In the history of doom metal there are several names that stand out as the greatest apostles of the word of Sabbath. These bands were the keepers of the flame, the ones who joyed in the slow lysergic grooves and monolithic riffs of Tony Iommi at a time when they were so out of fashion they were practically fossilised. One name stands alongside the likes of Pentagram, Wino, Witchfinder General and Candlemass as one of the all-time greats. I’m talking, of course, about Trouble.
Formed in 1979 in Aurora, Illinois Trouble could not have been more out of step with the times. In an era when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was king, and the hyper-speed riffs of thrash were just emerging, a band of The Beatles and Sabbath obsessed hippies did not seem destined to set the world alight. The fact that singer Eric Wagner drew most of his lyrical inspiration from his Catholic upbringing, leading to the band being referred to as “white metal” by their label, was something else that put them at odds with the likes of Slayer and Venom whose popularity was only growing.
Despite all this, Trouble persevered and became one of the leading names in the ‘80s and early ‘90s doom scene, even achieving a modicum of success when Rick Rubin signed them to his Def America label (more on that later). Cited as an influence by everyone from Pantera to Anathema, the band’s legacy is undeniable and in honour of that I’m giving you my personal rundown of their albums.
8. The Distortion Field (2013)
This one was always going to come in last, not necessarily because it’s that bad an album, but because it’s the only Trouble album to not feature iconic frontman Eric Wagner. Erstwhile Exhorder/Alabama Thunderpussy vocalist Kyle Thomas does a decent job, and guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell come through with some sturdy, groove metal orientated riffs, but this isn’t the Trouble people know and love.
7. Run To The Light (1987)
The ‘80s synth-drenched intro to ‘The Misery Shows’ will have caused a few raised eyebrows when the band’s third album dropped in 1987. The band’s fans needn’t have worried, though, as the band quickly drop back into the chugging ‘70s guitar they were becoming known for. Run To The Light occupies an unfortunate spot in the band’s catalogue, coming as it does between the gnarly combo of the band’s first two albums and the more progressive strains of what comes after. There’s a couple of good songs here (notably the tuneful biker metal of ‘Born In A Prison’), but the album simply doesn’t have the impact as the rest of their catalogue.
6. Plastic Green Head (1995)
Terrible album artwork aside, the band’s 1995 album is in some ways one of their most enjoyable, albeit one that also seemed to precipitate the departure of Eric Wagner for nearly a decade. Following on from the experimentations of the band’s Def America releases, Plastic Green Head sees them diving headlong into psychedelia, toning down the heaviness of the riffs and bringing in more of their The Beatles and Pink Floyd influences. ‘Flowers’, ‘Requiem’ and ‘Till The End Of Time’ are some of the most intricate and melodic tracks in the band’s catalogue, while the group showed they could still bring in the metal muscle on ‘Opium Eater’ and ‘Long Shadow Fall’.
5. Simple Mind Condition (2007)
The anticipation for the reformed Trouble’s first album in twelve years undoubtedly enhanced the reception of 2007’s Simple Mind Condition upon initial release, but that’s not to say it hasn’t stood the test of time. Coming at a point when the band’s legend had grown significantly, the album seems to be trying to mix the psychedelia of late-period Trouble with the out-and-out doom of their first records to keep everyone happy, and for the most part it works. Tracks like ‘Seven’, ‘If I Only Had A Reason’ and the title-track are all pleasingly heavy rockers with nods to the contemporary doom scene, while ‘After The Rain’ and ‘The Beginning Of Sorrows’ bring in The Beatles influence yet again to stunning results. It’s not all killer, the Lucifer’s Friend cover ‘Ride The Sky’ feels a bit superfluous and ‘Arthur Brown’s Whiskey Bar’ is never as interesting as its title suggests, but all in all this was a worthy comeback.
4. The Skull (1985)
More than any other album in their catalogue, The Skull is the one that cemented their reputation among hardcore doom fans, as well as inspiring the death-doom sub-genre that was to follow. Heavy in both sound and subject matter, this album takes the monolithic riffs and dark, biblical subject matter of the band’s debut and cranks it up to eleven. ‘Pray For The Dead’, ‘The Wish’ and ‘Wickedness Of Man’ are all towering slabs of noise and rank as some of the most depressive music in their catalogue. Alongside the epic doom of Candlemass and the early crossover of Dream Death and Autopsy, it was The Skull that helped pave the way for the likes of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride nearly a decade later.
3. Manic Frustration (1992)
Alongside their self-titled album, Manic Frustration is the band at their creative pinnacle. Teaming up with Rick Rubin for a second time, the band take the subtle sonic experiments of its predecessor and run with them. From the groove-laced opener ‘Come Touch The Sky’, the psychedelic ballad of ‘Memories Garden’ and the poppy stoner rock of ‘Tragedy Man’ this is a band shaking off the expectations surrounding them and doing exactly what they want. At this moment in the ‘90s, when the nascent stoner scene was sprouting up around them, Trouble once again released an album that would prove influential for years to come.
2. Psalm 9 (1984)
This is where it all began. Like the seventh trumpet ushering in Armageddon, Psalm 9 brought Trouble forth into the world to bring Oa new breed of doom to the masses. The album is a dynamic portrait of a young band whose dedication to their music outweighs any consideration of fashion or trend. The energy on tracks like the ‘The Tempter’ and ‘The Fall Of Lucifer’ still feels as spikey and vital as when they were first recorded, and ironically the fact that everything here was so out of step with the times (there’s even a Cream cover on it!) means that it’s arguably aged better than a lot of its contemporaries in the thrash and speed metal scenes. One of the key texts in American doom.
1. Trouble (1990)
At the start of the ‘90s many key figures from the underground rock scene inexplicably found themselves with major label deals as the mainstream tried to figure what the next thing in rock would be (spoiler: it was Nirvana). While many of these unexpected partnerships delivered questionable results as bands and labels struggled to find common ground, Trouble managed to land the perfect marriage. Signing to Def America at the behest of the Sabbath-obsessed Rick Rubin, the band came out with an album which would become their defining statement and feature some of their most iconic songs. ‘The Wolf’, ‘Psychotic Reaction’ and ‘Heaven On My Mind’ represent the best music they’ve ever written, and Rubin’s stripped back, warm production adds a touch of acid rock fuzz to the band’s heavy metal stylings. Everything slots into place here, the music, the vibes, even the album cover comes together to give you the complete picture of this iconic band. Essential for any fan of rock music.
Do you agree with this ranking? Let us know in the comments!
Words: Dan Cadwallader