"The Distortion Field"

By The Great Sun Jester

Let's just get it out of the way - Eric Wagner is gone. Trouble's new album from FRW Music, The Distortion Field, marks the first studio album in the band's history without his distinctive vocals. Kyle Thomas, a supremely talented but journeyman vocalist, makes his recorded debut with the band. Despite thinking that Wagner is one of rock's great front men and an underrated songwriter, I kept my mind open to this album. Trouble is greater than the sum of its parts. While Wagner, Rick Wartell, and Bruce Franklin are responsible for the majority of the band's songwriting, his loss doesn't translate into automatic disaster for the band. The question going in is whether Thomas' induction into the band can mesh with Wartell and Franklin's songwriting. Does this change alter the band's chemistry for the better or worse? 

I am not disappointed. The album's opener, "When The Sky Comes Down", thrusts the listener into familiar territory. Thomas' dire wailing about impending apocalypse blends seamlessly with the band's juggernaut groove. Franklin and Wartell's fluid dual lead attack is in classic form and recorded well. The rhythm section is thick and nimble, but drummer Mark Lira really shines.

If there is a misstep during the album's first half, I think it lies in the rather narrow vocal range of the songs. The first few tunes give Thomas little else to do with his voice except growl in competition with the fierce backing. However, "Have I Told You" is a great tune allowing Thomas to show a new voice and the band explores lighter musical shades.

The band has lost none of their penchant for memorable grooves and riffs. "Butterflies", befittingly undermining its title, is a raucous stomp with superb rhythm section work. Thomas excels here again with a strong vocal. "Sucker" features another snarling riff destined to linger in the memory, but the true highlight comes with the album's closer. "Your Reflection" strikes a groove from the first bar and rides it for all its worth. As on the album's other songs, the lyrical content is average, but Thomas exudes authority and skill with every line. Journeyman or not, the guy is an exceptional talent in metal music.

Overall, this is a solid comeback. There isn't a single moment on the album that can be ruled a disaster and the band has clearly put in a lot of hours on this collection. However, a certain predictability has set in with Wagner's absence. The album is largely driven by bruising hard rock with occasional stabs at the band's other influences and, consequently, much more predictable than the prototypical Trouble album. My sincere wish is that this album generates some momentum for the band and that a future return to the studio will produce a wider range of material. Recommended.