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The Distortion Field

FRW Music (2013)
Rating: 7/10

I’ve often asked myself the question, would Chicago’s Trouble have formed if there’d been no Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin? Yep, I know it’s a silly question such was the influence of those two legendary bands, but there’s always been something so natural about Trouble as if they would’ve existed anyway. But let’s just be thankful these mighty doom lords exist, because without them heavy metal would be a far… er, lighter place.

I was rather nervous before hearing the band’s eighth full-length studio album, as this is Trouble’s first since 2007’s Simple Mind Condition. Mind you, the gaps between albums have never been a problem for these guys, as it’s always been the norm to make us wait an eternity.

There have also been several problems with the line-up since vocalist Eric Wagner fled the nest back in 2008 (again though, nothing new). That shocking departure was followed by another surprise, with Warrior Soul frontman Kory Clarke being the first to replace the mercurial Wagner. Yet this didn’t work out either.

And so we come to 2013 and founding members Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell (both guitars), along with Mark Lira (drums), have enlisted the talents of Exhorder frontman Kyle Thomas. This, for me anyway, was another surprise, despite Thomas’ angst-ridden tones and muscular growls.

So, despite an unusual Unplugged opus in 2007 (featuring Wagner) we’ve been starved of Trouble for so long, and now they are back, but was it worth the wait? Mmm, well, I don’t want to get lynched, because one thing’s for sure, I’m a massive, and I mean massive, Trouble fan, but it’s only natural that it’s going to take me a while to get used to such stormy sounds without Wagner’s gravelled vocals.

Thankfully, the music is top-notch. The 12-track opus opens with the groove-based and accessible ‘Sink Or Swim’, featuring a typically killer riff and melodic chorus. Sadly though, after a few listens, it’s clear that Thomas just doesn’t have the range to take such a song to the lofty 60s-tinged heights that we’ve become accustomed, but it’s still a smokin’ track featuring a solid drum sound and a shuddering bass – just a shame that bassist Shane Pasqualla jumped ship too.

One thing I have noticed here is that the songs are relatively short. There’s nothing cumbersome about these monolithic doomscapes, and Kyle Thomas’ vocals are certainly best suited to the darker tracks, such as the chugging ‘Paranoid Conspiracy’ and the brooding ‘When The Sky Comes Down’. The latter is a grey, simmering ogre of a number that builds slowly with typically killer solos and lumbering riffs before picking up the pace; this is vintage Trouble, echoing the days of their 1990 self-titled opus that shook the foundations of my room.

Elsewhere, we’re treated to some delightfully subtle tracks, as per usual with Trouble who majestically stroll through poppy fields and summer skies on numerous albums over the last couple of decades. Again though, particularly on ‘Have I Told You’, the main ingredient missing is Eric Wagner’s hazy, rainy vocal which so effortlessly was able to shift between Ozzy Osbourne-styled mournful yawns and Robert Plant banshee wails, as Kyle Thomas turns the track into a mediocre grunge-styled cut rather than an epic doom ballad.

Thankfully, the band are back on track with the bone-shuddering ‘Hunters Of Doom’, which is as old school metal as Trouble are likely to get, punishing the ears with those raging grey guitars and Thomas’ muscular vocal sneers.

Lyrically, The Distortion Field is Trouble doing what they do best, particularly on the already mentioned ‘Paranoid Conspiracy’, the sombre strains of ‘Butterflies’ and album closer ‘The Broken Have Spoken’, but whether this will be enough to please those Wagner disciples, I don’t know? However, I doubt very much that the band care, as this is new Trouble; pristine and primed (thanks to the excellent production of veteran Bill Metoyer, who worked on 1985’s The Skull and 1990’s Trouble) for resurrection.

The Distortion Field boasts 12 solid, meaty doom-laced brain shakers, of that I’ve no doubt, but in comparison to every other Trouble album that has come and gone, this one just doesn’t have the impact I had hoped and prayed for. Kyle Thoms is very much of that Pantera-style of bruising metal vocalist, and it’s going to take a long, long time for him to even lace Eric Wagner’s boots, let alone fill them.

Neil Arnold

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