Trouble – “The Distortion Field”


distortionfieldcoverWhen bands replace iconic members, especially vocalists, Trouble (yes, I meant that) often ensues.  For those who have not heard, The Distortion Field features Kyle Thomas (Exhorder, Floodgate) on vocals and not the beloved Eric Wagner.  For many, this distinction will guide enjoyment of the album above all else and that really is a shame because there is a lot to like here.

Trouble was formed in 1979 by Eric Wagner, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, bassist Sean McAllister, and drummer Jeff Olson and they created a doom metal sound that combined Black Sabbath, and other 1970s hard rock/metal bands.  As is usually the case with bands around for over 30 years there have been a number of band members coming and going and a lot of this turmoil has likely influenced the productivity of Trouble as The Distortion Field is only the eighth album from the band over this time.  The debut album from Trouble came in 1984 with what has now been re-released as Psalm 9 and this album alone could have cemented Trouble’s place in metal history as it has been referred to as one of the first and finest examples of doom metal.  To provide some perspective around this release, artists from Dave Grohl to Metallica cite this album as a key influence in their careers.

For long-time Trouble fans what will make or break your opinion of this album is largely how you feel the replacement of Eric Wagner by Kyle Thomas affects the sound.  In all honesty, this situation reminds me a bit of the Jesse Leach return to Killswitch Engage replacing Howard Jones.  From my standpoint, I thought both vocalists fit the band’s overall sound very well and since I the band was never one of my favorites, the change didn’t affect my opinion.  The same goes here.  Trouble has not been one of my favorite bands, nor doom one of my favorite genres, but I do have Psalm 9 and enjoy that album, so I have at least some history to stand on here.  Since the vocal style is what will garner so much attention, I’ll try to provide my view on Kyle Thomas in terms of sound style.  Upon first listen to the album, I heard a lot of Rainbow-era Dio in his vocals and then after a few more listens, I noticed a definite Chris Cornell of Soundgarden influence (particularly early Soundgarden) with maybe some Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) thrown in for good measure.  Regardless of your overall opinion on whether or not Kyle can replace Eric on vocals, one does have to admit that the vocals are very strong and from a style perspective fit the music very well.

“When the Sky Comes Down” sets the stage for the album and opens with a slow, gloomy intro that shifts abruptly into a chugging verse/chorus structure that sounds as if it could have been taken off a Dio-era Sabbath album.  With respect to that, there is a nostalgic feel to the songs on this album that some will enjoy but others may come away feeling as if the overall sound and feel is somewhat dated.  While somewhat characteristic of their sound, I would have preferred the guitar tone to have a bit more bite to it like in Dio-era Sabbath as opposed to late Ozzy-era Sabbath, but that’s a personal view and this doesn’t take away from the listening experience at all.

“Paranoia Conspiracy”, “The Broken Have Spoken”, and “Sink or Swim” continue in the riff heavy sound and style set by “When the Sky Comes Down” but then “One Life” and “Have I told You” come in as the next two songs and provide a somewhat different, softer feel, culminating in the mid-90’s Seattle grunge style ballad “Have I Told You”, which just seems out of place.  Given that the album is 13 songs and nearly one hour in length, I’m thinking some songs could have been left off and that would have provided a shorter but more consistent and stronger album.

Thankfully, for this reviewer at least, Trouble returns to their heavier sound after “Have I Told You” and the album finishes strong.  “Sucker” may be my favorite track on the album with its awesome riffs, verses sung over drums and the trade-off guitar solos – certainly one of those songs that gets you drumming on the steering wheel in your car.  It has an almost epic, larger-than-life feel  to it that many of older listeners remember from bands in our youth.   “Your Reflection” closes out the album and melds in some an Alice in Chains/Soundgarden type feel and sound with the traditional Trouble doom sound, providing a fitting closing. In some ways, this album veers toward power metal with an emphasis on vocals and guitars to carry the overall sound and in this respect this lineup is playing to their strengths.  Vocals are strong, and original members Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell on guitar provide some great heavy riffs and solos along the way.   If you approach the album without looking through the lens of seeing them with their original vocalist, you will be a happy person with this in your collection.

Rating: 7/10

01. Sink Or Swim
02. Paranoid Conspiracy
03. Glass Of Lies
04. The Grey Chill Of Autumn
05. When The Sky Comes Down
06. Butterflies
07. Your Reflections
08. Have I Told You
09. The Apple From The Snake
10. Hunters Of Doom
11. Sucker
12. The Broken Have Spoken

Current Line Up:
Kyle Thomas – Vocals
Bruce Franklin – Guitar
Rick Wartell – Guitar
Mark Lira -Drums
Rob Hultz – Bass

Record Label: FRW Music, July 2013

Psalm 9 [1984]
The Skull [1985]
Run to the Light [1987]
Trouble [1990]
Manic Frustration [1992]
Plastic Green Head [1995]
Simple Mind Condition [2007]
Unplugged [2008]
The Distortion Field [2013]

Weblinks: Website / Facebook / Myspace

Buy the album here:
First Paradox
Norway: Nordic Mission
USA: Metal Helm

Lyric Video for ‘When the Sky Comes Down’

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