Music » Music Features

Trouble in Mind

The semi-secret history of one of metal's most important bands.



When they emerged in the early '80s, underground metal lifers Trouble beefed up, tuned down, and added a lot of heaviness to the sound of '70s torchbearers Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster, and Budgie.

Doing so at that time was not exactly a trip to the bank, especially as the metal underground found itself on fire with the lightning-speed histrionics of Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. Along with Britain's Witchfinder General and L.A.'s Saint Vitus, Trouble would assist in creating a new subgenre: doom metal. Trouble became one of the quintessential outsiders of underground metal, a quality enhanced by their status as a Christian band. As such, their importance wouldn't be felt or appreciated until years later, when countless metal strivers would attempt a snail crawl across the riffery pioneered by Sabbath's Tommy Iommi.

Trouble formed in 1979 as vocalist Eric Wagner, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, bassist Ian Brown, and drummer Jeff Olsen, but this initial lineup wouldn't hold up for long. Trouble has had, shall we say, quite a bit of trouble (couldn't resist) maintaining a steady lineup throughout its career. The band came together in the decidedly non-metal environs of Chicago. Touring, tape-trading, and work-shopping material for the first few years, Trouble landed on Metal Blade Records for their 1984 eponymous debut (later known as Psalm 9).

A fantastic anomaly, the debut feels like a lost, stoned masterpiece from 1972 and holds its own against the band's much faster contemporaries. Heavy enough to sound like a '70s throwback created this year by a much younger band (of which there is no shortage), the album was renamed in 1990 when Trouble issued a second eponymous album. Handling Christianity in a somewhat subtle fashion, Trouble likely garnered a faction of fans that had no idea that they were enjoying a credible, badass version of Stryper.

The follow-up, The Skull (1985), and Trouble's third album, Run to the Light (1987), fall slightly short of the debut, but all in all, the three-album run saw the band undergoing changes only in personnel. The best possible example of don't-fix-what's-not-broke, Trouble's initial trilogy garnered them a rabid cult following and the attention of then Def American impresario Rick Rubin, even if it was followed by three years of inactivity that had most fans concluding that the band was kaput.

Metal bands that referenced '70s styles were becoming a more accepted presence as the '90s commenced. Rubin himself was proof of this. Not only did he try to revitalize the career of Trouble, he was also pushing hard to break another discovery, Raging Slab. (Rubin had proved his mettle with metal a few years earlier when his guiding hand refashioned Slayer into the groundbreaking juggernaut they are known as today.)

Rubin gave Trouble its second wind. Trouble (1990) and Manic Frustration (1991) are essential albums for any self-respecting metal fan. Adding big, Nuggets-style pop hooks to appropriately faster, heavier playing and a greater exploration of psychedelia, the albums make for a duo of masterpieces (especially the untouchable variety of Manic) and helped to usher in the stoner-metal saturation of the '90s.

Continuing the '60s vibe, Trouble covered the Monkees ("The Porpoise Song") and a not-too-shabby Beatles number ("Tomorrow Never Knows") on their sixth album, 1995's Plastic Green Head. This one is also worth the time if one can get past the horrendous cover art and Psych 101 album title.

Eleven years of lineup instability and outsider status led to Trouble announcing their break-up shortly after the release of Plastic Green Head. Despite this, many reissue projects and a renewed interest in the band over the coming years (their influence on younger bands cannot be overstated) led to Trouble's reunion in 2001, though this development didn't equal a new album until last year, with Simple Mind Condition being issued on Escapi Music. The new album is that old chestnut, a "return to form," and suitable for newbies and fans alike. Sadly, the label's incompetence led to it only being available as an import.

Certainly also worth noting is the fact that local metal stalwarts Adios Gringo will be opening Trouble's upcoming show at the Hi-Tone Café with their wholly original reinterpretations of everything great in underground metal. "Reinterpretations" is not meant to insinuate that they are a cover band, either. It's meant to state that over the course of about 15 years and a handful of albums and singles, the band has mixed the best of death metal, grind, hardcore, mountainous sludge, and jazz metal (à la John Zorn) to perfect an eclectic style all their own without succumbing to the shortcomings of self-conscious genre-hopping. That Adios Gringo has never achieved a greater degree of attention or at least a record deal with a suitable label remains one of the great headscratchers of Memphis' underground music scene. Oh, and they are phenomenal live, so get there early.

Trouble and Adios Gringo

The Hi-Tone Café

Friday, July 18th

Door opens at 9 p.m.; admission is $10 in advance and $12 at the door

Add a comment