By Greg Pratt
The self-titled debut from BLACKFINGER comes through on a promise that I had more or less given up on, one that resulted from a little band called TROUBLE releasing two of the best metal albums, well, ever: their self-titled in 1990 and Manic Frustration in 1992. After that, you just thought, well, here's one of the greatest bands of our time, and they're on a roll. But the roll ended there, and, if you ask me, never picked up again. Until now.
Blackfinger features classic Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner, and the tunes deliver the kind of upbeat, morose doom rock that made those two albums so great. It makes you feel good, it makes you feel bad, it makes you feel alive. This album really has the spirit and feel of those two Trouble classics.
"Well, you're right," begins Wagner as he gives a quick lowdown on his final years with Trouble. "It does. Plastic Green Head was after those two records, where there was a bit of... We'd been on the road for 10 years with each other, it seemed like we were just going through the motions. I like Plastic Green Head, but at that time it was time to do my own thing, and I went away and did my Lid record. Then I ran away for five years. I didn't write a note or a word until Dave Grohl came calling [for his Probot record]. It's his fault. (laughs) So I called up the Trouble guys, we kissed and made up and said let's do another record. We did Simple Mind Condition; some people don't like that record, but I love it. But Blackfinger is the first record again where everything is new and exciting, I was excited for doing it, I wasn't just doing it because I had to."
As for why he left Trouble after Simple Mind Condition, Wagner says he "was just sick of the whole thing. Touring, playing the same songs in and out. I get bored easy. There comes a time as you get older in life that you just need to do something new for yourself, instead of just being complacent. Challenge yourself, see if you can do it." So he did, putting together a new band and spending the past couple years working on the material that makes up their excellent full-length debut.
"We worked hard on it; it's not like we just wrote it in a week and recorded it," he says. "Everybody put their heart and soul into this thing. It's an emotional record; it's probably the most personal record I've ever done. I was going through a couple of things; I was going through two divorces at the same time. I admit, I probably didn't handle it too well at times. but that's what came out of it, good songs come out of pain and suffering."
Indeed, pain and suffering has always made up the basis of the best Wagner lyrics. One of the great things about his work with Trouble was that even when the music sounded miserable, the lyrics had a ray of hope to them.
"Well, the lyrics were miserable, too," Wagner counters, "but I'm looking for a way out. That's the difference. The misery shows (laughs). People all the time used to ask me years later, would you ever write another record like The Skull? My answer was, I hope not. (laughs)"
Wait, hold on a second. Did he say "two divorces" a few paragraphs back? Yes, one from his now ex-wife and one from Trouble. He found himself without all the elements that made up life as he had known it for a huge part of his adulthood. So how are things for Wagner nowadays?
"Not bad, dude," he says, adding that he's also got his eyes set on a new The Skull record, the band he formed with some other ex-Trouble dudes to play classic Trouble material and new, original material. "I mean, my ex-wife and Trouble, I was with both of them the same amount of time. Those were the two worlds I knew for almost 30 years. So it's been weird. But everything's cool right now. I got to the point where I left Chicago, I had to get out of there and moved up to Michigan, to a little remote place where there's nothing to do where I could just concentrate on getting back to who I am and what I do... Actually, music isn't really what I do; it is who I am."
And so it shall continue to be for the man who is, unquestionably, one of the best metal vocalists of our time, his desperation-drenched soaring vocal style one of many elements making Blackfinger's debut well worth checking out, the great riffs and arrangements all over the thing a couple more reasons that we hope Wagner keeps this up for a long time, even if he is all too aware of mortality and the fact that we need to celebrate music this great now, because at some point there will come a time when age catches up to him and he just can't do it anymore.
"There might be," he says. "Sometimes when I get up in the morning, I think that (laughs). It can't last forever. I don't know. There's a lot of true-blue Trouble fans that followed me all these years, and I don't want to let them down. I kind of feel like I owe it to them. I brought them this far and I can't just leave them hanging."