posted on 2/2010 By:
Troll’s brand of symphonic black metal came to be in 1992, as the one-man project of the Norwegian man known as Nagash (among other similarly enigmatic monikers). After a few years with Dimmu Borgir (you'll hear this influence first and foremost), a stint with industrialism, and a long hiatus, Nagash is back with a proper band behind him and a fourth long player called Neo-Satanic Supremacy. The best part of Troll’s current approach to symphonic black metal is that it wants badly to channel True Norwegian spirit. The worst part is that that statement needs a qualifier. Specifically, the raging blackness of the music is coated in shiny, modern production and wrapped in too much, too soft, too clean keyboards, both of which effectively de-kvlt Troll’s overtly sadistic intent. In fact, Neo-Satanic Supremacy is an album defined by this very contradiction.
The album’s ten tracks are at times agonizingly and unnecessarily repetitious. What’s worse is that there’s a ton of really cool stuff going on between and around long bouts of tedium. Both “Til Helvete Med Alt” and “Alt for Satan” offer an engaging, thrashy take on the genre with simple, driving riffs and simpler dark and regal keys. And that’d be great if each didn’t simply recycle its first minute three or four times and call it good. “Gå Til Krig” follows the samey openers with icy, dissonant riffing (think Elite’s We Own the Mountains) that gallops alongside tastefully avant-styled keys before it also rides the formula too far, eventually bogging down in itself. “Burn the Witch” successfully changes things up with a bit of death metal depth and keys that are at once less central and more interesting. But it’s only the catchy chorus and infectious, headbanging bridge on this one that saves it from the same riff, keys, blast, repeat problems. “Hvor Tåken Ligger Så Trist Og Grå” brings welcome respite with an epic turn in the middle of the album, its riffs stretched out nicely within an ascendant atmospheric air.
All the best tracks on the album, including the title track, “Burn the Witch” and “Age of Satan,” allow the guitars and drums to subjugate the keys, which highlights the problem that the keyboard symphony is superfluous in most places and crippling in others. Despite clearly being designed to build sinister atmosphere, the keyed pieces are just too clean, smooth and inelegant to pull it off. Ultimately, what is good about them - the melody and harmony they convey – is good only in very small doses and might be better suited to another, grittier guitar.
In an odd twist, “Smertens Rike” sums the record up with a whole bunch of same ol’ same ol’ for 2:35, when it suddenly erupts into thirty-five seconds of Neo’s best riffing in support of the album’s only solo, a serrated little ripper which itself lasts all of ten seconds. Similarly frustrating, Ygg’s drumming carries the record’s intended weight as often as the songwriting allows, which unfortunately, and by now predictably, just isn’t often enough.
This sort of album is easily the most frustrating for me to review. If it simply plodded along in a mess of mediocrity, I would be left with the mere matter of saying so and moving along. As it stands, Neo-Satanic Supremacy offers enough really cool black metal menace in between tangles of underdeveloped songwriting and dubious production decisions to have me pulling my hair out illustrating the important qualifications. Maybe I should have just said that this is a frustratingly inconsistent symphonic black metal album that might have fared much better if focused solely on the black. Well, then. I guess I just did.
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