Only their second studio album within an eighteen year block, Chicago doom legends TROUBLE are back. Well, without Eric Wagner and Jeff "Oly" Olson, anyway. That's the bad news. The good news is that TROUBLE is in the capable hands of former FLOODGATE and EXHORDER vocalist Kyle Thomas. While a large consensus of fans have remained dubious about the doom legends' future after collectively dismissing 2007's "Simple Mind Condition", they can take some heart.
Nowhere near as watered-down as its predecessor, TROUBLE's latest slab "The Distortion Field" employs plenty of their famed chunk o'rama doom riffage from "Psalm 9" and "The Skull". They also dabble once again in the psych-alt pastures that made the 1990 self-titled album and "Manic Frustration" the explorative gems they are.
Guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell still have it, there's no denying the fact. While "The Distortion Field" is largely throwback (the opening rumble of "When the Sky Comes Down" is a kissing cousin to "The Tempter" from "Psalm 9"), there are enough dynamics corralling the two critical periods of the band to make it an easy listen.
"One Life" is a mash-up of TROUBLE's vintage doom plods with a swerve into trance-driven, swooning choruses. Subtly, the merge sounds like a dirtier version of KING'S X, no doubt a carryover from Franklin and Jeff Olson's involvement with Doug Pinnick's SUPERSHINE project. The punchy and jive-filled "Paranoia Conspiracy" is an instant grab and it gives Kyle Thomas the opportunity to strut along to the rolling riffs with enough showmanship needed to satisfy TROUBLE purists. Franklin and Wartell peel off a greasy tag solo and pummel every space of "Paranoia Conspiracy" not occupied by a lulling bass line.
Interestingly enough, TROUBLE stakes a case for having a fair influence (as much as they were influenced themselves) upon the grunge era as did SAINT VITUS. It's going to be hard not to think of SOUNDGARDEN on "The Broken Has Spoken" and "Sucker" with their grunge grooves and fuzz bucket rear distortion. Likewise, the muddy shuffles of "Your Reflection" are echoed by TAD and TEMPLE OF THE DOG. While "Sink or Swim" comes with a toothy blues rock trundle on the verses, the choruses are haunted by risky dashes of PEARL JAM. The easygoing sprawl of "Have I Told You" keeps TROUBLE stationed in their revisit to the nineties, albeit it's likely to put more than a few listeners on the edge of mistrust.
This gambit nearly becomes "The Distortion Field"'s undoing, but smartly, the album mucks things up with jagged hunks on "Hunters of Doom" and remains in a similar key the rest of the ride. "The Distortion Field" maintains a heavy course on "Butterflies", "Sucker", "Your Reflection" and the ethereal "Greying Chill of Autumn". The latter is the best track of the second half of the album, dashed by an effective combo of spooky wah and ripping choruses.
A bit better than "Simple Mind Condition" but not quite as solid as 1995's "Plastic Green Head", "The Distortion Field" is a decent rebound giving Franklin and Wartell the opportunity to break Kyle Thomas in. His gruff and gravelly pipes are an appropriate fit for everything they ask of him, whether it's to amble along or to get knee-deep. Thomas can doom it up and he can swing. He gargles his higher octaves (especially on "Glass of Lies") and swoons his mid-to-lower ranges. His cat screech on "Hunters of Doom" is so freaking metal you'll feel your fist clench by reflex in appreciation. Thomas is given some wicked riffs to play with and "The Distortion Field" is largely a pleaser, even if it would've best been served at forty minutes instead of an hour. Let the jury decide on TROUBLE's fate at this point; at least they make a reputable argument for resurrection.