I hear the word ‘Troll’ and I think of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” in B minor; not at all an odd thing, because so much of my awareness of music as an evocative vehicle and visual accompaniment. In fact, “Morning”, a piece from the same play (Ibsen’s Peer Gynt) is the first piece of music I can remember taking note of as a child. However, with time, the word ‘troll’ took on a far more literal, visual meaning, until I encountered the second-wave Norwegian band of the same name in the mid-‘90s – itself a far-removed sound from the current association I make with the word. Definitely not the popular internet troublemaker term, but the Portland-based stoner/doom outfit whose latest album, Legend Master, is currently under my reviewing microscope.
Legend Master (which will be available online come April 12th) is not your typical sludge offering, though: the low-end swampiness which typifies the genre is muted (but still present), giving way to far more ambitious arrangements whose sprawling reach borders on progressive – and vocalist Rainbo’s multi-dimensional performance shines against this backdrop. In this light, Troll have sublimated their doom roots and now find themselves firmly occupying a territory that could, if not for the slower pacing, almost be mistaken for NWOBHM: tense, dynamic compositions that balance riff and melody to great effect. The fantastic theming (dragonships, temples and proverbs of hell…) adds to the reach and reinforces the golden age of British metal comparisons. Although, given the lyrical nature of their 2016 eponymous debut, which drew from such sources as 13th century Icelandic prose, this should come as no surprise.
The net result is one of epic storytelling: a meandering, yet still gripping narrative that is as much Tolkien as Asimov, yet also entirely original. Galloping and driven one minute (“The Flight of the Dragonship”), introverted and dark the next (“Legend Master Book I: Proverbs of Hell”) the album is unafraid to move in entirely different and unexpected directions from track to track – and even within these individual offerings themselves. “The Door”, for example, fluctuates between hazy atmospherics and Black Sabbath-y slow burn, with minimal – practically acapella in places – vocal passages thrown in for good measure. The song length (twelve and a half minutes) may lend itself to this free-form and improvisational arrangement, but Troll keep the pressure on and the minutes fly by.
The album’s lead single, “Legend Master, Book I: Proverbs of Hell”, is now up for your repeated streaming pleasure.
While the unique vocals are the star of the Legend Master show, the supporting casts’ contributions cannot be ignored: quality doom is hard to make, despite the prevailing idea that its slower tempos make it easier, musically. The constant ebb and flow on Legend Master, especially the moody, sensitive percussion, creates a wonderful tension – just like the epic fantasy tale the lyrics weave – that draws you into Troll’s swirling maelstrom of fuzz, reverb, beards and unique voices. This album may well invite favourable musical comparisons with the likes of Pallbearer, but the overriding impression it leaves me with is this: where Electric Wizard are the uncrowned kings of the ritualistic occult end of the doom spectrum, Troll are easy contenders for the opposing axis of high adventure and philosophical musings.
Legend Master Track Listing:
01. The Flight of the Dragonship
02. Legend Master, Book I: Proverbs of Hell
03. Legend Master, Book II: Three Evil Words
04. The Door
05. Building My Temple
Run Time: 51:10
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Record Label: Shadow Kingdom Records