Black Sabbath are widely recognized as the progenitors of what would later become heavy metal. Unsatisfied with what rock was during the 70’s, the British kings of metal become one of the most important bands in history, pioneering a dark genre and a mighty movement unlike anything seen before in rock. Metal was alive. But with the emergence of a fascination of speed in heavy metal, many bands abandoned the cornerstone elements of Black Sabbath’s sound in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal brought out bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, bands that demonstrated their virtuosity with a frighteningly fast and aggressive pace. That eventually led to thrash metal; bands like Metallica took Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to heart, catapulting metal into a new age dominated by speed.
But some bands found more value in what Black Sabbath and Deep Purple had to offer: a thunderous and heavy tone, mixed with a virtuosity that could set influence toward the later works of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Chicago’s Trouble marked a back-to-basics sound that, despite relying on the older days of metal, felt just as fresh, potent and meaningful as what both Judas Priest and Metallica would eventually bring to life. The band’s first album since 2007’s Simple Mind Condition isn’t just a recognition of doom metal’s fine past, but it’s a damn good album that can match anything that metal has showed off this year.
Living in a genre based around a near perpetual sense of morose heaviness, Trouble keeps the traditions at the forefront of their battalion. Despite living in eras of both the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and its later-inspired thrash metal cousin, Trouble set speed aside and moved in the opposite direction. Quickness and nimbleness was never in the band’s blood and that doesn’t change on The Distortion Field. Songs like “Glass of Lies” are some of the most stomping tracks in metal; Trouble shows every bit of their skill and finesse in bringing out the weight of their world. “One Life” is a massive slam of a track, with an opener with such gravity that you might need to upgrade your subwoofer by the song’s finale. Even when the grinds subside in the more elegant and melodic “Have I Told You,” the pacing is still very steady, which makes for a refreshing glass of water among the Red Bull cocktail of furious speed metal.
But just because Trouble is a heavy grind of a band doesn’t mean that the virtuosity is set aside. “Hunters of Doom” manages to inject a spike of adrenaline to the record, but not moving too fast and leaving the band’s roots in the dust. The Judas Priest-inspired double-guitar assault from Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell remains a finely dimensionalized approach to a genre so enamored with stalwart golems of metal. Trouble isn’t a one-trick pony on The Distortion Field; they show a sense of groove on “Greying Chill of Autumn,” demonstrating the band’s reverence for psychedelic rock along with their metal background.
A new vocalist offers a new beginning for the doom metal legends. Kyle Thomas may not be a stranger to the band (he filled in as lead vocalist from 1997 to 2000), but this is his first role of the official vocalist for the band and his first studio album recorded as it. While the instrumentalists in Trouble have focused on the sludgy metal of all eras of Black Sabbath, Thomas settles into a niche brought to life by the late, great former Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio, where the steady pace isn’t shoved down by low and otherworldly screams. Instead, it’s all about a balance, an uplifting and gripping voice complimented by some great musicianship. Thomas’s range is phenomenal; while it’s a bit rougher than Dio’s, he still shows off vocal chops with high notes, vibrato calls and a great amount of diversity even throughout single songs alone, such as the lower-toned “Your Reflection.” It’s clear that he is right at home with Trouble.
The Distortion Field doesn’t distract the listener; each song is focused and packed with substance. The band’s straight-ahead metal groove is something of unsung heroism. While other bands have claimed the main stage of metal with speed, Trouble remains as a group of giants of musicians, enamored with tradition, but still willing to move forward and break new ground in their doom metal empire. They can play and play very well, but their shining victory as doom metal kings comes from songwriting with a clear vision in mind. They don’t try to be anything they’re not. The Distortion Field is metal’s wakeup call to a band that have been creeping and grinding for more than 30 years now. Don’t expect speed in The Distortion Field; just expect an incredibly well-crafted doom metal record that any headbanger should listen to.
Categories: Music review