Review Summary: Trouble’s new album has a lot of potential but unfortunately it is betrayed by the unfitting vocals and by some minor inconsistencies in the songwriting.
It’s been over 5 years since the old school doomsters from Chicago released an album. Simple Mind Condition
was an important album, not because it was a quality release, but because it was the last album recorded from the original line up of the band. In May 2008, vocalist Eric Wagner stepped down, citing reasons of fatigue from the constant touring. His willingful departure was followed by the immediate appointment of Warrior Soul’s Kory Clarke. Two months later, another long-standing member left Trouble. Percussionist Jeff Olson resigned from his duties in order to dedicate completely to his own band Retro Grave, leaving Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell as the only original members of the group. His replacement was a guy named Mark Lira.
Clarke’s appointment was proved as a hasty and misguided decision. His presence could do nothing but hurt Trouble’s chances for a successful continuation in the after-Wagner era. I witnessed at first hand how harmful his presence could be. It was almost two years ago, on the October of 2011, when I had the honor of seeing these guys live and take a taste of their power for the first time in my life. Their performance was really great, and things could have been better if there was another singer instead of Clarke. Why ? because the looks and his on-stage attitude had nothing to do with the persona of an archetypal Doom Metal vocalist. His appereance however was the least of my concerns. The real problem lied in his singing style. Clarke is not a bad singer, but his voice is suitable for Hard Rock-Glam Metal bands exclusively. His style can be described as a cross between Axl Rose’s high screams and Sebastian Bach’s regular singing. Now, can you imagine having Axl Rose handling the vocal duties for bands like Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus ? sounds like a bad joke right ? It really doesn’t come as a surprise that Warrior Soul, the band Clarke was previously involved with, is classified as Hard Rock.
It took 4 years for Trouble to realize their mistake. On September 2010, the band announced that a new album was in the works and they were ready to enter the studio. Of course, no album was ever released and it's not difficult to see why. In February of 2012, the former frontman of Exhorder, Kyle Thomas, who had a previous three-year spell with Trouble (1997-2000), replaced Clarke. 17 months later, the new album was released and, according to Wartell, it is a return to the band’s roots with some reflections of their long history. Personally, I wouldn’t describe it as such.
First and foremost, I have to declare that the field of distortion is a territory Trouble knows all too well. Thanks to guitarists Franklin and Wartell, Trouble has been renowned for creating a distinct style, familiar to that of Black Sabbath, but at the same time being original in its own way. From the very first album, the guitarist duo invented an irresistible guitar tone which they employed throughout their career. At times it feels pretty weird because that guitar tone resembles to the likes of an 80’s underground Thrash Metal guitar. Of course, when it comes to the actual music, Trouble is the exact opposite of what Thrash Metal represents. That being said, it’s very interesting to see the fusion of a Thrashy guitar tone with the slow forms of Doom Metal.
Trouble’s first three records were straight Doom Metal. Then, when Rick Rubin arrived to produce their forth self titled album, the band shifted from their roots and incorporated elements of Psychedelic Rock, while the compositions became a little bit faster. That transition was applied on a larger scale on Manic Frustration
. From that album and to this day, Trouble continues on the same path and with The Distortion Field
, they carry on the tradition of their eclectic Stoner/Doom hybrid. As a whole, this album can be described more accurately as Stoner Metal with some touches of traditional Doom Metal. The good news is that the guitar work is once again top notch. Let me elaborate on that. Wartell and Franklin have a well deserved reputation of having a knack at writing and wielding riffs of pure ownage. This album makes me believe that as long as these two remain the main pillars of this band, we will always get what we want from their albums: huge, pleasurable riffs full of groove and doom. Yes, the chiseled riffs on The Distortion Field
are plentiful. When you are looking at tracks such as: Paranoid Conspiracy
, Glass Of Lies
and Your Reflections
, you know you are in for a treat. But it’s not just that. From an overall perspective view, the guitar work that has been put through is once again cohesive and very organized. Whether you are looking at the rhythmic and acoustic parts, or the leads, each song features at least one highlight of the skills of Wartell and Franklin. So, this sector is secured, shall we move on ?
The bad news is, that The Distortion Field
has mainly two issues. The first issue is big and really hard to swallow and the second issue is smaller and probably passable. The big problem is Kyle Thomas’s vocals. For the second consecutive time, Trouble have failed to find a vocalist that will fill the (undoubtedly huge) shoes of Eric Wagner. For those who are not familiar with Kyle Thomas, let me say that his voice is similar to Phil Anselmo’s. However, don’t expect to hear the great results of Down’s debut album. Thomas’s grunts sound completely jarring with the music of Trouble. The reason for this is that Trouble’s music might be quite heavy but is also pretty melodic. When a track becomes really aggressive, Hunters Of Doom
is a good example, Thomas does a good job with his singing. But when a song demands a more passionate and melodic approach, things become really laughable. Of course, Thomas doesn’t ruin the whole album completely and by choosing him over Clarke, Trouble made a step forward towards the right direction. But Thomas’s singing style is not what Trouble are really looking for and here in most of the cases he will make you yearn for Eric Wagner. Another smaller problem is that some songs progress in an awkward way. Franklin and Wartell are masters of their craft, but with some numbers they seem not to know how to conduct their ideas carefully. And that’s a real shame because a number of great riffs is totally wasted. When their songwriting is solid the results are glorious. For example, tracks such as: Paranoid Conspiracy
, Sink Or Swim
, One Life
, Glass Of Lies
and the brilliant closer Your Reflection
, have the potential of becoming Metal anthems. Have I told You
is an unnecessary, acoustic, Grungy ballad and it might just be a short break from the heavy riffing but it will also alienate the fans of the genre.
It goes without a question, that life without Wagner will be tough. Trouble must find a way and resolve this issue, if they still regard it as such. Calling back Wagner is not a solution, regardless of the fact that it seems impossible, since he was the one who quitted. Right now, Trouble must face the consequences of their actions. Since they brought back Kyle, they must continue with him. But the thing about The Distortion Field
, is that Thomas’s vocals are going to make or break it for you. If you can tolerate the vocals or find a way to listen with an open heart, then you will enjoy this album. Otherwise, this endeavor might cause you some unexpected pain.
Sink Or Swim
Glass Of Lies