June 28, 2011

Trollband - In The Shadow Of A Mountain (Review)

Trollband - In The Shadow Of A Mountain
Folk Metal

 Thinking back a couple of years to when the Vancouver metal scene was in full swing, there were few bands on the local circuit that were quite as exciting to see as the distinctly folkish act Trollband. With songs about guzzling beer and pillaging helpless villages, the band was always a sure hit with the alcohol-fueled masses downtown. The project went under by all appearances however, and few heard of anything Trollband related for quite a while. However, the band was revived by bandmates Sam Levitt and Matt Courtemanche. With a devoted local following as well as a growing worldwide knowledge of this project, Trollband releases their debut 'In The Shadow Of A Mountain' to some great expectations. Suffice to say, the name of Trollband has far surpassed their origins as folkish advocates for excess beer consumption and gone somewhere more serious with their music.

Especially in a local Vancouver scene that has faced some times of strife since the go-to venue for metal was shut down in 2009, 'In The Shadow Of A Mountain' comes as something of a blessing, a nostalgic reminder that the Vancouver metal scene will never die. Although it has all of the bearings and associated flaws of an indie release, teammates Levitt and Courtemanche show some incredible potential with the music here. As well as some revised versions of songs that originally appeared on the band's charming but highly rough demo, there is some fresh material here that really impresses. Although Trollband are mostly about high-energy battle metal and symphonic key orchestrations over chugging guitar riffs, there is a dynamic here that even as a fan of the band, I was not quite expecting. Chief among these is the title track and personal highlight, 'In The Shadow Of A Mountain', which is quick to prove that the band has gone on far beyond their earlier, somewhat limited subject matter and can now use their music to tell stories, which is what folk music has always been about.

Of particular note are the vocals here, which never cease to impress me. Be it the resonant baritone of the clean vocals or ravenous snarl of the growls, Sam Levitt's vocal work here is phenomenal, regardless of whether or not he may agree on that note. Unfortunately, this strength segues into one of Trollband's greatest weaknesses, which has been, and still remains the mixing. Although the guitars and vocals have obviously been recorded with clarity, the whole thing is mixed in such a way where the issues are almost too obvious to my ears. The vast keyboard orchestrations have always played a large role to Trollband and folk metal i general, but the fact that they are often cranked higher than the guitars does not work to the music's favour. On top of this, the vocals are arguably the least audible element of the music, and tend to get dwarfed in volume by the competing guitars and orchestrations. 

The only other big issue I have with the record is the band's unfortunate use of a drum machine. The thing either ranges from being fairly unintrusive to downright irritating, and this greatly depends upon, and varies from song to song. For what inconsistencies the album's production might have however, Trollband makes up for it in sheer quality of songwriting. The band generally keeps the sound speedy and upbeat, and while the orchestrations are focused upon past what I would normally like, they are always thoughtfully arranged. Folk metal can sometimes get a bad reputation for being shallow pagan-themed party music, but even a minute or so of hearing the vast harmonies can quickly dispel that notion.

'In The Shadow Of A Mountain' is one of the best things I have heard from an underground Vancouver band in quite a long time, despite the flaws and faults throughout. With another album on the way and in the works, one can only hope that this talented act will take their potential and run with it.

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