Previously, this series has focused squarely on individual songs that I feel are either under-rated or simply worthy of a little more love and attention. This series is not restricted to individuality, however, and today’s feature marks the first in the series to look at an entire album that for me is a classic that simply emerged at the wrong time to hit its maximum potential.
While Trouble will rightfully be remembered for their landmark doom metal albums ‘The Skull’ and ‘Psalm 9’, but their years on Rick Rubin’s Def American label undoubtedly brought about some of their most interesting work. Having further explored their psychedelic interests on 1990’s self-titled effort; those interests were fully honed and merged with another much less doomy, more energetic album titled ‘Manic Frustration’. Trouble were known from early in the career to openly reference the Bible and religion in general, but they binned this approach with the self-titled album, and portions of ‘Manic Frustration’ continued with this new lyrical stance, although I will touch upon my own thoughts when I begin to wrap this up.
The opening track, the riff friendly ‘Come Touch The Sky’, certainly suggests a spiritual awakening, although it could easily be a hazy trip (‘Tell them you came to look in my eyes/saw the morning appear in the skies’). Never the less, it’s not all drifting to the sky and magic trips – second track ‘Scuse Me’ is a real heavy metal anthem, standing for individualism and personal pride. Beyond that, there’s more mixing of Sabbathian riffs and bouncier Priest licks, including stand out tracks such as ‘The Sleeper’ and ‘Tragedy Man’. There’s not a great deal of variation between these, but Trouble were well on top of their game here, sometimes effortlessly spitting out quality riffs and songs that would befit any rock radio station’s playlist, such is their (somewhat unseen) commercial appeal.
Where the album straddles the divide between great and spectacular is reflected in the album’s two slower, more psychedelic, more melodic and indeed, Beatle-esque tracks. The first, ‘Rain’, appears fifth in the eleven track sequence. It does feel a little odd, as it doesn’t sit anywhere comfortably in Trouble’s then-current sound and their original trad-doom sound. But it’s a welcome change of pace from the old-school metal influences that pervade Trouble’s sound.
The latter, the closing track ‘Breathe…’, is as incredible an album closer as any I’ve heard. In contrast to ‘Rain’, it’s as close to Trouble’s classic doom metal sound as they get on this record, with Wagner delivering spoken word vocals on the themes of death and burial during a dark first half of the song, before turning on a sixpence halfway through and finishing on an uplifting note with another Beatles-style melody, the refrain of ‘down below the ocean/where I wanna be/she may be’ resounding towards the end of the song as Wagner flexes his pipes more and more towards the culmination. Simply incredible.
Trouble – Tragedy Man
Alas, for all the critical acclaim it received, ‘Manic Frustration’ sold poorly, as grunge dominated the landscape with the dreaded lurgy of nu-metal about to stumble into the landscape, Trouble’s relationship with Def American came to end and while they soldiered on with 1995’s ‘Plastic Green Head’, they never did reach the metal spotlight that they had aimed for during their time with Def American, and went on hiatus in 1996. Thus, ‘Manic Frustration’ was consigned to ‘cult classic’ status. Trouble came out of their slumber in 2002 and still plays for a loyal fanbase today although they now only contain core members, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, and include former Warrior Soul vocalist Kory Clarke in their line-up instead of Wagner, who left the band in 2008.
Regarding the lyrics, ‘Manic Frustration’ does seem to fall into the pattern set out by its title, with tracks like ‘Mr. White’, ‘Tragedy Man’ and ‘Fear’ all dealing with themes of mental agony, while the rest of the album discusses mystery, confusion and more regular themes such as love and death. All with the exception of ‘Scuse Me’, of course, as that’s a statement of individual defiance. Songs such as ‘Come Touch the Sky’ and ‘Fear’ do still point towards some sort of spiritual influence, even if Trouble weren’t openly referencing the Bible any more. Lyrically, there’s nothing that stands out head and shoulders above everything else to be closely scrutinized – they are fairly standard by heavy metal fare. But Trouble more than managed to prop them up through a cohesive metal delivery, and without question, this ought to have been a triumph.
I had a lot of difficulty getting hold of this album and was determined not to resort to a cheeky download. Incredibly, the first copy of this album I managed to obtain was on cassette, which I found in a charity shop in Leeds early last year! But I didn’t want to play the tape, even though its potential collector’s value was lost due to the inlay being perforated. Unfortunately, the CD version too appears to be out of print, and finding a CD is very hard to find; hence, if you’re to find this, you’re probably best trawling eBay, or taking an MP3 download, legal or not. I eventually saddled with Amazon.
That said, don’t be put off exploring this album, particularly if you like your metal old-school. It’s a fantastic record and well worth the effort to track down. If only more metal fans in 1992 shared my enthusiasm.