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Smiling skull with tree toupee - 98%

Acrobat, November 2nd, 2013

Trouble’s early work and, in particular, this album represent everything that doom metal should be (but so often isn’t). Think about it, here’s a band who are really rather diverse – with regard to tempo, arrangements and mood – and are not afraid to break the mould of what’s typically expected of a doom band. For 1984, too, this is an incredibly contemporary record; it’s doom to the bone, but also thrashy and featuring some, for the time, modern heavy metal touches. After all, some of the ‘The Assassin’s riffs wouldn’t sound out-of-place on, say, Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith, although its mid-section is basically a doomified version of Alice Cooper’s ‘Unfinished Sweet’. At its heart there’s nothing regressive or throw-backy about this record (alright, so, the band cover Cream and wear big flares but their music is really cutting edge for its time). Honestly, it makes me laugh when stuff like this is called ‘traditional doom metal’; what the fuck is traditional about it? Bands like Trouble and Candlemass weren’t operating in an established tradition they were forging their own sound.

Too often I hear doom bands who really take the metal out of doom. There’s psychedelic rock bands masquerading as metal simply because they sing about witches and satan, there’s probably a whole spat of Rise Above bands who think Iron Maiden is “too cheesy” and don’t even know who Running Wild are and that’s not even to mention how many funeral or death-doom bands records have more in common with, say, ambient or goth rock than their supposed parent genre (not that that's a particular problem as Skepticism rule). Keith Richards once said that a big problem with rock music is that people forgot the “roll” part and when he listens to rock he needs that roll, too! Well, when I listen to doom, I need that metal part! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a doom release and thought to myself “Yeah, it’s okay, but they could have really used a solo here or a tempo change here”. Doom nowadays often seems to have been a byword for “play slow, minimise your metallic leanings”. I’m not saying that there aren’t bands who are delivering what I want but it’s a sad state of affairs to listen to an otherwise ‘traditional’ doom metal album and hear nothing resembling a lead guitar part or an up-tempo break. Of course, Psalm 9 is the answer to my prayers as it has lead guitar and fast parts in abundance. Contrast is key to its success and every stomping, down-trodden riff is offset by a fast break. Trouble love playing slow, but damn, they’ll rip your fucking face off, too!

I’m kind of baffled that not many doom bands seem to have followed in Trouble’s footsteps. Sure, early Cathedral had their Trouble-aping moments on, say, ‘Soul Sacrifice’ and indeed on Forest of Equilibrium there are moments wherein they utilise the patented Trouble guitar harmony or even copy a solo note for note. But outside of that I’m really struggling to think of much doom that reminds me of Trouble’s compositional approach (although you can certainly find some other, cool “fast doom” like the first half of Saint Vitus’s debut and most of the Hallow's Victim album and bands like Solstice or Procession definitely aren’t adverse to writing up-tempo doom). In fact, the closest I’ve ever come to getting that early Trouble vibe outside of the band’s first three records is Tyrant’s Too Late to Pray. Tellingly, Tyrant are a heavy metal band with Christian lyrics who aren’t afraid of the odd Sabbath-y riff, whereas Trouble are a doom metal band who aren’t afraid of heavy metal riffs (again, both were Metal Blade bands with the should-be-legendary Bill Metoyer on production/engineering duties). I guess the doom scene thought it would be better off if it became static and plodding instead of using Trouble’s model of hyper-kinetic doom metal, huh?

That’s really what’s so great about Trouble; they’re never content to stand still, the music is constantly going somewhere. They’re throwing out riffs left, right and centre and still writing cohesive, memorable songs. I can’t tell you how many of my favourite riffs/solos/fills are on this album, too. Every song just has several “Fucking hell, this is amazing!” moments. Every time I hear the title-track I’m just reduced to a quivering mass of gooseflesh. Eric Wagner’s ‘king of the harpies’ vocals, the Priest-gone-doom guitar delivery and that staggering rhythm section. You can tell that this is a band who have just been locked-up in a rehearsal room for years, playing to the walls, with minimal contact with the outside world. How else could have Trouble perfected a sound that’s so unique, so tight and so fucking monstrously heavy? It’s ominous like a stormy sky and really it just does feel like a force of nature.

I often think that doom metal is both one of my favourite and least favourite sub-genres of metal. It’s become predictable, worn and cliché ridden (as any twat can “tune low and play slow” and put me to sleep in the process) but when it’s on, it’s probably the heaviest, most powerful music imaginable. Still, to this day, I’ve not heard many records that are as blisteringly heavy as this; like a ghost-train hammering down on its way to Hell, Trouble are just an unstoppable force on this record. That guitar sound, those thunderous drums, some of the best tracks in all of metal and Eric Wagner giving what is certainly one of the most commanding vocal performances I’ve ever heard (apparently, this album contains lyrics from an ancient Israeli king, who I don’t think was a Trouble fan – but I’m sure he would have approved of Eric’s delivery). For 1984 this is only second to Don’t Break the Oath, which is probably the greatest album of all time, and, tellingly, I think a band like Trouble have more in common musically with Mercyful Fate than they do with, say, Reverend Bizarre. Boring modern doom with its slower-than-thou ambitions can fuck off… Hail Trouble!