Eric Wagner – In the Lonely Light of Mourning Review

I truly hate posthumously released albums. Whether they ultimately end up good or depressingly bad, there’s always so much inherent sadness hanging over the final product making it impossible to avoid the whole “music from the grave” effect. When the deceased in question is Eric Wagner, long-time vocalist of legendary doom act Trouble, it cuts extra deep. Still, it’s hard to deny that the grim context only enhances the kind of downtrodden music the man is famous for. In the Lonely Light of Mourning, Mr. Wagner’s second solo outing, plays almost like a goodbye to fans of the man’s 40-plus years in the metalverse. Recorded over four years, Eric worked with a collection of former Trouble members as well as associates from his later acts Blackfinger and The Skull. There are plenty of direct and indirect references to Trouble in the music, as well as to the works of other significant doom troupes of the past half-century. Most importantly, the album feels like a finished work and not something cobbled together from outtakes and demos. Apparently, Eric put the finishing touches on the material mere weeks before his untimely passing, and for that at least, we can be grateful. Things are depressing enough without this feeling like an effort to cash in on the man’s incomplete work.

Things open strong with the Trouble-esque “Rest in Peace,” and though the title sends a shiver down the spine under the circumstances, the music is what I’ve come to expect from Mr. Wagner. Lethargic, weighty doom riffs crunch as his soothing croon rides in their wake, lending feeling and emotion to the moment as only he could. It’s a song that would fit on any latter-era Trouble platter and it’s a winner. Better still is the more urgent, up-tempo “Maybe Tomorrow” which features some extra depressing lyrics but rocks hard and rides free with Wagner’s voice sounding tip-top. “Isolation” is especially interesting as the guitars adopt a Down-esque crunch and groove, while the lyrics include refrains from Trouble classic “Victim of the Insane” off the band’s 1984 debut.

Another highlight is the exquisitely depressive “If You Lost It All” where Eric is paired with mournful cello-work by Brian Gaona. It’s a simple, stripped-down song, but that minimalism allows the vocals and downbeat lyrics to really take hold, filling you with despair. It actually reminds me of the most unhappy moments of Woods of Ypres. The title track borrows from the bleakest of Type O Negative‘s work, and another big moment comes with “Walk With Me to the Sun,” which sounds like an old The Obsessed song. It’s riffy and powerful and Wagner’s vocals cast just the right spell on the mood, making it feel gritty yet epic. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music featuring Wagner and I can’t get enough of it. While no song feels like an afterthought, closer “Wish You Well” is my least favorite. I still enjoy its upbeat, rocking energy though, which feels welcome after the depressively introspective fare proceeding it. All things taken together, you could have told me this was an unreleased Trouble album circa 1996-1999 and I would have believed it. And since there will never be another true Trouble album, I’m thankful to have gotten this. At a taut 36-plus minutes, it goes down easy and no song feels overlong or tedious.

What makes this so worthwhile apart from the solid compositions is how good Eric sounds here. His vocals belie his declining health and at no point does he sound weak or washed out. His soulful voice has aged well, as his recent albums with The Skull have evidenced, and he imparts real emotion on cuts like “If You Lost It All” and the title track. He’s always had a unique, instantly recognizable delivery and it’s a comfort to hear him sounding so strong on this, his last recorded output. The musicians surrounding him do a fine job too. Trouble / Blackfinger drummer Dave Synder helped Eric write the material and he handles guitars along with Trouble‘s Chuck Robinson, laying down big, grooving doom riffs to power the material. Fellow Trouble alum Ron Holzner handles bass on several tracks, and Victor Griffin of Pentagram and Place of Skulls provides a guitar solo on the title track, offering a goodbye of sorts from a fellow doom legend.

I call these kinds of releases “ghost albums” because you feel like the deceased is speaking to you from beyond through their final pieces of music. I didn’t ever want to hear one from Eric Wagner, but at least it’s well-done and pays respect to his entire career while doing no harm to his legacy. Call it a final salute to fans or his reflections on his life as time ran short. Either way, it’s bittersweet but very worthwhile. Travel on, Eric.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Cruz Del Sur
Releases Worldwide: March 18th, 2022

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