If the prospect of Trouble without longtime vocalist Eric Wagner seems like a bad idea, the thought of Wagner without Trouble is simply a question mark. Other than his Lid project back in the ’90s, the man hasn’t done much outside of his main band, leaving us to wonder what Eric Wagner might sound like if left to his own devices. And it seemed like we’d never find out, given his lack of output since leaving Trouble back in 2007. Finally, after a six-year absence (and his former band having a rough time replacing him), Wagner re-enters the music world with his new band, dubbed Blackfinger.
The sound of this new band is intriguing. It bears only a fleeting resemblance to Trouble (Wagner’s “cover band” The Skull has that market cornered), but it also avoids the Beatle-esque psychedelia that I was expecting to hear. The mellower songs are still extremely dark, and the heavy tracks manage to avoid heavy metal orthodoxy somewhat. Wagner sounds just as worn down as he did on the last couple Trouble records, but in the context of Blackfinger, he actually makes it work. This is a morose, melancholy record, and Wagner’s current style is well suited to it.
Which is not to imply that Blackfinger can’t bring the heavy. The doomy, multi-sectioned “Yellowood” proves otherwise, as does the equally negative “Why God.” The groove riff (with cowbell!) on “Here Comes The Rain” would fit right in on Plastic Green Head, while closer “Till Death Do us Part” has a vague Run To The Light-era vibe. But the real standout is “All The Leaves Are Brown,” an up-tempo rocker that puts Wagner’s former band to shame, while simultaneously being its own thing. Guitarists Rico Bianchi and Doug Hakes do a fantastic job throughout, providing some bluesy solos and memorable riffs.
The slow jams are still Wagner’s bread and butter though, and Blackfinger contains some great ones. “For One More Day” might cut it a little close to Trouble‘s classic “The Misery Shows,” but acquits itself with classy, subtle guitar work that Trouble never quite had the versatility to pull off. “On Tuesday Morning” is mellow and surprisingly upbeat, with the heavier choruses providing the necessary dynamics. On “As Long As I’m With You,” Wagner delivers some of the most intimate vocal work of his career, his trademark baritone backed by delicate piano and cello, and the results are positively haunting. Ben Smith’s upright bass playing also adds some depth to the acoustic tracks.
Even though I’ve been listening to Eric Wagner’s music for two decades, I feel like we barely knew the guy until now. It’s almost as if he was playing a role in his old band, being something he wasn’t, and Blackfinger is the first time he’s let his guard down (well, besides the Lid record). The other members of Blackfinger are capable of exploring these new avenues with Wagner, while doing justice to his Troubled past as well.
It’s hard to say what Wagner’s intentions with the music industry are — Blackfinger is currently signed to a reeeeeeally tiny indie label, and attempts to promote this record are weak at best. But I am pleasantly surprised by this album, and I hope he takes this project further. [I heartily second that sentiment. – Steel Druhm].