Former Trouble members spark new life, light bright doom fire on ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’

The SkullLike many other metal fans, my pathway to doom came from the mighty Black Sabbath. But they weren’t the only band that exposed me to the darker sounds, the slower tempos, and the feeling something sinister could be lurking around the bend. Chicago-based Trouble was just as influential for me growing up, even if their music also radiated light and positivity in a world often bereft of both.

I remember quite vividly riding on the bus and walking the halls of my high school listening to Trouble’s 1990 self-titled record (“End of My Daze” could have played on an endless loop and I would have been happy) and 1991’s “Psalm 9,” and their style of metal awakened something inside of me that opened up my understanding of metal as an art form. To this day, I still love those early Trouble albums and wish their early lineup remained intact. But that’s not to be, as the band has been reshuffled entirely, but a new group The Skull, featuring three former Trouble members including awesome vocalist Eric Wagner, have released their debut record “For Those Which Are Asleep” that seriously alleviates that long-term itch.

The Skull coverWagner’s inclusion in The Skull (named after Trouble’s second record) is the biggest key. His voice still has that higher range, but for the most part, he wields a huskier voice now. But he remains as poignant as a lyricist and in command of the machine as before; he just sounds like he’s weathered battles over the years and has an insight many of metal’s voices do not. Joining him are former Trouble members Ron Holzner (bass) and Jeff Olson (drums), as well as guitarists Matt Goldsborough and Lothar Keller. The band sounds formidable, provides a look back to doom’s metamorphosis through the late 1980s and early 1990s, and stomps forward with a newfound energy and focus that makes “For Those” such a pleasurable listen, especially for us old Trouble fans.

“Trapped Inside My Mind” is a tremendous and fitting opener, as it’s slow driving, doomy, and melodic, with Wagner having his first chance at showing the world just how strong those pipes still are. The riffs are really fun and punchy, and after a wicked solo, Wagner begs, “Help me to escape.” “The Touch of Reality” has some tremendous Sabbath-influenced guitar work and deeper vocals from Wagner, as he reaches lower in his register and still has full command. Once again, the lead guitar work stands out and burns brightly, with a burly rhythm lurking underneath, and the end of track chugs pretty hard. “Sick of It All” pulls back the tempo a bit, but not the heaviness. The song has a nice psychedelic edge to it, with Wagner lamenting the things wearing on his mind, and he sings a little grittier over the chorus, which adds a proper sense of wear and tear. “The Door” also is slower, with Wagner warning, “I am darker than you know,” with a mind-altering glaze drizzled over top. As the song goes on, the sounds cascade, the guitars get bluesier, and the conclusion hits hard with doom, organs, and chimes. “Send Judas Down” is one of the most aggressive on the record, with a nasty riff, a mean sounding chorus, and a pace that could leave you bruised all over. Awesome song.

“A New Generation” is another rocker, with blues-fed doom riffs, a vintage sound that reminds of these musicians’ early days, and the only drawback being a chorus that lacks punch. “Till the Sun Turns Black” is a killer track with a chunky groove and Wagner sounding on fire, howling, “All I ever wanted was to love you back.” It’s dark, punchy, and one hell of a lot of fun. The 7:03 title track begins with acoustic strains and Wagner opening his dark storytelling, with the music sounding dusty and rustic. Then the song powers up, and the guys hammer hard when the chorus arrives, but they eventually go back to a mid-tempo pace for the verses. That only makes sense. As the song reaches its second half, the guitars open up more and conjure some classic metal thunder, the riffs start piling up and wailing away, and things are beaten to dust before fading away. “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” also harkens back to Trouble’s earlier years in a really awesome way. The riffs are heavy, the tempo is just crushing, and Wagner sounds amazing, like he’s turned back the damn clock. Speaking of that, the guys end the record with a new take on Trouble’s old cut “The Last Judgement,” giving it a proper modern update and proving they have the chops to play anything from any era of these musicians’ careers with fire and passion. Really cool to hear this finish off the record.

The Skull’s music hits the doom spot far more effectively than the current incarnation of Trouble, and this is a great start for this band of veterans. Wagner is in fine voice and is as engaging as ever before, and the rest of the band totally delivers the goods on “For Those Which Are Asleep.” There aren’t a lot of bands making the type of music The Skull is, making these veteran players’ work a breath of fresh air not only for doom but the entire metal world.

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