Legendary Chicago metallers Trouble return with their eighth studio album since forming in 1979, and with it their third vocalist in the form of former Exhorder/Floodgate singer Kyle Thomas. A slightly odd choice for a band famous for their lead-heavy doom metal and spiritually-inspired lyrics? Maybe, but let’s not forget that Thomas is replacing Kory Clarke, former vocalist with 90’s rockers Warrior Soul and somebody else who was considered a left-field choice for replacing the band’s original frontman Eric Wagner. So how does a veteran band with an influential sound fare with their third vocalist in five years? Well…
As has been the case throughout musical history, when a band loses an established singer it doesn’t just lose the voice but something of the attitude, the heart and, to some extent, the integrity of what the band represented. It isn’t always the case – AC/DC, Anthrax and Iron Maiden (the first time) have all moved on to bigger and better things after replacing their singer – but bands like Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden (the second time) have all replaced singers only to see their fortunes fade to some degree, and unfortunately for Trouble their original singer was such an integral part of their sound that fillings his shoes is proving to be quite a task.
However, this isn’t the first time that Kyle Thomas has played with the band as he replaced Eric Wagner between 1997 and 2000, only playing a handful of gigs but hardcore fans who saw that incarnation would already have an idea of what his voice brings to the party. For the rest of us, though, the first time we get to hear him is on opening track “When the Sky Comes Down” and it’s immediately clear that Thomas is going to do his own thing and not try to emulate Wagner. Whilst Thomas has a strong voice, his grittier drawl doesn’t quite sit as well with the classic doom metal sound that the rest of the band create.
But not every song goes the same way. The upbeat groove of “Paranoia Conspiracy” works a lot better, sounding closer to Floodgate or even Down than it does the Dio-era Sabbath grind of the opening song. The tripped-out heaviness of “One Life” draws on the band’s original influences of 70’s Black Sabbath and the NWOBHM, with some huge riffs and urgent time changes rolling along with Thomas’ bluesy wail adding a little of a Pepper-era COC vibe, and the stomping “Butterflies” shakes up a monster groove with a huge chorus that’ll prove to be a future live favourite.
It’s an interesting mix of influences that make up Trouble in 2013. The central core of Black Sabbath-style doom is still there but is now being approached via the stoner/sludge/southern input of Kyle Thomas. When it works it sounds great, the guitars of Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin still anchoring the music with some pretty solid drumming from Mark Lira and Kyle Thomas always giving his all, but when it doesn’t quite gel it makes ‘The Distortion Field’ sound a little like a tribute band. No disrespect to Kyle Thomas but the ghost of Eric Wagner still looms largely over this band and, although newcomers may be a bit more forgiving, ‘The Distortion Field’ is going to be something of a Marmite album for many longtime devotees.