Troll – Legend Master (2019) REVIEW

As civilization dips in and out of periods of unrest, revolution, and distrust with greater frequency the passage of time holds a very presence among existentially straining minds oppressed by whatever collective fights to clutch them. Terse and compressed versions of ourselves exist in divisive, clenched times and who’d blame any passionate spirit for squirming away from what is personal when cornered by their peers claustrophobia and subversion? Three years looms above any artist that has yet to be sated within their own climbing standards and, though it may seem arbitrary, there exists a blind spot in the minds of most semi-dedicated music lovers beyond that point unless nostalgia or personal experience is still empowering. On that same thread, time is tainted by the telling trails of history as past trauma exists as a constant in the present just as powerfully as nostalgia. Thankfully some greater karmic forces returned Portland, Oregonian doom metal crown jewel Troll to us one year ago, as they’d mended with their original vocalist in approaching their second deep-lunged cry. ‘Legend Master’ arrives as a resounding epic poem, an inspiring ballad to overcome when faced with shrinking habitable climes, a masterpiece of unrestricted heavy rock and doom metal heart that pours with every color imaginable.

To lose something special as soon as you’d loved it can only refine how deeply you love when it by chance returns. I’d discovered Troll live by chance and reviewed the Shadow Kingdom Records vinyl issue of their 2016 debut in 2018 unaware that their impossibly soulful vocalist Rainbo had left by then; Only to find they’d reconnect a few weeks later. To be crushed and then re-inflated might’ve had me hugging ‘Legend Master’ tighter than ‘Troll’ (2016) at first but it was the being I held, the glowing purple and golden soul of it all, and how gracefully it’d grown in that time apart that touched me. Many bands improve over time, this isn’t such an achievement in and of itself as slow refinement is relative to focused investment and personal reflection; As much as I admire steady growth in good taste I live for the ‘leap’, the artist who goes for it (whatever ‘it’ is) that is beyond themselves and this often comes with a push from the right people as much as it relies on songwriters who’d hone in on personally resonant and believably felt performances. To see ‘Legend Master’ as a mere step of growth beyond the last wouldn’t aptly describe the higher plane of existence they inhabit today. Troll haven’t taken a flying leap into the unknown but, taken flight.

Modern forms of doom metal hold great potential for emotional resonance but many of the masters who’d indulge (see: Warning, Pallbearer) shift from performing such personal, draining works after a few albums or find a new vocalist (see: Solstice, Saint Vitus, Hour of 13) leaving a certain niche fandom waiting for the next cathartic sacrifice on the altar. ‘Legend Master’ is thematically something a bit different in that sense, as its lilt reads a bit like an epic where the protagonist narrates his stream of consciousness in an ascent to demigod that finds him sold to the darkness and languishing in the lonely dehumanization that great power brings. The lyrics aren’t just words, and this despite the fantastical setting suggested, they’re not felt as a character so much as Rainbo‘s approach is so earnest and finessed. The narrative is believably felt for its nuance, variety, and almost avant-garde approach and this sets Troll beyond a simple comparison to a band like Pallbearer, despite some similar use of progressive metal structures in a doom metal setting. We have so few truly effective storytellers left in doom metal who have ever touched this level of finesse as Phil Swanson grows increasingly rescinded and we’ve lost Pilgrim‘s Wizard and Pagan Altar‘s Terry Jones in recent years so, I find it important to hail Rainbo‘s performances; They take these already stunning compositions and lifts ‘Legend Master’ to something extra, a piece of mastery somewhat unexpected for a sophomore full-length.

The growth is a foot of moss on a thousand foot tree, the return is true glory, the yarn is epic, and the voice is golden but what does this mean for the listening experience? The longest song on ‘Troll’ was about eight and a half minutes though ‘Legend Master’ has as many tracks all at or above that length. Folks who’d fear descriptors like progressive or ‘epic’ in terms of traditional or stoner doom metal can relax, Troll haven’t lost themselves in a 50+ minute album but written gripping and dark page-turners that buzz, wail, croon, and roar from all angles as they express. I will admit that it took some time to see the forest for the trees, because the trees are so beautiful, but the whole of ‘Legend Master’ is a glorious three act arc that will develop once the sheer craftsmanship of each song becomes familiar. It reaches the stoned melodrama of bands like Wheel (Germany) and the growling ground-pounding heaviness of Cardinal’s Folly without losing that heavy rock vibe, that inch of rank fuzz-phantasm that doom needs to feel alive, and the extended compositions allows Troll to develop those lofty pieces into a tender-but-stoic dynamic as ‘Legend Master’ plays.

Having basked in Portland’s greater doom and extreme metal scene from about 2004 ’til 2014, and busing up there from the valley for a decade previous, I am probably somewhat sentimental in seeing so many great bands put out records that transcend expectations today. Yet my thoughts on Troll‘s second album don’t come from any sort of hometown hero worship but as a fan of doom metal who can hear good taste shaping into great music as it appears, and that includes Ossuarium who share Troll‘s drummer, Ryan Koger, who really shows up for ‘Legend Master’ in a serious way. There is a tri-toned sunset occurring herein where existentialist psychedelic stoner leads drip atop ‘epic’ heavy metal spaciousness, that the expertly captured drum sound provides, all nesting a glowing half-circle of modern doom metal rhythm guitar tone that is light-bearing and blues-electric but brutally dark and sinister all the same. It might not all hit at once but, I can say without question that Troll have built a rock of an album that will weather beautifully. I didn’t struggle with this recommendation at all, ‘Legend Master’ struck me like lightning and even burnt and dying I’d climb to the roof and beg for more. Highest recommendation, a modern doom metal masterpiece. In terms of previewing tracks this is a tough one pick from because the clear point of entry is “The Flight of the Dragonship” as it goes as full-range with Troll‘s style as possible without losing the plot but, there are even deeper emotional hits that develop beyond and I’d say my favorite (heavier) guitar work kicks up within the 12+ minute “The Door”.

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Artist Troll
Type Album
Released April 12, 2019
BUY & LISTEN on Shadow Kingdom Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Troll on Facebook
Genre Doom Metal,
Progressive Doom Metal,
Stoner/Doom Metal

Forever entombed. 5.0/5.0

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