Article By: Shaun Katz ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
At their peak, Illinois‘ Trouble was the perfect combination of Black Sabbath meets The Beatles, and their 1992 album ‘Manic Frustration‘ was their collaborative pinnacle.
Perhaps a case of divine intervention from the feedback gods; the Doom pioneers jumped from their record label, Metal Blade Records to Rick Rubin‘s American Recordings shortly after Slayer had. While Trouble never reached the commercial heights of the Thrash kings – they were, in their own way, just as important.
‘Manic Frustration‘ immediately pulls you into a time warp of ’70s heavy metal bliss, with its razor-sharp guitar tones and muscular, crisp production, courtesy of Rick Rubin (System Of A Down, Johnny Cash), himself. The way the players bounce off of each other is a rare example of lightning in a bottle, and Rubin is just there to document it all, in his typically stripped-back fashion.
The album kicks off with the scintillating restraint of ‘Come Touch The Sky‘. It’s clear from the first few seconds of Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin‘s opening riffs that this is all about the songwriting. The 1-2-3 punch of “‘Scuse Me” and “The Sleeper” follow suit and kick the album into high gear. It’s only on the fourth track “Fear” where ‘Manic Frustration’ casts its true spell, expanding its sound and revealing its layered flourishes, as the band progressively steps up their game from each proceeding track.
Trouble – ‘Manic Frustration‘ – Tracklist:
01. Come Touch The Sky
02. ‘Scuse Me
03. The Sleeper
06. Tragedy Man
07. Memory’s Garden
08. Manic Frustration
09. Hello Strawberry Skies
10. Mr. White
The production of ‘Manic Frustration’ elevates the album to an unsung classic. Its songwriting laid out bare, sticking to its guns of old school Hendrix-like rock ‘n roll, with touches of psychedelia and Beatles-esque pop.
‘Manic Frustration’ never chases any of the trends that were popular around ’92, but instead remains more enamoured with the past (almost to a fault). “Tragedy Man” avoids all the trappings that make many similar songs today sound dated.
The main centerpiece of the album, “Memories Garden“, is one of metal’s great melodic moments, along with the cocaine anthem “Mr. White“. If singer Eric Wagner’s banshee-like vocals take on more of a pop sensibility, then it’s really on the album’s closer “Breathe…“, where he cleanses his demons, with all things closing on both a grandiose and surprising note.
I was lucky enough to speak with guitarists Wartell and Franklin. They revealed to me that the first album that they recorded with Rick Rubin (1990’s ‘Trouble‘), each demo was torn to pieces by the legendary producer. Shredded to such an extent that the band wondered why Rubin had even signed them. Rubin responded, by telling them “You know how to write guitar riffs, but you don’t know how to write songs”.
By the time ‘Manic Frustration’ came around two years later, Rubin listened to the demos during pre-production. He stood up to leave and Wartell asked him, “Wait, aren’t you even going to give us notes?”. To which Rubin simply responded, “No… everything’s perfect.”