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Troll Metal: Unraveling the Mischief of Internet Subgenres


Jambon Deluxe

March 28, 2024

Image by Grendel Grin
Image by Grendel Grin

Among the vast landscape of music available to listeners in the 21st century, subgenres serve as markers of identity, inclusion, innovation, community and cultural expression. TROLL METAL stands out as a fascinating example of how uber-niche categories can encapsulate specific thematic elements, narratives, entertain and maintain a dedicated fan base. 

In the complex labyrinth of caverns beneath the mountains of metal lurks the bastard child of Folk Metal and Black Metal. Funny and terrifying in equal measure, Troll Metal embodies all the qualities that make internet subgenres so enthralling, and Metal subgenres so specific in slim stylistic deviation.

Heavy Metal music encompasses a wide range of subgenres, each with its unique characteristics and thematic focus. From the doom-laden sludge of Doom and Stoner Metal to the breakneck speed of Thrash Metal and Death Metal, the epic cinematic sweep of Symphonic Black Metal, and the creeping dread of Dungeon-Synth. Heavy Metal has splintered into numerous offshoots, catering to diverse tastes and thematic interests. 

Troll Metal features all the classic hallmarks of the best extreme rock music, while occasionally pushing boundaries. Expect loud, distorted guitars, thunderous drums, rumbling demonic bass, and howling or growling vocals juxtaposed against melodies that are often inspired by folk songs from the region of each act, and instrumentation that is often augmented by non-electrified folk instruments, such as dulcimers, lutes, harps, bagpipes, skin-drums, and the like. With a lyrical and thematic emphasis on trolls and mythical creatures from the mythology and folklore of the Nordic and Scandinavian regions, and the fantasy fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, and Dungeons and Dragons - this sub-genre offers a thrilling escape from the backdrop of modern life. The mood can range from full on Beer Hall Party Troll to sullen, lonely Dungeon-Synth Cave-dweller Troll. 

The Helsinki band FINNTROLL, active since 1997, are considered pioneers of the style. Weaving imaginary tales of battle, magic, terror, fantasy, and the untamed spirits of wild nature into their music, they create a bridge between the past and the present. According to band members Vreth and Skrymer, they took their name from an old Finnish legend where Swedish priests coming to Finland had an encounter with a wild-looking man who killed most of their party. The survivors came back bearing the tale of the Finn-Troll. This focus on storytelling through music aligns Troll Metal more closely with the traditions of folk music, albeit amplified through the aggressive energy of Heavy Metal.


Another aspect of Troll Metal that distinguishes it from the near infinite variety of Metal micro-realms is that some bands, like Finntroll, opt to use theatrical makeup to resemble trolls when the play live, complete with pointed ears, sharp teeth, and stringy hair. MORTIIS, a one-time member of Black Metal legends ENSLAVED, seems to be the jumping off point for the makeup look used by the troll bands. Corpse Paint, originated by KING DIAMOND of MERCIFUL FATE whose album covers decorated most record shops in the hard rock loving Scandinavian north, is also heavily incorporated to the spooky feeling and otherworldly vibe. 

Other bands offer a more straightforward approach, embodying a tavern party vibe. Belarusian LITVINTROLL, for instance, incorporates native bagpipes into a whirling, beer-hall-thumping mosh pit. There's also a doom and gloom aspect from acts like Arizona, USA’s TROLLMANNEN, which establishes a feeling of terror associated with trolls from childhood fairy tales like The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, and the scary trolls who hunt the Gnomes in the books of Wil Huygen and illustrator Riet Poortvilet. These stories would have been familiar to almost every Scandinavian child and spread throughout the world around the same time as Heavy Metal music.

There is also a melancholy element to many of the records that live in the mossy fens of troll metal. TROLLASS delivers emotional longing and introspective musings, using synthesizers to augment the imagined lonely life of a troll between kills. Bands like DROTT incorporate symphonic, dark ambient, and horror soundtrack elements to make you feel as though the trolls are in your brain. Atmospheric Black Metal, Dark Ambient, Dungeon-Synth and Blackened Doom all contribute to the infernal stew. And it’s impossible to pass by without mentioning the arsonist, murderer, and bigot Varg Vikernes, aka “Count Grishnack” of the one-man Black Metal leviathan BURZUM. His explorations of synthesizers in the context of extreme metal were foundational, as were the mythology inspired images on the jackets of his recordings.

Not many women make Troll Metal, so when VÖLUSPÁ take the stage, it’s easy to imagine the Valkyrie astride their flying steeds, charging into battle with the vile trolls. Viking Metal is certainly at the roots of Troll Metal, and bands like BATHORY and AMON AMRATH would provide a blueprint for the galloping drums and blast-beats of most metal subgenres.

Incorporating insights from Volkan Kahraman's doctoral dissertation, " (Kahraman, 2020)" offers a methodological framework to analyze Troll Metal. Kahraman's research highlights the linguistic and thematic diversity within metal music, suggesting that subgenres can be distinguished by aesthetic and thematic elements. The significance of Troll Metal, and subgenres in general, extends beyond mere musical categorization. They serve as cultural signifiers, reflecting the interests, values, and identity of their listeners. Sometimes many people, more often a relatively small group of enthusiastic fans.  

There is a sub-sub-genre that needs to be addressed. Goblin Metal. In all respects, goblins are inferior to trolls and that is reflected by bands such as NEKROGOBLIKON whose music video output has made them one of the better-known troll-adjacent acts going. Their video for the song “No One Survives” was widely circulated online in the early 2010’s and that has given Troll Metal a satirical vibe in the eyes of the broader metal audience. Their 2023 video for “Bones” expands on the mockery of goblins in modern life. Using elements of horror films, comic books, and classic pen and paper role playing games mashed up with the commercial Heavy Metal of the mid 1980’s, albums like GOBLIN COCK’s “Bagged and Boarded” make Goblin Metal feel more like a pastiche than authentic Troll Metal. The mirror image offered by such ridiculous Goblin-centric propaganda only strengthens the power and resilience of the true Troll Metal.

'Bagged and Boarded' by Goblin Cock
'Bagged and Boarded' by Goblin Cock

Other artists enchanted by the trolls include LUMSK from Trondheim, who included folk instruments from their inception, TROLLHAMMER from Michigan, who bring the sludge and mud from beneath the bridge. WIZDOOM bring a southern-rock blues feeling to their murky “Trolldoom” record.  TROLL, TROLLMOTHER, and TROLLGASM all offer divine bones to the pile with churning guitars and massive symphonic sounds. At this point, anything goes.

That is the appeal of Troll Metal, it’s such an oddball mashup of influences, that when we see another person who is legitimately into it, we are inclined to love them, warts and all. It’s an inclusive tribe if you are looking for a way to grind the bones of this modern life to dust.

As we journey through the myriad expressions of Troll Metal, it becomes clear that its allure lies not just in the music but in the community it fosters. Live shows, online forums, memes and social media all contribute to the sense of belonging to a band of trolls preparing to battle the forces arrayed against us.

In conclusion, Troll Metal exemplifies the richness and diversity of metal music's subgenres. It stands as a testament to the genre's capacity for thematic exploration, musical innovation, and cultural expression. By delving into the fantastical world of trolls and mythology, Troll Metal not only entertains but also connects listeners to the ancient stories and traditions that shape our understanding of the world. In the endless depths of musical subgenres, Troll Metal stands out for using aggressive Metal merged with folk instrumentation, melodic and lyrical content, humor and irony to add to the tapestry of the enduring power of music to enchant, inspire, and enthrall.

There is a wide world of music out there, with something to say that you just might need to hear. Keep seeking your tribe.