Album Review: Legionnaire – Dawn of Genesis

Finland’s Legionnaire is relatively new to the NWOTHM scene, releasing a pair of demos in 2014 and 2015 before pulling together their first full-length album, Dawn of Genesis. The band plays an old school style of epic power metal with sound production that is the equivalent of raw steak. The guitars are nearly free of distortion, and the bits of modern studio magic that draw the line between past and present are virtually nonexistent here. Although the sound is relatively crisp compared to older independent and small label releases, the result is a recording that realistically could have dropped in 1985 without anyone remarking on its production. The easiest comparison for Legionnaire’s sound is to Manilla Road’s mid-’80s releases like The Deluge and Mystification, though there are some modern parallels in albums like Iron Kobra’s Might & Magic. Fortunately, pinning down the band’s sound to a single influence is impossible, and the hallmarks of an array of past groups come through in a welcome amalgam of metal’s past.

In keeping with the tradition of the underground classics it emulates, Dawn of Genesis‘ technical execution is often unrefined and more frequently haphazard. The guitars are almost constantly out of synch with the drums, which are only occasionally keeping the pace with the bass, and the singer powers through it all with apparent indifference. Metronomes be damned, Legionnaire’s members play at no one’s pace but their own. At first listen it is easy to assume the group lacks the talent to produce a tight, professional recording, but given historical precedents, it is more likely the band has, at least in part, made a conscious decision to leave cohesion at the studio door.

There is no question that this style of playing can be an acquired taste, as the music frequently falls into a moderate cacophony, especially when the drum fills lead into a busy guitar section. Those who are accustomed to the polish of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden albums are likely to find this a tough sell, but anyone who enjoys the aforementioned Manilla Road albums, Swedish groups like Axewitch, or underground ’80s metal in general should press onward.

“Clairvoyance” is the first song out of the gate, opening with a downtempo, plodding riff before launching into a driving drum rhythm and intricate riffing. The song comes through with plenty of earnest enthusiasm, which goes a long way toward compensating for the rough performance, and Aku Tiensuu brings a mature sound to the recording with a voice that never escalates into the shrieks and wails of his contemporaries. Maiden-esque, harmonized twin guitars drive the second track, “Enigma of Time,” and a respectable spot of impassioned guitar solos close out the song to make it a standout on the album, despite a relatively flat vocal performance from Tiensuu.

Other notable entries include “Shadow Upon the Metropolis,” which feels infinitely more epic than it’s three-and-a-half minute running length suggests, and the final track, “Olympian Aegis,” which contains the most memorable and exciting guitar work of the recording. Although the band teases its Maiden influence throughout several parts of the recording, it comes through the most clearly on the closer, recalling Maiden’s Piece of Mind and Powerslave era. It is perhaps the most melodic track on the album, and also its most aggressive, erupting into a vigorous guitar solo in its final quarter which stands as the album’s most technically rewarding moment.

It is “Dawn of Genesis,” however, that emerges as the album’s strongest offering, delivering a sweeping bit of musical storytelling that feels more contemplative and premeditated than anything else on the recording. A galloping intro breaks into a powerful guitar solo to open the song, and the understated, grinding rhythm of the verse lends tension and anticipation to the song. The build-up does not quite pay off, however, as the music runs into one of the album’s least compelling guitar solo sections. However, the brooding warlord imagery of the music overcomes its disappointingly brief climax.

Shortness, as it turns out, is the album’s biggest downfall. Short instrumental sections, short guitar solos, and short songs undermine the epic feel of the music at every turn. In total, Dawn of Genesis clocks in at a little under 31 minutes. A paltry offering by modern standards, but in fairness, it does complete the genuinely retro feel generated by the album art and the band’s playing style. However, given the band’s naturally larger-than-life sound, the album could have benefited from two or three songs with significantly longer running times. As it is, the group stays conservative with songwriting that never breaks the five-minute mark, and it feels like a disservice to the band’s potential and the listener’s wallet.

It is impossible to give Dawn of Genesis high marks for its sound production or technical execution. This is a raw slab of old school metal that refuses to cater to modern expectations. However, its enthusiasm and energy go a long way toward making this an enjoyable recording. The most remarkable part of it, and the one that is certain to bring the highest number of people to it, is its unfaltering commitment to ’80s underground heavy metal. Those who enjoy tight execution and clean production should skip this one, but fans craving a chunk of unrefined nostalgia mined from the depths of metal history will find a satisfying, if ultimately limited, listening experience.

Rating: 65 /100