One of the first things I thought when listening to Legend Master was that my cousin Sam would love this album. See, my cousin Sam is one of the truest metalheads I know, and he’s got the long Swedish hair to prove it. On the way to an outdoor Judas Priest concert in 2015, Sam tried to fistfight me while freeway driving because I suggested that symphonic metal was “good”. At the show, we crushed 24oz tall cans and headbanged for an hour straight before buying some choice bootleg shirts in the parking lot. I introduced him to King Goat and Archspire, and Sam got me into Howdilly Dodilly, so I’d say we’re about even. I trust his opinions on many genres of music, but when it comes to metal, Sam’s about as “trve” as they come. So, why exactly did this purple project have me contemplating the trueness of one’s mettle? All aboard the Dragonship, it’s smooth sailing from here.
Troll’s first release since 2016 is foremost an epic doom metal album. Long-form doom is on the menu, and it comes with a side of progressive rock and a stoner metal garnish. Lately, the prog-stoner doom world seems dominated by UK-based bands King Goat and Boss Keloid, and Portland-based Troll echo the heavy performance traits of their contemporaries; although, there’s a distinct difference in Troll’s patois that betrays a regional grunge accent. One can hear a Northwestern alt-rock influence in the melodic vocals and some of the guitar passages throughout Legend Master, but it’s not ham-fisted or cheesy like an early aught’s post-grunge band. Speaking of singing, the lead vocals are performed by Troll’s enigmatic frontman known only by the fearsome moniker Rainbo, and his colorful control of the mic calls to mind metal luminaries like Scott Weinrich and Chris Cornell. He’s not technically flawless, but rather emotive and charismatic, and Rainbo’s ability to sing over swaggering stoner rock hooks and proggy verses send Legend Master to the next level.
If you’re leery about diving into a five-song, fifty-two-minute long doom record, don’t worry, because Troll plays by Saiyan rules: the more they play, the stronger they become. Opener “Dragonship” flirts with psychedelic riffs and desert rock flair, and the band builds upon this melodic foundation in the following two-song suite “Legend Master, Book I & II”. I really like the riff and melody that kicks off the second part, and Rainbo impresses as he hits some scary high notes. As the album spins towards “The Door”, Troll’s various muses start acting out: ruminations on progressive rock inspire some guitar interplay and harmonies that bring to mind Pink Floyd, and the penultimate track concludes with an inexplicably cool grunge outro that reminds me of The Cranberries. The tempo is appropriately doomy and consistently pushing forward with mid-grade heaviness, and as the tracks endure, the tone of the album starts to grow more sinister.
I went into Legend Master expecting to hear some fantasy-inspired D&D doom, but I actually stumbled into a black mass: to say that Troll has admiration for the Dark Lord would be an understatement. The fantastical narrative sunk its hooks in me, engaging my curiosity with its macabre grandeur, and that’s in part thanks to the lifelike production throughout Legend Master. Subtle aspects of the recording process come through in the album’s engineering, capturing forgotten sounds like a strained exhale or the meaty pulse of a kick drum. It doesn’t feel like I’m slouching on my couch listening on my laptop; it feels like I’m in a hazy red room sitting on an electric wool carpet in front of an undulating Orange amp, rapt by the threnodies of the Morningstar. Their humble benediction “Building My Temple” is essentially a devotional for Satan, where the band showcases their most heart-wrenching and enticing melodies. Some readers out there may be making Ghost comparisons, but while both secretive groups share sympathy for the devil, they differ in the details; Ghost seduces listeners with prurience and revelry, whereas Troll values regal authority and distinction. In their carefully crafted realm of unholy royalty, the unknown members of Troll come off as gilded supplicants in the service of Satan, and to me, that’s a job well done.
In their own unique way, Troll carved out a niche in a crowded genre and released one of 2019’s essential doom records. Sure, there are a few things about Legend Master that I wouldn’t gush about: I think Rainbo’s harsh growls, while infrequent, sound somewhat awkward, and there’s something about “Dragonship” that I don’t think meshes with the themes of the other four tracks. I wavered on the final score, but ultimately, my criticisms hardly tarnish the quality of this metal. This is music for metalheads, for those out there who can appreciate subversive concepts, challenging compositions, and flat-out killer riffs to headbang and crush beer cans to. These are all things I’ll be enjoying with my cousin Sam come summertime at the Lovdahl family reunion, where I guarantee this album will be played at high-volume in between Jethro Tull and Soundgarden. See you at the lake this July.
Legend Master will be released on April 12th, 2019
You can pre-order Legend Master at their Bandcamp.com page here.