal for pertinence. The grisly distortion of ‘Dödens Falang’ thrives on a two-beat drum pattern and expressive tremolo rhythms. Like soldiers living off the land in an alien country, they make it clear that the subjugated populations need to lock up their daughters or face the consequences from men that cannot be tamed. It makes the solemn switch to a melancholy passage of clean guitars in the middle eight even more surprising. ‘När Kriget Kommer’ is the instrumental that Exodus never wrote in their heyday. Military drum snares and air raid sirens give way to raging guitars and sombre note choices. Fans of the last Sodom album will be licking the serrated blade of their commando knives with relish.
You can identify the greats in all the songs. This is not a bad thing when the aim of the music is to sweep you up in a whirlwind of metallic fury. ‘Pansarmarsch’ and ‘122’ remind you that Carcass post-1993 are now more influential than the goregrind of their early years. ‘Hat & Automatvapen’ is like vintage Metallica spiked with the malevolence of Dark Funeral. Of course, the spectre of Kreator’s musical legacy looms over most of these tracks. Like a new batch of recruits, Last Legion continue the regeneration of war even if it’s a prolonged conflict that abandoned the lofty ideals of the first generation. This is meaner, more desensitised, and happier to dwell on the grotesque. It explains why you can hear the misanthropy of Darkthrone in ‘Krutdoft 2.0’. There’s a reason why we call this blackened thrash metal.
Every era needs its dutiful soldiers. Last Legion are happy to fill this role, and we should be grateful. Metall, Blod & Aska won’t change the world, but it’ll impress you with its might and menace.
Release Date: 17/02/2023
Record Label: Grind to Death Records
Standout tracks: Metall, Blod & Aska; Pansarmarsch; Hat & Automatvapen
Suggested Further Listening: Sodom – Genesis XIX (2020), Siniestro – Vortexx (2021), Hild – ValFreiya (2022)