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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Trouble

Psalm 9

Review by Mike Korn

It was the long foretold year of 1984 when I first picked up the debut record of Chicago's Trouble. Like most of the discs I bought in the Golden Age of Metal, I still have this precious LP, made all the more unique because it was pressed on solid white vinyl. Although I will never give it up, I am glad to see that self-same effort now re-issued in CD format, making it available to a whole new generation of fans. The original title of the disc was simply Trouble but for reasons best known to themselves, the guys put out another self-titled disc some years later (their first on Rick Rubin's Def American outfit), leading to this one being labeled as Psalm 9. By any other name, the doom smells as heavy. This was such a unique and groundbreaking record in its time. Where the speed and blasphemy of bands like Slayer and Venom was dominating in the underground, Trouble reversed speed and issued forth a lumbering, tank-like sound of slower, depressing metal that would soon come to be known as "doom metal". The early Sabbath influences were certainly noticeable, but Trouble seemed to increase the heaviness, add in unusual twin guitar melodies and an actual feeling of unpredictability to the music. As if that wasn't enough, the music was overtly Christian based and preached the virtues of compassion and love. But make no mistake, this was not sugar-coated preaching in the vein of Stryper but instead a gospel full of tribulation, where Satan lurked around every corner to tempt the unwary. The raspy, wailing vocals of Eric Wagner provided an unforgettable voice to the foreboding message of Trouble. This record could only have been made in the early 80's, before genres coalesced and solidified and became rigid. Heavier than the boots of God, Psalm 9 still stands as perhaps the best work of the cult Chicago band, although follow-up The Skull and the second self-titled disc are also extremely strong. The Skull has also been reissued and I may turn to that later. In the meantime, listen to an original and influential doom metal band in their formative stages and cast yourself joyfully into a pit of musical despair. NOTE: Also be sure to check out the accompanying DVD, which features a Trouble cable access show performance from 1982! It's rather amusing, as Wagner is clearly lip-synching, and the band's responses to the hostess' questions are not exactly articulate, but still, it's a trip to see the guys so young, playing tunes even before Psalm 9 came out!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Tempter
The intro to this track is as woeful as anything you will ever hear...a tribal drum beat, howling winds, disembodied voices wailing "help me!" and then we kick in with one of the greatest doom metal riffs ever. An ominous voice tells us "I am the Tempter...ruler of hell...and bringer of evil! BEWARE!" Things really take off with a fast, headbanging riff and Eric Wagner's distinctive vocals. The way this song swings pendulum-like from moments of complete funeral gloom to metallic aggression is brilliant! "This time you have won...but what about the next?"
Assassin
This is an up-tempo and rocking little cut that still has a very dark feeling. The mid-section stomps over everything and this is as good a place as any to mention the tremendous drum work of Jeff "Oly" Olsen. This guy is so underrated, as he gives the skins a thunderous slamming without a hint of triggering or any other modern B.S. What a strong sound he's got! I also dig the guitar solo here with its hints of Middle Eastern flavor.
Victims of the Insane
You can feel something wicked coming your way as this opens with a very strange theme that soon turns into an ultra-heavy doom-laden riff that's as heavy as anything this band has ever done...and that's pretty damn heavy! You can hear Hammond organ adding atmosphere to this song, which overall takes some unexpected, almost progressive turns, including a thrashy speed-up at the end. Wagner's voice is full of regret and despair: "I'm so tired of being wrong/Everybody laughs at me...why me?"
Revelations (Life or Death)
A slow build with that distinctive twin guitar sound of Trouble bursts into another doomy hook. I detect a bit more of a Sabbath influence in this tune, with a kind of bluesy feel and a jazzy syncopated drumbeat. Again there are some cool twists including a speed-up and a false ending where the band then goes into a metalized version of a riff from "Jesus Christ Superstar" that slowly fades out! I kind of wish they would have stuck with it a little longer!
Bastards Will Pay
Red-eyed anger is the predominant feeling here, making the song different than the melancholy laments elsewhere. This is really fast and powerful, with a pace just short of thrash, and a really crunchy chorus. This features one of the best guitar solos of the whole CD as well. Slow doom comes oozing back into the picture for a little while before picking back up to the original pace.
The Fall of Lucifer
This is my favorite cut on the disc and one of the best Trouble songs ever. A real epic, it is just packed with power and I absolutely love that "rising" riff on the chorus, which is simply magical. The lead work shreds like crazy and the lyrics are much more apocalyptic than is usual, even for this band. There's a lot of cool tempo changes that keep the listener engaged. "You need all the love God brings/Don't fall into the hands of fate!"
Endtime
This instrumental has an off-kilter feel to it almost like a cross between Black Sabbath and Voi Vod. Some of the drum and bass rhythms are really wild and, of course, the lead guitars get a real workout. I defy anyone to tell me that Trouble doesn't have their own unique sound after hearing this cut.
Psalm 9
"The Lord Shall Endure Forever, For He Hath Prepared His Throne for Judgement" intones a creepy voice that sounds like it would be more comfortable singing praise to Old Nick than God. After this, another all-time classic doomy riff rumbles in to make the neck muscles weak. Like Black Sabbath and Pentagram, Trouble know the value of straightforward riffing. The lyrics are the most biblical of the whole album: "Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know...let them realize they are but men...not Gods!" There's another awesome increase in pace and also a very cool "shuffling" riff - great song!
Tales of Brave Ulysses
This psychedelic Cream classic was not on the original LP but it's an inspired choice for Trouble to cover. The band has always worn their 60's influences on their shoulder and their heavy style adapts to this all-time killer track perfectly. Wagner's somewhat screechy vocals handle the druggy lyrics better than you'd think. This is a very nice bonus for those who pick up the CD.
 
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