We here at AMG Industries take great pride in promoting unsung independent acts in our beloved scene. One of the best self-released records I’ve ever had the pleasure of promoting was The Witch’s Curse, a stellar EP from up and coming English trad metallers Dream Tröll. When I asked them if we could do something special to promote their upcoming sophomore LP, Second to None, I was handed a helluva gift: The rights to premiere the music video for my favorite track on the record, “I Will Not Die Today.” This track – which plays something like Iron Maiden and The Night Flight Orchestra collaborating on a top-tier piece of boss battle music – is a strong contender for my song of the year. Dr. Wvrm shares my enthusiasm, and we’ve been quoting the hook-rich chorus at each other in Slack since we first heard it. That’s how you know it’s a certified banger.
If you’re as enamored with what you hear as I am, and you can’t resist gorgeous colored vinyl variants, consider heading over to Dream Tröll’s Bandcamp and contributing to their vinyl crowdfunding campaign. The vinyl will only be produced if it meets its goal, and as of the time of this post, it only has two days left to reach it – and so far it’s only made about forty percent of its goal. I’ll be honest with all of you: I really fucking want this thing in my collection, so much so that it’s the only crowdfunding campaign to which I’ve ever pledged money. If you need a little more convincing, scroll a bit further to find what you might call a “glowing” review of Second to None.
Before we get there, here’s the video for “I Will Not Die Today.” Keep an eye on that fretwork, guitarists – you’re gonna want to learn that delicious opening riff.
Dream Tröll. It’s a weird-ass pairing of words even in the realm of metal bands, yet one that glides off the tongue, despite every synapse in my brain screaming “That’s not right!” Sonically speaking, Dream Tröll is beholden to convention, but their splicing of genres is handled so ingeniously as to make such an unclassifiable name somehow fitting. It’s easy to draw correlations between traditional metal, power metal, and good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n roll, yet Dream Tröll plays with these tropes in delightfully unexpected ways, resulting in a distinct sound displaced from any defined era of metal music. Last year’s The Witch’s Curse EP saw the band refining this sound to an efficient sheen, and in retrospect – as prophesied by the end of my review – it acts as a springboard towards Second to None. It’s the fullest realization of Dream Tröll‘s potential to date, and a fantastic sophomore LP on its own merits.
Opener “Steel Winged Warrior” kicks off the record with the purest distillation of Dream Tröll‘s core strengths. Its kickass opening riffs showcase the band’s newfound penchant for exuberant rock riffage, which, when coupled with the band’s established high-flying Iron Maiden leads, quickly cement the record as the most guitar-forward in Dream Tröll‘s discography. Other tracks take a more aggressive stance bordering on thrash territory, with the excellent “I Will Not Die Today”‘s low-end gallops rumbling beneath kinetic leads fit for a classic Mega Man boss battle. Despite their affinity for immediacy, Dream Tröll has unearthed new avenues for bold experimentation. “The Art of Death” and “Legion” are total curveballs, cranking down the tempo and drawing out song length in order to craft dark, towering atmospheres. The tremendous variety presented across these eight tracks is truly unprecedented, proving that Dream Tröll possess significant flexibility in expanding their unmistakable aesthetic.
As much as I enjoy the two aforementioned long tracks, they are probably my least favorite cuts from Second to None, if only because they don’t vary themselves enough to justify their lengths. Yet they are still rendered utterly unskippable by drawing from Dream Tröll‘s bottomless bucket of grade-A hooks. “The Art of Death” in particular is downright goosebump inducing thanks to its ghostly, soaring Blind Guardian-esque vocal harmonies, but the shorter compositions excel through more traditionally accessible melodic palettes. The infectious chorus of the aforementioned “I Will Not Die Today” might end up being the best refrain I’ll hear all year, while “Checkmate… Annihilate!” trades swells of power metal pomp in its bridge sections for a massively entertaining glam rock conclusion. These great moments, regularly rotated out so as not to grow stale, make Second to None the kind of utterly memorable record that already feels like an old standby.
Part of what makes Second to None‘s individual tracks so captivating is that each explores a unique, standalone mythology. These tales of enslaved gladiators (“Steel Winged Warrior”), tormented artificial intelligence (“The Art of Death”), and, uh, chrome skulled vipers (“Chrome Skulled Viper”) are relayed in compelling fashion by vocalist Paul Walsh. His distinct, broad timbre is as commanding as ever, bolstered by improved annunciation for greater lyrical lucidity. Drummer Simon Blakelock has benefited most from the time between releases, however, as his patterns are notably more diverse than on prior Dream Tröll records; I love the way his crisp cymbal fills build understated tension during the verse of “Steel Winged Warrior.” Matt Baldwinson and Paul Carter’s fretwork is as sharp and explorative as ever, with crystalline tones to match. The guitars sound strangely muddy in the lower registers, but otherwise this is a great sounding record, engineered to maximize the clarity of its frequently dreamlike soundscape.
I had hoped, but never exactly anticipated, that Dream Tröll would surpass the high water mark set by The Witch’s Curse. At this point, Second to None is tied with that album in my personal rankings, but from a technical standpoint it’s a huge improvement in every conceivable respect. A band with such a winning formula as Dream Tröll needn’t tinker with their formula to craft a killer record, yet the band rejects stagnation, opting instead to push their sound to newfound limits. With its tri-Paul army in tow, Dream Tröll is poised to make its mark on the stubbornly backwards-thinking traditional metal scene as they leave a trail of umlauts in their wake.