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Trollfest will be your new favourite party metal band - but there's much more to them than that

Trollfest
(Image credit: Press)

Even by the fabulous, outrageous, unapologetically over-the-top standards of the Eurovision Song Contest, Trollfest’s January 15 performance at the Melodi Grand Prix, Norway’s televised pre-selection tournament to select the nation’s entry for the annual festival of song, was A Moment. 

Introduced by Rammstein-style jets of flames, on a stage decorated with inflatable palm trees, a squad of burly musicians sporting pink flamingo costumes pranced around in circles to parping folk-metal as their frontman encouraged the audience to get their “freak on” on the “dancing floor” and “dance like there’s no tomorrow”. Fuck knows what the live audience at the H3 Arena in Fornebu made of this endearingly ludicrous spectacle, but when footage of the performance was posted online, The Internet was charmed and captivated: “Why on earth wouldn’t you pick this one?” reads the first comment underneath the clip. “It has everything you can ever ask for from a Eurovision hit.”

Sadly, for our plucky, feathered heroes, it was not to be: voted through to the competition’s Last Chance Gold Duel eliminator - don’t ask us, it’s complicated - Trollfest ultimately lost out to Maria Mohn’s Fly for a place in the national final, at which the good people of Norway duly elected Subwoolfer - two men in black suits sporting yellow wolf head masks singing Give That Wolf A Banana - as their Eurovision 2022 ambassadors. What a time to be alive.

It’s entirely possible, though, that the average viewer assailed by the gleefully batshit Dance Like A Pink Flamingo may have written off the Oslo-based nine-piece as a gang of camp wackaloons making novelty pop-metal for children’s parties. And entirely possible too, that lyrics such as ‘Like parasites we infest, Bleed all resources dry / No hope, no change will come / Power sits in comfort’ may have gone unheard amid the visual chaos, so that the true meaning of the song - a cautionary tale about the cynical machinations of an evil ruling elite, and how tyrants thrive on apathy - may not have been immediately obvious to all. 

It remains to be seen, too, whether those investigating Trollfest’s Napalm Records debut, Flamingo Overlord, will choose to delve beneath its dizzying blend of upbeat, catchy sing-alongs to uncover dark reflections on themes of addiction and indoctrination. Those that do may increasingly come to view the album’s novelty pop-metal sheen as rather sinister, if not downright perverse.

“If you’re having a shit time and the person right next to you is having the time of his life, it’s even shittier,” observes vocalist Jostein Austvik, aka Trollmannen. “Particularly if the guy next to you knows you’re having a shit time and he’s still enjoying his ass off!

“Hopefully - if people haven’t written us off completely - when they get the album and see the lyrics, all the happy-go-lucky party songs will have to be revisited with another perspective. You could even take it as a bit of a kick towards the shallowness of our culture; people take one quick look and think they’ve sussed everything out, but you only have to take half a look more to realise that your assumptions are completely wrong.”

Be honest: who saw that coming?

Trollfest

(Image credit: Press)

Formed in 2003 by Jostein and guitarist John Espen Sagstad, aka Mr. Seidel, Trollfest have inarguably put in the hard yards before emerging as a 2022 buzz band. Self-proclaimed pioneers of True Norwegian Balkan Metal, the group’s first seven records were written and sung entirely in ‘trollspråk’ - a kind of grammar-free amalgam of German and Norwegian, hardly conducive to chasing a global audience. 2019’s Norwegian Fairytales dropped this convention to focus on the band’s native tongue, and finally, with Flamingo Overlord, we monolinguist English speakers have Trollfest songs we can sing along to. It feels like an album the collective, whose eclectic, restless compositions and overactive imagination actively mitigate against boredom and stagnation, have been building up to for a long time. Liberated from any internal or external pressures to remain ‘on brand’ in this new phase of their career, in the group’s concept album about a flamingo-based tyrannical dystopia, the troll lyrics of yore are nowhere to be seen. 

“I don’t know if it was an active decision or if it just turned out that way,” ponders Jostein. “Lyrically it was certainly freeing to write in English this time around. It made it a lot easier to say exactly what I wanted to say. Similar thing with the trolls, it was freeing to set them aside for a bit. I felt like, trying to become a dictator in the troll world, I don’t think that would work. There’s too much anarchy amongst the trolls to ever accept one ruler!”

Though cartoonish imagery and eccentric flamboyance have always been part of Trollfest’s DNA, these elements are underscored by serious talent, discipline and hard work. The absurdist genre-mashing isn’t just undertaken for its own sake either – these often breathtaking arrangements are radiating with sheer passion for music in all its forms. Almost 20 years into their career, Trollfest have seen massive change in the industry in which they operate, and there’s no trace of humour in their frontman’s voice when he says, “The music industry is so little about music these days.”

“There’s so much about the image, the video, the accompanying merchandise, the newly brewed beer, the bar of soap with the band logo on, just so much fucking shit,” he spits. “As a bit of a ‘Fuck you’ to all of that, we’ve always been 110% serious about the music we make.”

Balancing a sense of humour with a conscientious, committed and ethical approach to art and industry can be a difficult line to tread for musicians. For Jostein, who cites Devin Townsend and Mr. Bungle as artists who continue to inspire his band, the two approaches were never separate; his initiation into heavy music was inextricably bound up with the act of laughter. 

“My dad’s an old 70s metal dude,” he reveals. “The thing I remember most was Hocus Pocus by Focus, the Dutch band, with the yodelling. That made me giggle for fucking hours! My dad had a live version on cassette, I rewound it so many times it broke. Frank Zappa is also a wonderful example of how serious music and comedy can go very well together.”

Maintaining this equilibrium can be even harder to pull off in the metal scene; back in the 80s, Anthrax copped a load of flak when they stopped trying to look mean in leathers and started smiling in Bermuda shorts, and there is still a sense that it’s not cool for metal bands to goof off. One can only imagine just how much Trollfest’s surrealist, subversive approach to their art has ruffled feathers - no pun intended - among some of the more committed, kvlt doom lords in the Norwegian metal community.

“We’ve met our fair share of those guys,” Jostein laughs. “Sometimes we see them at shows, away in the back with their arms folded, shaking their heads. One of my favourite things to see is those guys start off like that, and by the end of the show they’re jumping around grinning and having the time of their life! To me that’s a very beautiful thing to see, and one more dig at these people who need everything to be serious the whole time. I find that so fucking boring. And I do wonder, how serious do you need it to be? Do you only listen to death metal made by murderers? Do you believe black metal bands sacrifice humans and drink their blood? How come those lies are serious and our lies are not serious? It’s fine, if you wanna be one of those serious people, fair enough. But the black metal bands with long nails and spikes, prepared for war, sacrifice for Satan, all that stuff, you meet them and they’re just nerds like the rest of us.”

Eurovision glory may have eluded Trollfest, but there is much for the Oslo band to look forward to as their profile continues to swell, and a deep catalogue for newcomers to their Flamingo Secret Society to uncover. And if Trollfest aren’t the escapist fantasy troupe their image might suggest, this intriguing, idiosyncratic collective are seemingly relaxed and accepting of the fact that not everyone who signs up for the journey ahead will be looking to them to provide a moral, intellectual and spiritual roadmap for a future yet unwritten.

“It seems to me that’s what’s going on in the democracies of the western world, a lot of people are signing off from politics and societal interests and just going on a bender,” Jostein muses. “Probably all of us should pay more attention, and actually know a little bit about politics so we can make informed choices, maybe even improve stuff? But it turns out that we’re way too fond of the bottle and the party.” 

Trollfest’s Flamingo Overlord album is out now

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.