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The Hurried, Urgent Side of the Doom Metal Parade - 96%

bayern, May 17th, 2017

Trouble are an interesting band; they fall into two categories: the doom and the Christian metal one. However, they don’t epitomize either of them fully; they tended to be quite fast and aggressive for the former, and were not enough preachy and dogmatic for the latter. I’m writing in past tense cause the band under its new form isn’t exactly the band it used to be despite the omnipresence of the old Rick Wartell/Bruce Franklin guitar duo. You know what I mean, the absence of this inimitable high-strung throat called Eric Wagner…

Yes, it’s difficult to accept the band without him wailing heart-rendingly behind the mike. His unique croon is a most characteristic feature from the band’s early repertoire that had a really auspicious start in the form of the excellent self-titled debut which combined sorrowful Sabbath-esque dirges with sudden thrashy outbursts of fury, a one-of-a-kind combination that attracted a wider range of fans. Not willing to lose the inertia, the guys nailed down the album reviewed here less than a year later. Not surprisingly, the style is pretty much the same the band further honing their original approach. The elegiac balladic beginning of the opening title-track is the best possible introduction into the sombre, dark world of the band, Wagner soaring above the proceedings with a hypnotic, levelled timbre; as the riffs become more dynamic and more intense so does the vocal performance the man hitting the higher registers with brilliant melodic tunes flying around reaching some kind of a culmination at the end. “Pray for the Dead” rises amidst a whirlwind of virtuous leads before a superb melodic inauguration announces the arrival of one of the finest doom metal anthems in the annals of the genre with the dramatic chorus, the versatile vocal exploits, the gorgeous leads, and the heavy seismic riffage.

We’ll all start praying for the dead for sure after such a masterpiece although the following “Fear no Evil” is a much faster proposition the guys bringing the winds of speed metal in a truly marvellous fashion before the magnanimous elegy that “The Wish” is, a nearly 12-min saga which begins with more balladic sorrow before the ship-sinking riffage settles in with Wagner ruling the proceedings with operatic, Robert Plant-like pathos his soulful tirades floating above the morose sea of heavy unperturbed guitars which stride is enhanced by a supreme lead break that any Shrapnel performer would die for; the more energetic delivery in the second half brings Sabbath’s more vivid material to mind with the leads providing a compelling finale. “The Truth is What is” contains one of Wagner’s most memorable lines and is another doom metal highlight with Sabbath-esque leanings and a few bluesy histrionics not to mention the fever-pitch speedy epitaph. “Wickedness of Man” starts as mournful doom at its finest, but the guys step on the pedal before long and unleash a couple of admirable impetuous gallops in the middle although the sombre heavy tone isn’t broken that much by these faster-paced additives that acquire a fuller shape on the closing “Gideon” which rages forward with sharp cutting riffs and a wider array of rhythmic changes.

Wartell and Franklin are simply too good to be restricted to slow doomy chords exclusively. Their more proficient, also more dynamic side cries out for expression hence the frequent speedy “skirmishes” which bring some of the most dazzling guitar work ever encountered on a supposed doom metal recording, second only to Mike Wead’s pyrotechnics on the Memento Mori and Abstrakt Algebra efforts. Because of these guys’ wizardry the Trouble albums, at least the first four, stuck out of the pack easily making it hard for the audience to place them in just one particular niche. On the other hand, if you think of it, even Black Sabbath themselves experimented extensively outside the doom metal parametres (just remember “Children of the Grave” and “Symptom of the Universe” for two of the more prominent examples) leaving the “doom” tag describing the mood, the atmosphere and the overall guitar tone rather than the pace and the dynamics within. Even the leaders Candlemass have been tempted by the speed and aggression almost turning their “Ancient Dreams” opus into a thrash metal fiesta because of that. However, for our friends here the faster ways of execution have always played a significant role, and they took bigger proportions on their future works delineating them from the doom metal brotherhood.

In this train of thought this “skull” here remains their biggest legacy to said brotherhood alongside the debut. Trouble were just too “troublesome” to remain squared in the company of Saint Vitus, Pentagram and the likes although both their albums after the reformation in the new millennium have their hefty doomy vibes with the psychedelic flavour from their 90’s period still felt in the air. They have to be more careful now as they have a strong competition from The Skull… no, not the album reviewed here, the new Eric Wagner project started in 2012 which is another fine addition to the doom metal roster, paying tribute to their finest hour with the band name, and not only. The Trouble fans should be happy since they will have more than one act to follow; the doom metal parade will always find a room for one more “skull” be it slow or coming with a pleasant shade of speed.

Piss off thrash, this is doom! - 97%

Confessor, June 7th, 2011

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.

A Major Step Down - 45%

pinpals, August 28th, 2007

After releasing one of the most monumental metal albums of the 80's, Trouble eased up a little for their sophmore effort, "The Skull." While their debut was an astounding mix of Black Sabbathian doom, with the twin guitars of Judas Priest, this album is more straightforward 80's metal. The guitars are not as heavy. The songs don't switch from slow to fast, they stay at about the same speed throughout. None of these songs come near the almost-thrash of songs like "The Deceiver." Nothing at all on this album seems like an improvement over their debut.

And that may be the biggest problem here. The intensity is toned down, the riffs aren't as striking, and the songs themselves just aren't as memorable. Trouble just seem like they're going through the motions, none of the songs (excluding the title track) measure up to their previous counterparts. I give them credit for writing an epic, "The Wish," but it's still a rather tedious listen. Don't get me wrong, none of the songs on here are outright bad, they're just not as good, and in most cases, boring.

The one exception to everything mentioned above is the album closing title track. It starts out with acoustic guitars and creates an incredibly doomy atmosphere, even with the Christian lyrics. The song builds up until the inevitable, but still satisfying heavy crescendo at the end. Damn, that riff is good. And I don't care if you follow Satan, Buddha, or Asatru, you WILL be yelling "Christ have mercy!!" at the end.

So while this album is not a complete waste, it certainly is not worth the full price. This is not really anything different from anything that other bands were putting out at the same time, and they were doing it better. The title track should be required listening for all metalheads, but the rest of the album is far from essential.

Falling to some sophomore blues - 84%

Gutterscream, April 18th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1985, 12" vinyl, Metal Blade Records

“…close your eyes, look in to your mind, see yourself as you really are…”

Whenever a band releases a pivotal debut or any strong lp for that matter, I’m always leery of the next step in their evolution. We all know of bands that unload one killer album where just about every song has your head spinning, then for follow-ups the creative bank seems to run dry and meaningful songs flow like roofing tar = disappointment. Admittedly, these were feelings I had during the months between Trouble’s debut and the unveiling of The Skull.

While I feel The Skull isn’t at all the monument that the debut is, it’s not the band’s tombstone either. Unfortunately, some of their renown doom influence has subsided for more mid-paced or faster speeds, their overall power seems more reserved, and I'll tell you isn’t exactly what fans were expecting. What hasn’t changed over the year is the lineup, nor have their Christian ideals been abandoned and even includes a Bible passage on the back cover. This signifies that despite lyrics saying to “beware the son of Satan”, “share the love”, and other things traditional underground metal fans of ‘85 would consider cuddly and gay, those fans still take to their vibe like a bat to a flying beetle. With the debut, hardly anyone was rolling their eyes to the band’s ideals because they were busy being flattened in their sockets by their music. With their sophomore effort, whether it be Christian or the clashing messages on Hell Awaits, Infernal Overkill, Feel the Fire and other ’85 releases, the music still retains enough sledgehammer delivery to slake the one year thirst. Stryper were more image oriented and glammy, plus they weren’t helping themselves with the gaudy and inane yellow and black attack ticket.

The lp and “Pray for the Dead” rises quickly and dramatically from silence with the commanding riff that would later back the chorus and is a fine song to kick off the project. Anyone who complained the vocals were buried on the debut would be pleased to know they’ve been unearthed here. Leaving behind the doom influence for a bit is “Fear No Evil”, one of their adventurously fast tracks, but shortly afterward “The Wish” stirs with many soft-spoken acoustical interludes that accentuate the surplus of momentum and wailing solos roaming this 11+ minute epic.

Side two’s “Truth is – What Is” incorporates a pretty conventional riff, doom-tinged yet somewhat predictable before throwing the velocity into top gear. “Wickedness of Man” builds more epic proportions that fortified their debut, meanwhile mid-tempo quickness dominates “Gideon”. The title cut is more your customary epic, mingling many moods, and is something one would anticipate to finish off an lp: satiny acoustics supporting saddened vocals, heavy lethargic tragedy, anger, drama, and a forceful ending of two-toned guitar.

As a reader of this, you may be thinking that my description of these tracks is a bit lacking, perhaps even somewhat disinterested. Unfortunately, that's the way I feel about The Skull. Would I have heard this initially instead of the debut, perhaps the atmosphere of this review would've been more vibrant, but I can't help but listen to this and wonder if the band were attempting to discard some of the doom for more of the driven or spare themselves the Sabbath finger pointing and forge a sound more their own despite the success of the debut.

It would be two years before Run To The Light sees the horizon. Tune in next time.