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The Skull (w/bonus DVD)

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(13 Reviews)

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  • This is raw, ragged doom metal. If you can get past the low-budget 80’s production, you’ll unearth some of the most emotionally potent, introverted metal of its time. Sabbathian riffs meet Maidenesque twin guitar melodies in unpredictable, twisting arrangements, all of which add up to a bleak sound that not only bludgeons but–if I may be a bit melodramatic–weeps and sobs. That is, on this and other early Trouble albums, the team of guitarists Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin create a unique throbbing, sobbing metal guitar sound that’s quite magical, shining through despite the dodgy production. Complementing this guitar sound, vocalist Eric Wagner screeches lyrics that grapple earnestly with questions of faith, sin and the meaning of life, and does so in a way that doesn’t come off as pompous or preachy, but rather self-questioning and heartfelt, as if these existential doubts and questions genuinely torment him.

    This album is not beyond criticism–the progressive arrangements can be needlessly busy and self-indulgent; the over-long “The Wish” may have its moments but kills the album’s momentum as the 3rd song; Wagner’s vocals are sometimes too thin and reverb-drenched (he continued to improve to become a truly distinctive, soulful singer–check out Trouble’s self-titled or the LID side project).

    Regarding this particular release, the slipcase artwork and photos are beautiful. The psychedelic, ominous album cover captures the feel and atmosphere of the music. On the downside, the CD notes suffer typos and, quite annoyingly, the lyrics are printed in ALL CAPS. (Though, it should be added the words are much more effective heard through the music; afterall, the lyrics aren’t exactly subtle literary masterpieces on the page–they’re from the gut, and meant to be heard as such) The extra live DVD is unlistenable and unwatchable, but fun for the hardcore fun who wants a taste of Trouble back in their heyday.

    While I’m at it, I’ll plug their other recent re-issue, Psalm 9, which is more accessible, with catchier songs and riffs and a gloriously heavy guitar tone. I chose this one to review, as its the thorniest, and more difficult to appreciate at first, but deserves its champions.

    Posted on January 2, 2010