Review Summary: Trouble's most polished album to date, but not quite their heaviest.
MANIC FRUSTRATION was a brave step forward for Trouble and easily their most accomplished album before or since its release. It is a very well crafted and polished album that could easily be considered their most commercially palatable effort. Producer Rick Rubin was still on board for this album, so it's likely that he a hand in their decision to go in this slightly more accessible direction.
This strategy only had limited success in giving them some airplay and notice back in 1992. Trouble's sound was more polished here, but they still very much a heavy metal band in a time when Grunge dominated the music scene. It was really a case of bad timing for them and so many other bands who tried to carry the flag for traditional metal in the early 90s. Sadly, this would turn out to be their last album for the next four years.
The songwriting is a clearly more refined here, this also still quite edgy and aggressively played. One key change is that their sound seems much more dynamic and not as informed and influenced by Black Sabbath as so much of their earlier work was. The bands performances are committed and passionate, but some tracks do feel a little forced, even if they do still manage to succeed on some level.
Standouts include "Come Touch The Sky", "Scuse Me", "Memory's Garden" (which always reminded me of Santana's "Open Invitation") and the very heavy "Hello Strawberry Skies", which definitely possesses some of that old Trouble doom magic.
The inclusion of such ballads as "Rain" and "Breathe" prove they could serve up a ballad with confidence and none of the teetering instability that some metal bands show when they attempt to go beyond their comfort zone.
Notably, the lyrics are much more secular here and don't possess the fervent Christian themes of their earlier albums. This isn't the "Heavy Jesus Metal" that gave their first four albums some added novelty value. Without that overbearing influence upon their lyrical direction, the band seem liberated to discuss other topics. This change in tone was welcomed by many, but also probably disappointed some older fans.
Their agenda from this point onward seemed directed more towards the Stoner Metal crowd. There's a good bit more psychedelia here in their lyrics and music. As a whole, the album doesn't quite connect with me as deeply as their previous record TROUBLE (which was also produced by Rick Rubin), but it does exemplify their maturity and growth. My own personal reservations aside, it's definitely an excellent record and a also a good starting point for the uninitiated.