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Two things have come to my attention recently. One is the genre defining magnificence of Trouble's second opus "The Skull", and the second is thrash fans un-failing quest to assert that any reduced thrashiness is unequivically a negative thing. In general, when facing hordes of baggy pantsed zombies, brain-dead hipsters and bizzare crablike deathcore dance routines this is a natural and understandable reaction. However when the osmosing party is soul crushing doom, the result is more than palatable - hence we get to "The Skull".
Trouble's second album is not a sophomore slump, it is the shedding of dead skin. In fact, the sophmore slump is a disease that rarely seems to strike in the metal realm and was near non-existent for any half decent early 80s metal band. As bands were being picked up relatively quickly by labels during that time the overall trend was for bands to evolve to a heightened plane as they honed their skills over two or three releases. This is exactly the case here where Trouble emerged from a NWOBHM/thrash doom cocoon and blossoming into a soul destroying depressive machine. Now don't get me wrong, I love every second of "Psalm 9" and will stuff that down your throat too. But god damn it, this album is a cornerstone of doom metal.
To dispell any fears right now we must look at the fact Trouble had written songs like "Gideon", "Wickedness of Man" and "The Wish" (previously titled "Death Wish I/II") before "Psalm 9" had even been released. Not only that, but the incredible guitar tone and Eric's vocals have improved since the debut so we are talking about a step up. We'll get to that in a second - lets mention the lyrics. Yes, the lyrics really are hippie infused Christian morality spiced with dark themes. And yet despite this they come across as an ingenious doom metal ploy - instead of preachy songs, they appear more like depressing stories of death and hopeless salvation, not unlike say how Nile might sing of Egyptian gods and yet it is palatable because you know Karl Sanders isn't truly trying to have you submit yourself to Ra - he's weaving a fantastical tale. If you're not struck down by the impact of Eric's grief when singing the opening of the opening lyrics:
"The one you love is dead
feeling so empty inside
I know it hurts"
...you will never know true doom. Right onto the music.
"Pray for the Dead", "Fear No Evil" and especially "The Wish" are an incredible opening force. This is doom metal, in all it's glory. The touches of NWOBHM and thrash are still there, but the tempo drops most of the time and the guitar tone is something that other bands of the period would never come close to achieving. There are neoclassical touches and harmonized leads which really bring about the desponding atmosphere, and Eric Wagner's vocals are hands down some of the best in metal. His range is good and sure he sings with good melody, but the emotive force in his vocals to back up the lyrics is the real element that's incredibly unique to the man.
"The Truth Is, What Is" has a fantastic chorus despite being a mash of riffs and continues the high trend. Surprisingly it's the next 2 pre "Psalm 9" tracks which seem more out of place, but the riffs on display still slaughter most doom and NWOBHM from around this period. Finally, just when you think they couldn't really top the power of the opening tracks comes the incredibly ominous "The Skull". Once again the riffs here are inventive, memorable and yet shine with psuedo-prog brilliance; the mind boggles that this release hasn't been praised more.
Trouble's follow up album "Run To The Light" was also a solid effort before they moved onto the depends-on-how-you-look-at-it psychedelic doom, but it was "The Wish" where they perfected 80s doom metal. Save yourself, get this god damn album.