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Friday, February 18, 2011

Flashback Friday - Trouble

Well go on…pat yourself on the back, you survived another week and made it to Friday. And you know what that means here at Heavy Planet…that’s right kids, its Flashback Friday! This week I want to focus on a band that sort of bridged the gap between the time of the original purveyors of doom (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc.) and the scene that was established in the 90’s and continues to this day with bands like Crowbar, Electric Wizard and so on.

Coming out of Chicago, Illinois in the late 70’s/early 80’s, Trouble quickly separated themselves from the heavy metal pack with their combination of psychedelic doom and (gasp) upbeat, spiritual message. In fact, after the release of their classic self-titled debut album (which would eventually become better known as Psalm 9), the band’s label (Metal Blade) would dub them “white metal”, a joking contrast between the band’s general positivity compared to the more sinister themes of the “black metal” bands that were beginning to sprout up around that same time. And while that tag was never really embraced by the band, the fact is that vocalist Eric Wagner, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, bassist Sean McAllister (who replaced original bassist Ian Brown) and drummer Jeff Olson had created a doom metal classic with songs like “The Tempter”, “Bastards Will Pay”, “The Fall of Lucifer” and “Psalm 9” having an obvious biblical theme running through them.

Trouble would record two more albums for Metal Blade, 1985’s The Skull, which featured classics like “Pray for the Dead” and “Fear No Evil” and 1987’s Run to the Light, which was less well received than it’s predecessors by both fans and critics alike. This drop in consistency was due in no small part to the fact that the band’s core lineup had experienced a significant shakeup, having replaced the rhythm section from their first two records with newcomers Ron Holzner and Dennis Lesh on bass and drums respectively.

Good things were on the horizon for Trouble however as legendary producer Rick Rubin (Slayer, Danzig, The Cult, you name it…he’s produced it) entered the fray and resurrected the band from a three year hiatus. The resulting self-titled album was both a return to form as well as a glimpse of things to come…it was also the first to feature new drummer Barry Stern. The album brought back the ultra-doom of the band’s first two records with tracks like “At the End of My Daze” while also introducing listeners to much more psychedelic fare like “Psychotic Reaction”, all the while keeping their positive spin intact (see “Heaven on My Mind” and “All is Forgiven”). The album brought Trouble screaming into the 90’s, a decade that would see them release two more tragically underappreciated doom rock staples before dropping out of sight.

Rubin was again onboard (as well as a young Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Mastodon…)) for the 1992 album Manic Frustration (one of my personal favorites), which would be Trouble’s last for his Def American label. The album was an absolute psychedelic, doom rock masterpiece with songs like “Come Touch the Sky” and “Hello Strawberry Skies” and the beautiful coda “Breathe…”. It was as if the Fab Four had magically reunited and decided to record a doom album…pure sonic bliss! 1995’s Plastic Green Head saw the return of original drummer Jeff Olson and in it, you can hear the band continue to push the psychedelic envelope (“Opium-Eater” anyone?). The album was yet another solid release for Trouble, despite its lack of sales due to the overall ignorance and apathy of the music buying public.

Trouble wouldn’t release another album until 2007’s Simple Mind Condition, which unfortunately didn’t see the light of day in the U.S. until 2009. By that time, vocalist Eric Wagner and drummer Jeff Olson had both decided to call it quits. In the interim, the band announced that former Warrior Soul (an amazing band that probably deserves their own Flashback Friday) vocalist Kory Clarke has stepped in to take Wagner’s place. According to a January press release (Blabbermouth), the band has recently entered the studio to record their as yet untitled follow-up to Simple Mind Condition.

Trouble is a band that continued to put out classic psychedelic doom albums throughout their over 20 year career, despite never receiving the recognition they deserved. If you aren’t familiar with them, or maybe you just never really gave them a chance, take some time and dig through their back catalogue, as it is well worth checking out. Hell don’t take my word for it, even Dave Grohl (Them Crooked Vultures, Foo Fighters, Nirvana), perhaps one of the most famous closet metalheads around, chose Eric Wagner as one of the vocalists for his Probot project (which included a laundry list of classic metal vocalists) and praised the band profusely in the album’s liner notes. And keep your fingers crossed that we finally get a new record from the re-tooled, Kory Clarke led version of Trouble in the very near future. With that kind of firepower, I can only imagine we’ll be looking at yet another in a long line of doom rock classics.

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