Troll has long been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine, and not one I had been expecting to hear from again, yet here is Neo-Satanic Supremacy, their 4th full-length, coming a full nine years after the predecessor Universal. Rather than continue the bizarre, science fiction journey of the industrial techno-troll predators that was taking shape on the the previous albums, Stian (aka Nagash or Lex Icon) and friends have opted to return to the roots, to create a new album in the vein of the debut Drep de Kristne. This is in fact a very straightforward symphonic black metal, which has perhaps the most in common with two of Nagash's other outings: Dimmu Borgir, and the earlier work of The Covenant (before adding the 'K' to the name and becoming the interplanetary freak-cousins to Marilyn Manson). But before the massed beneath the bridges begin to turn up their wart-crusted nozzles at the sentiment of another symphonic Norse band straight from the annals of Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, The Pagan Prosperity or In the Nightside Eclipse, know that this Troll performs the style with much fervor, and they've not lost the amusing, tongue in cheek nature of their past lyrical ventures.
The band is not out to shock anyone with this release, simply to deliver a finely executed onslaught of solid, easily digested, death-derived guitar lines and adequate orchestration that never catapults too far above the top. The riffs themselves are the sort one might expect from an Old Man's Child or Dimmu Borgir: fairly predictable, and not so distinct outside of the haunted castle atmosphere of the keyboards through which they tumble, like vampires and werewolves fist fighting at a Joss Whedon kegger before they marathon whatever latest overhyped TV show the man is about to have canceled. Mostly this results in tracks like "Til Helvete Med Alt", "Alt for Satan", and "Smertens Rike" which thrust past with force upon lofty batwings and malicious intent. But for their focus and unquestionable energy, these are not the standout tracks on this album. It is when the band slows down for a crunchier bit as in the raging thrash of "Age of Satan" or "At the Gates of Hell" that the malevolent atmosphere of the album really begins to develop. But perhaps the track I had the most fun with is "Burn the Witch", with its hilarious misogynist occult cheese, and the organ sweeps throughout the haunted house silliness of the bridge section, which are strangely majestic as they cascade off into the sins of the eve.
As much as I appreciate that Troll are alive and kicking, I don't really feel that Neo-Satanic Supremacy compares to their three previous albums. I'm sure the average audiophile would find the increased production values refreshing, and they are undeniably solid, but at the same time lacking that cheesy atmosphere which made an album like Drep de Kristne so endearing. I also rather enjoyed their earlier guitar tones, which were noisier but laid back, and really let the synthesizers simmer in their own juices. In fact, by 'improving' their tone, the band has really done nothing but remove that thin membrane of distinction which one separated them from their peers and related bands of the Norse symphonic sect. The vocals here are also a lot less interesting than they once were.
Neo-Satanic Supremacy is a professional effort, and if you enjoy The Covenant, Emperor, Old Man's Child, Crest of Darkness, Ragnarok, Carpe Tenebrum or Dimmu Borgir you will probably get an adequate confrontation out of this. I, for one, will be remaining below the bridge, clutching my copy of Drep de Kristne with grim nostalgia and wondering what horros might have lain beyond the ruins of Colony X-11.
Highlights: Burn the Witch, At the Gates of Hell, Age of Satan
Verdict: Win [7/10]