Released: 2013, FRW Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Six years and two lead singers later, we finally have ourselves a new record from Chicago doom legends, Trouble. THE DISTORTION FIELD is a watershed album for the band, as it’s the first studio disc to not feature signature vocalist Eric Wagner, having since been replaced by ex-Exhorder/Floodgate vocalist Kyle Thomas, who actually found himself replacing longtime interim vocalist Kory Clarke last year. The loss of an iconic frontman and the introduction of a new addition can be a bitter pill for some fans to swallow. Sometimes you luck out and find Brian Johnson, and sometimes you end up with Gary Cherone. As much as I’d like to declare that THE DISTORTION FIELD is the beginning of a new lease on life for Trouble and that Thomas is the savior that patient fans have been waiting for, I can’t. THE DISTORTION FIELD suffers from muddy production, an inconsistent caliber of tunes, and an over-the-top vocal performance that collectively makes for a mediocre album that’s uncomfortably inferior to anything in their storied catalog.
“When the Sky Falls Down” opens the album and is laden with misguided optimism for what’s to come. Creeping in with some classic Wartell/Franklin flanged riffs, things smell positive. And then an unfamiliar voice bellows atop of the chugging riffs…Even though I was fully expecting to hear the more than capable Kyle Thomas, it was still a bit off putting to not hear Eric Wagner. Wagner’s voice is as much a part of what makes Trouble “Trouble” as Bruce Franklin’s headband, and its absence is only one (albeit a big one) of several factors that detract from THE DISTORTION FIELD. Thomas wastes no time in trying to make his mark on the tune with plenty of high screams and emphasized growls – which totally jives with the stuff he did with Exhorder, Floodgate (remember that name), or Alabama Thunderpussy, but it comes across as excessively over the top in the context of a Trouble tune. Wagner could certainly belt out some powerful wails, but he did it so cool and naturally. He also had the gift of some contour and bevel to his voice, which Thomas regrettably does not here. Hell, even Kory Clarke had a bit of color in his delivery, but Thomas is in a Jamey Jasta level of 100% “IT’S GO TIME” mode from start to finish. Fine, it’s a new singer doing his thing, the song itself is pretty good, what’s the rest of it sound like?
Beyond the adjustment period with the new frontman, a healthy chunk of the songs on THE DISTORTION FIELD sound more like reworked Floodgate tunes interspersed with some Trouble licks. It’s got a very southern groove element to it that sounds out of place and maybe a little dumbed down for such an established outfit, and more than a little tired. “Paranoia Conspiracy” sounds like it could’ve been written by any number of groove metal bands across the last 10 years, “The Broken Have Spoken” is disposable rock radio fodder from the early 90s, “Have I Told You” is an unnecessary power ballad, and “Sucker” is aggro bollocks, peppered with such elucidations as “I ain’t no fool”. Album closer “Your Remembrance” has some tight licks towards the end, but is drop tuned to mush. On the flip side, “Sink or Swim” and “One Life” aren’t the most prolific tunes on the disc, but they’ve got some sweet riffs, psychedelic punch, and memorable choruses. “Hunters of Doom” has been in the band’s live set for a few years now (I seem to even remember a promo video w/ Clarke?) and is a solid, up-tempo chugger, while “Glass of Lies” has some of swagger in its gait, a la “End of My Daze”.
Production wise, the album sounds soggier than a cake left in the rain. Even going back to albums like PSALM 9 or THE SKULL, Trouble’s guitar tones have always been bright, crisp and up front, but they’ve been tuned down considerably here to accommodate Thomas’ voice and have no edge to speak of. In the process of doing so, the riffs lose most of their bite and there’s no real audio dynamics to speak of. Almost all of Thomas’ vocals sound like they’ve been unnecessarily double tracked, and at times sound like they’re not even in the same key as the rest of the band (ex - “Glass of Lies”). Live bass player Shane Pasqualla isn’t credited anywhere in the promo version of the album, which makes perfect sense given that save for a four count in “Glass of Lies”, there’s zero bass guitar to be heard anywhere on THE DISTORTION FIELD. Do we even need to mention the album cover that looks like a junior high Photoshop project?
At the end of the day it comes down to this – if this same collection of tunes had the moniker of some unknown band slapped on the album cover, you’d give it a listen and say “that’s interesting,” and then move on. The fact that there is indeed a Trouble logo slapped on the album cover will buy these tunes some extra shelf life, but there’s not a single track on THE DISTORTION FIELD that can stand up against tunes like “Memory’s Garden”, “The Tempter”, “R.I.P.” or even anything from the oft maligned SIMPLE MIND CONDITION. THE DISTORTION FIELD is Trouble’s valiant attempt to legitimize their post-Wagner existence, but all it really succeeds at is generating false hope for an inevitable reunion.