Socially, metal music is a pretty broad church. Whether that church is on fire or not is another matter. Your stereotypical metalhead varies from the bro in three-quarter length shorts at a Parkway Drive concert to the vampiric teen with suspiciously well-conditioned hair clinging to the walls at a black metal gig, with plenty of 40-year-olds in filthy band t-shirts and “normal people” in between.
However, there is one sub-genre of metal that never fails to surprise: troll metal. So niche that it doesn’t warrant a Wikipedia article, troll metal is a slowly-growing genre that came together in the early-to-mid nineties. Stylistically, it’s derived from the blending of folk and black metal music with progressive metal influences tossed into the mix to make sure you know the band can play their instruments properly.
Bands like Finntroll, who arguably conceived of the troll metal style, commit entirely to the “troll” part of the genre. Every single sung, growled or screamed lyric tells the story of a folkloric band of Finnish trolls that fight against Christians who enter into their land, often describing the manners in which these “invaders” are attacked or mutilated as punishment.
Each member of the seven-person outfit walks on stage with a set of floppy, prosthetic troll ears glued to their heads. Decked out in warpaint, the band oddly enough wears leather vests, big old top hats or stylish and tight-fitting winter coats. It’s an interesting image, to say the least, and the band sometimes plays it for laughs. When the synth kicks in with a particularly kitsch sting, many of the band’s members begin to bob ironically along, ears flapping as the smoke machine goes into overdrive.
There’s a definite tongue-in-cheek attitude that dominates the genre. Troll metal bands know that singing about trolls is kind of ridiculous, and laughter from the crowd isn’t in any way a bad thing. Troll metal is effectively a big old postmodern joke, which just so happens to tell that joke through the medium of really solid, interesting fusion metal.
As a result of this laughable element of the genre, the subculture that exists around troll metal is very self-aware and hipstery, at least in Sydney. Most of the people who turn up to a Finntroll gig know that it’s completely ridiculous, but gladly lose themselves to the death pit at some point. However, this is with the exception of those few who spend weeks preparing for a troll metal gig. At the most recent Sydney Finntroll show, held at Manning Bar, there were two audience members with full-on horns glued to their foreheads. It was like Hellboy, if Ron Pearlman had been a weedy 20-something. People like these two completely ruin any easy characterisation of an ironic troll metal audience. They act as proof that there are people who do completely identify with the often absurd images expressed onstage.
To those who prefer their music sung rather than screamed, and their artists beautiful rather than bizarre, troll metal may seem like music that attracts a really noxious community of weirdos and the socially awkward. However, it’s really more a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”=; or more specifically, “don’t judge a genre by the two dudes in the corner with horns mounted to their heads”.