Each week on ‘Throwback Thursday’ we dust off a crucial but underrated album, without which heavy metal’s evolution would have turned out quite differently.
This week we creep into the mausoleum of doom, there to awaken the stiff-limbed undead corpse of Chicago’s Trouble and their genre revitalizing eponymous debut, later known as Psalm 9.
Band Name: Trouble
Origins: Chicago, Illinois
Album Title: Trouble, a.k.a. Psalm 9
Release Date: July 1984
Why is it so damn important?
Because Trouble, in loose cahoots with Saint Vitus, Candlemass and a few other more obscure bands, helped establish the doom metal genre. Until Trouble and their like came along, Black Sabbath's original, slothful, down-tuned template for heavy metal was simply called, well, “heavy metal,” and had been largely relegated to the dustbin of music history amid the conquering onslaught of thrash. But vocalist Eric Wagner, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, bassist Sean McAllister and drummer Jeff Olson had never let go of the ‘70s, since forming the Trouble way back in ’79; and made their retroactive intentions abundantly clear on Psalm 9 (which, incidentally, was a reference to its final track and a piece of scripture included on the album jacket that explained the band’s chosen name: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”).
So what does it sound like, exactly?
Standout tracks such as “The Tempter,” “Assassin” and “Bastards Will Pay” were deliberate, pessimistic, melancholy, achingly heavy and very vaguely psychedelic, but just as likely to launch into speedy passages that, at first, may seem to contradict all of this talk about doom, but actually reflected the similar variety of tempos employed by Sabbath from day one. Also like their main mentors, Trouble’s frequently spiritual lyrics didn’t worship Satan so much as address humanity’s enduring terror of him – a common misunderstanding that, in the hands of Metal Blade’s marketing geniuses, was combined with the professed Christian beliefs held by certain band members and red herring song titles like “Revelation” and “The Fall of Lucifer” to brand Trouble’s music as “white metal,” a tag they was never comfortable with.
In other words…
At the end of the day, feeble marketing gimmicks and sweeping generalizations alike pale beneath the monument of Trouble’s achievement: rescuing heavy metal’s founding legacy from the scrapheap of oblivion and never losing faith in their music’s wretched majesty through many albums and years of thankless toil in America’s heavy metal underground.
No song on Psalm 9’s states Trouble’s musical mission statement quite as thoroughly as this epic opening salvo, with its recurring tempo changes alternately conveying abject misery and indomitable fury behind Franklin and Wartell’s megalithic riffing and Wagner’s signature, deeply discomfiting wild man’s braying.
Like most of their formative doom metal brethren, Trouble were criminally overlooked in their homeland throughout the 1980s, while enjoying a modicum of respect and even adulation over the pond. But the arrival of an unlikely fan in future producer to the stars, Rick Rubin, who signed them to his Def American label in 1990, gave Trouble a second lease of life that spread Trouble’s gospel to a slightly broader audience than before thanks to another batch of spectacular doom LPs.