As someone who grew up a huge fan of the classic doom bands like Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Saint Vitus, I gravitated strongly to the heavy doom of Chicago’s classic doom act Trouble. Their Psalm 9 album remains one of my all time favorite albums and IMHO, one of the best doom records ever pressed. Later albums like The Skull and Run to the Light became soundtracks to my youth and albums like Trouble, Manic frustration and Plastic Green Head were great as well, bringing in a funky, psychedelic hard rock sound. The band fell on hard times after that and endured breakups, line-up shake ups and were only able to release one album from 1995 until 2007 (Simple Mind Condition) and that album sucked bigtime. After six plus years, the band finally comes back to life with The Distortion Field with only guitarists Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin remaining from the seminal line up. With Kyle Thomas (Exhorder, Floodgate, Alabama Thunderpussy) stepping in to replace original singer and doom institution Eric Wagner, fans clearly knew this would sound different. Well, it sure as hell does and rather than the doomy psychedelic metal we’ve come to expect from Trouble, this sounds more like NOLA stoner rock such as Down, Floodgate and Crowbar. I suppose how you take this news depends on your love for NOLA stoner rock, and while I have no problem with that sound, it’s certainly not one I hoped Trouble would emulate. The Trouble sound appears here and there, but for the most part, their trademark style is all but gone. Needless to say, I am disappoint (and pissed).
Things start off deceptively well with the Trouble sound mostly intact on “When the Sky Comes Down”and those vintage guitar riffs and harmonies are welcome and oh so comfortably familiar. When Kyle’s vocals come in, it’s rather jarring in how different they are from the Wagner era and he gamely tries to fit in by elevating his range above the more gruff style he’s traditionally used. Sadly, he doesn’t truly fit in and while I hate to be a close-minded Wagner fanboy, the man is not easily replaced due to his distinctive voice and how integral he was to the Trouble sound.
Things go downhill from there and tunes like “Paranoia Conspiracy”, “The Broken Have Spoken” and “One Life” offer up lots of groove-based, stoner rock that sounds way closer to Down or Floodgate than anything Trouble ever did. “Have I Told You” is a full on ballad where Kyle delivers some emotional and convincing vocals, but instead of something like the immortal “Memory’s Garden”, it sounds like Temple of the Dog or some other grunge act from 1993. Elsewhere, “Glass of Lies” sounds like third-rate Soundgarden mixed with second-rate Down (which equals fifth-rate Trouble, if you do the math).
Of the bunch, only the opener and “Hunters of Doom” come anywhere near approaching the beloved Trouble sound. I freely concede songs like “One Life”, “Sink or Swim” and “Sucker” have some strong points and decent choruses, but I’m just having a lot of trouble reconciling this…as Trouble. If anything, The Distortion Field sounds more like the long-awaited second Floodgate album.
I’m unhappy with everyone involved in this release and while it’s easiest to pin it on Kyle since he’s taking the place of an essentially irreplaceable front-man, I actually think the fault lies on the shoulders of Wartell and Franklin. As original members of the band, they’re the ones responsible for guiding the ship. They seem to spend most of the album avoiding the kind of riffing and playing that made them doom legends and when they do throw fans a bone and allow some vintage sound in, it feels like an afterthought. There are only a handful of memorable riffs scattered around and the writing often seems sloppy and/or lazy. While Kyle doesn’t fit at all, it’s their fault for bringing him onboard and allowing things to drift into the swampy waters of their new Down-esque sound.
In fairness to Kyle, he’s a decent singer and I’ve always enjoyed him in his other projects. It seems as if he’s trying too hard and singing out of his natural range in a misguided effort to fit in. I loved his raspy, moonshine-thick delivery on the Floodgate album and that’s clearly where his strength lies. I suppose there was no winning for him though, since that style wouldn’t fit in with the Trouble sound any better. I guess this whole scenario is akin to Ozzy singing on Operation Mindcrime. You can love both him and Queensryche, but hate the ill-conceived combination. Well, at least he’s got the right tattoo for the gig.
With the latest Saint Vitus being entirely lackluster, this is yet another blow to the ranks of the once great doomsters of my youth. While Trouble haven’t had a proper release since 95s Plastic Green Head, I certainly expected more from them because they’re motherfucking Trouble!! Oh well, at least Black Sabbath managed to escape the Doom Tomb, even if it was for the last time. Let’s hear it for Pentagram!
Rating: 2.0/5.0 — Very troubled
By: Fisting Andrew Golota
Since their inception in the late ’70s, Chicago’s Trouble has had a career of missed opportunities, half-hearted revivals, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They never had the underground cred of less-talented bands like St. Vitus; on the other hand, they were always too heavy for mainstream success. They’ve had numerous breakups and lineup changes, particularly since their re-activation in the early ’00s. Most recently, founding vocalist Eric Wagner left the band (again), leaving guitarists Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin as the sole original members. With new singer Kyle Thomas (Exhorder, Floodgate) and new album The Distortion Field, the band tries to get back on the horse once more, but Trouble without Wagner is a risky proposition at best.
Opening track “When the Sky Comes Down” is Trouble-by-numbers, recycled from the framework of older cuts like “R.I.P.” and especially “The Tempter.” This song was obviously meant to represent some kind of comeback, but it’s just mediocre. There’s a few good ideas here and there, like parts of “One Life” and “Sucker,” that stand out from the generic riffs and songwriting. “Your Reflection” finds the band exploring some super-low tunings, but there’s no extra heaviness to be found here, just more pedestrian riffing. Most tracks here are even less noteworthy than that, with only occasional flashes of the band’s past brilliance. This stuff could’ve been written by anyone. Trouble has been guilty of some lazy songwriting before (that’s what sank their last album Simple Mind Condition), but the new stuff just feels like they’re on autopilot.
Production-wise, I have not heard a record that sounds this fake and weird since COC‘s America’s Volume Dealer. The drums sound especially shitty and plastic, although new drummer Mark Lira might be accountable for that as well. As guitar-centric as Trouble is, their best work was always anchored by an agile, hard-hitting drummer (usually Jeff Olson, who followed Wagner out the door), and Lira’s predictable beats don’t cut it. It’s also worth mentioning that Trouble doesn’t even have a fucking bass player at the moment. I’m assuming Franklin and/or Wartell handled the job on the record, but compared to Ron Holzner’s fantastic bass work during their glory days, this is just pathetic.
Even the addition of Thomas, which seemed like a cool idea on paper, seems horribly misguided now. Granted, he’s an improvement over Wagner’s first replacement Kory Clarke (Warrior Soul), who couldn’t sing for shit and was a complete poser. I could mention how Thomas’ lyrics are cliché, or how his higher range is obnoxious in a Danzig-ish kind of way. But it goes beyond that. Eric Wagner’s voice — a drugged-out, paranoid blend of Ozzy and John Lennon — was just as important to the band’s identity as the guitars, and helped them stand out in a sea of metal bands fronted by alpha-male meatheads. Kyle Thomas happens to sound a lot like those meatheads.
Trouble is a band I’ve stood behind for many years, but everything about this record feels incredibly half-assed to me. These guys went and made their comeback record with a subpar drummer, no bass player, and a shitty mix — and putting Thomas at the mic suggests that they gave no thought to their own legacy. Worse yet, the songs themselves are nothing to write home about no matter who is singing them. This simply isn’t the same band anymore, musically, lineup-wise or quality-wise. The Distortion Field should have been released under another name, like the Supershine record that Franklin did with Doug Pinnick (King’s X) a decade ago. It honestly depresses me to see this band shoot themselves in the foot like this, while so many of their peers are making solid comebacks and enjoying some overdue success.