Review Summary: Wild-eyed, anxious, nervous, embattled, frustrated. Trouble tries to set things right.
Things fall apart; and when they do, what can an honest man do but get pissed? It happens. But Manic Frustration is more about being a disappointed idealist than a cynic. Trouble responds to the crumminess of reality with the only thing they really know how to do: unleash a deluge of righteous, righteous riffs.
In a perfect world, Trouble wouldn't even need Rick Rubin to be blasting from every hard rock station ever. Although they'll never shake the "Born Too Late" tradition-worship of Saint Vitus and Pentagram, their songwriting leads doom into new realms. Tunes like "The Sleeper" and "Hello Strawberry Skies" smash the unholy Sabbath tritone with Zeppelin power chords. It makes sense together, but it also does not. If old school rock 'n' rollers wanted a new vision of their old gods, why would classic rock exist in the first place? But these fellas were old-fashioned people, honest people. They wanted to set things right, to adjoin the classical with the metal in a holy union. They believe such a thing is possible.
And that's where the "frustration" comes from. It both fuels the crunching doom of the divine twin-attack of Franklin and Wartell as well as the moments where Trouble really loses it. Like much of the album, the solos consist of furious performances. The Hendrixisms on "'Scuse Me" and "Memory's Garden" often blaze through emotional peaks with little to say and even less to feel. Although the drums are also unrelaxed and brittle, Ron Holzner's mythic bass lines transform the band into a juggernaut of doom. His low-end may bounce and groove, but it remains dignified and deliciously sludgy. Through speed riffs and some serious shredding, the three axes jackhammer themselves through the last three decades of rock on "Hello Strawberry Skies" and build a monument out of the rubble.
Bands as sinister as Batillus and as grandiose as Argus have taken from Trouble's unique brand of heaviness. Rock 'n' Roll in 2011 is dying and has chosen retro stoner metal as its crypt; Manic Frustration laid down the dark cobble-stone foundations of the edifice. Rubin and Def American definitely invested themselves in the band because they envisioned the group as hitmakers for both hard rock dads and 90's heavy music MTV-heads. Rubin's production and Weinberg's mastering build upon this base, keeping the sound clear but with an triumphal low-end. But even the Pink Floyd leanings of "Rain" and almost-Donovan cover in "Breathe..." do not forge lasting tunes. Desperation and a hunger to be the new knights of Classic Rock suffocate their performance. Eric Wagner's sloppy Robert Plant impersonation and awkward reiterations of love to an unknown chick don't help either. Several of the band members lived Christian lives; perhaps that's what led them to believe hard work and earnestness would get them what they deserved.