Since the genre’s earliest inception, black metal has expanded relentlessly beyond the rigid confines of the 90s template of grim, frost-bitten tremolo-picked riffs, blastbeat drumming, lo-fi recordings and spike-festooned frontmen. Now, there are several subgenres of black metal – whether you craved the militaristic brutality of bands of Texans Averse Sefira, the soul-eroding horror of French black mentalists Blut Aus Nord, or the more pastoral and psychedelic likes of Wolves In The Throne Room or Altar Of Plagues, there’s something out there to appeal. But there is a style that seems to have fallen by the wayside somewhat in recent years – the symphonic black metal style pioneered by Emperor, and later commercialised and refined by the likes of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir.
The latter band’s former frontman, Nagash, formed Troll as vocalist and guitarist in 1992, initially starting out as a full band, but then continuing on as Nagash’s solo side project until 2007. Several EPs and albums were forthcoming, the most recent being 2001’s Universal – then it all went quiet as Nagash focused on his day job, as singer for The Kovenant. Nagash has now resurrected Troll with a full line-up, and the resultant album, Neo-Satanic Supremacy, represents a return for the mid-90s symphonic black metal sound. Keyboards and synths are a constant presence on this album, with billowing strings and tinkling ivories supporting the riffage, itself equally surging and spiteful. The drumming, courtesy of Ygg, is frantic and precise, blending blizzards of blastbeats and octopus-limbed fills with more measured, driving beats for the more mid-tempo passages. Nagash’s vocals are the archetypal snarl/croak combo, delivering Satanically-themed tirades with the appropriate measure of unholy intensity.
If there’s one thing it’s hard to get away from when listening to Neo-Satanic Supremacy, it would be the constant nagging feeling that this has all been done before – most notably during Nagash’ tenure with Dimmu Borgir. This album really puts one in mind of the Dimmu Borgir release Spiritual Black Dimensions – or, Dimmu before they incorporated industrial and death metal elements to their sound. Neo-Satanic Supremacy, on the other hand, is pretty much straight from the 90s symphonic black metal playbook, with little in the way of new twists. Sure, the album’s title track is a raging firestorm of unchecked aggression – all churning, tremolo-picked bluster and clattering percussion. And sure, the songwriting throughout is of consistently high quality – the balance between the synthesised ornamentation and the metallic core of the music is walked with a high degree of precision. But if you already have Emperor‘s material, and Dimmu‘s 90s output, then the only reason you’re really going to need this album is if you are an absolute die-hard fan of the style – in which case, Neo-Satanic Supremacy is a perfectly entertaining listen.