ALBUM REVIEW: Blackwater


January 2014

Produced by Eric Wagner (Blackfinger, ex-Trouble), this self-titled album is a really enjoyable way to spend half an hour of your day. Originally formed in 2002, this five-piece doom metal band from the broad corn fields of Bloomington, Illinois (USA) deliver tight, crunching riffs, big solos and choruses that nestle in your head like cuckoos. Mean-looking cuckoos that are likely to kick you in the teeth if you ask them to leave.

On their Facebook page, the band list a vast number of influences, from AC/DC to Venom, and their diverse tastes are reflected in the decision to cover a Judas Priest song (‘Deceiver’) on this release. But primary among their influences, surely, are Trouble and Clutch, whose slow groove and heavy melody shine through for all to see. Singer Mitchell Barnes has a distinctively Wagner-esque pitch to his voice, but it’s not quite as soulful as that of Big Eric and has a throatier edge – as if fellow doom legend Scott Weinrich is trying to join the party too.

Talking of Wino, it is also possible to hear a degree of The Obsessed in the music, as well as early Queens Of the Stone Age and even some Pearl Jam. Blackwater’s frontman Barnes, meanwhile, comes up with some vocal parts that are both creative and original, as well as a few that fall flat. Or possibly fall sharp – there are one or two discordant, fingernail-scraping moments that Wagner himself would be proud of!

Blackwater manage to get through nine songs in just 33 minutes. Not that these compositions seem hurried; nor do they ever go beyond a steady mid-tempo – they just don’t last very long. Some tracks work better than others: for example, ‘Opposite Sides Of Glass’ grows into a mini-classic and the chorus on ‘Killing Fields’ is sure to get the blood pumping. Others, though, follow a well-worn path. The riffs on opening track ‘Final Solution’ or the title track, for example, seem familiar and uninspiring. Wagner’s production is solid if unspectacular – the drums occasionally sound a little thin and at times you find yourself wishing that the album would really come to life. Because when it does, it is great fun.



ALBUM REVIEW: Blackfinger

(The Church Within Records, 30 Jan 2014)



This album has been a long time in the making. After tiring of life on the road with reformed doom legends Trouble, singer Eric Wagner – owner of one of the most distinctive voices in the business – shut himself away to write some new material. That was in 2008. And the result, six years down the line, is an album that will please fans of old-school Trouble, whose mid-1980s masterpieces have been enormously influential, as well as those who appreciate the band’s later, trippier recordings.

Unwilling to embark on some ego-stroking solo project or to record with special guests in the vein of Probot (the all-star Dave Grohl side-project which brought the former Trouble frontman to an even wider audience in 2004), Wagner got together with some local Chicago talent to form a new band. Albeit a band with Wagner very much front and centre, doing things his way.

There are plenty of heavy moments on this self-titled debut, but a fair percentage of the album is given over to gentle acoustic songs, where Wagner’s love for the likes of Pink Floyd and The Beatles shines through. There’s even a homage to The Mamas & The Papas in ‘All The Leaves Are Brown’, the album’s first, storming single. Elsewhere, ‘As Long As I’m With You’ is a catchy and beautiful track, featuring only cello, bass, piano and voice. ‘For One More Day’ is similarly understated, and in this regard the album is reminiscent of ‘Raising Sand’, Robert Plant’s award-winning 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss. Wagner has much in common with Plant, physically and aurally, and both albums confidently apply simplified instrumentation and arrangements to great effect.

For anyone seeking something a bit more muscular, songs such as the grungy ‘Why God’ and ‘My Many Colored Days’ stand out as impressive, original compositions that stay true to the legacy of Trouble. Many of these new recordings could sit quite comfortably on 1992’s  ‘Manic Frustration’ for example. The vocalist has a healthy relationship with his former band (whose recent album ‘The Distortion Field’ with new singer Kyle Thomas received a mixed reception), and is happy to play the old stuff live with Blackfinger – and this respect for the past is evident, if not quite as blatant as with Wagner’s other project The Skull. 

Wagner has said that he did not want this album to be “self-indulgent”, preferring his music to sound like a relaxed jam. ‘Blackfinger’ achieves this with ease and the 11 songs fly by swiftly and enjoyably, some of them weighing in at three minutes or less. They are snippets rather than epics; a fascinating, varied and extremely personal glimpse into Wagner’s state of mind.

Whenever Eric Wagner gets behind the mic, you know good things are going to happen. His unforgettable voice is inevitably prominent in the mix, and it sounds as strong as ever. He openly admits that, at 54, he cannot emit quite the same banshee shriek that he could 30 years ago, but he has learned to adapt. As always, his lyrics are both intriguing and charming, while his vocal performance is that of a master. 

This may not be the heaviest music in the world, but it is quality stuff that digs its hooks in and won’t let go. Alternating between kickass doom riffs and swaying, dreamlike acoustics, ‘Blackfinger’ builds on Wagner’s enormous contribution to music.  It was worth the wait.

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