ERIC WAGNER – In the Lonely Light of Mourning (2022)REVIEW

It’ll be impossible to muse over the patently presented step from a dark and personal place into the light at the end of the tunnel envisioned on Eric Wagner‘s unintended solo swansong ‘In the Lonely Light of Mourning‘ without fumbling through some sort of eulogy for the beloved fellow — A straight shooting and unpretentious Midwesterner who’d wanted out of the obligations involved with touring a legacy and pushing through press cycles for decades. When he’d been essentially asked what it was like to be a “metal god” in the last decade or so I think Wagner had given one of my favorite answers among many over the years: “I don’t feel like that, I feel like a normal guy. That’s why I love to go out and hang with a fans and guys like you. Going to bar, ordering a drink. Showing that I’m just person, like you. Even if for some strange reasons I was able to write words that you or other fans would understood. That doesn’t make me a god. Everybody’s got a talent and that is just mine. I’m glad to help people, I have problems as anybody else. And that helps me too– to write it down.” And instead of hyping the fellow as the genius he was or thrilling up the walls as if he was a gleaming golden rock star I’d rather suggest he be remembered for the humility, a very human existential dread felt in seeking spiritual resolve, he’d offered to heavy metal up ’til his early sixties. You’ll feel it on this album, just as potent in 2022 as it were in 1982.

If you’re not a fan of Trouble then we most definitely don’t have that in common. They’ve long been the logical and essential first detour any heavy metal fan’d take after they found the Sabbath groove, appreciated a bit of 70’s Priest and maybe kicked it with a Vitus album or two and wanted something just as real with songcraft and musicianship a step beyond. Chances are you know Eric Wagner‘s name these days because you’ve hit upon traditional doom metal spheres, heard the old legends praised when picking up a Blackfinger or The Skull record, saw either band on tour, or maybe picked up one of several reissues of their 80’s seminal doom metal catalogue. I’d love to reminisce for pages on how important ‘Trouble‘ was both stylistically and lyrically for pulling me into doom metal as well as the logical connection with psychedelia and stoner rock later on but the important thing to state up front is that the life and times of this musician and his former band are inarguably deserving of their own book.

As for the ‘old school’ Trouble fan wondering what this album is, well, it is similar to the music he’d been making on his own terms in the aforementioned bands since 2012 while making an even deeper connection with the ghosts of the past. No less dark, a bit more rocking at times, and mixing it up to a highest standard. What separates ‘In the Lonely Light of Mourning‘ from The Skull‘s two fine, and arguably completely underrated, full-lengths is perhaps arbitrary from a certain point of view depending how you’ll mince the details. I’ve found it to be a matter of harmonizing verses a certain way, going with a slightly more organic production value, and pulling in folks from Trouble‘s past for a set of lead guitar runs that gives the experience a rub similar to the classics Wagner is best known for nearby the late 80’s, this without necessarily breaching any sort of full-on stoner rock bliss.

Opener “Rest in Peace” sounds as if it could’ve moonlighted on a single from ‘Run to the Light‘ alongside the very ‘When Colors Fade Away‘ waltz of “Walk With Me to the Sun”; Not to mention the infectious bluesy stoner hook at the heart of “Isolation” might as well be pulled right from the ‘Trouble‘ playbook to some degree, yet in every case we find a more patient and tuneful maturity from Wagner as a vocalist, showing the wisened hand of age speaking deliberate phrase to the listener. “Maybe Tomorrow” strikes hardest in this sense, rummaging through thoughts on life, death and love in a way that finds a way to rouse rather than defeat the self, melding hope with malaise in creation of a substance which builds the enduring argument that this fellow was and still is irreplaceably faceted into the best of this sort of craft.

The product of four years of long-distance co-writing with drummer/guitarist Dave Snyder (Blackfinger, ex-Trouble) and a sort of ‘all hands on deck’ for compatriots past and present (Ron Holzner, Chuck Robinson, Sean McAllister, Victor Griffin, et. al.) I think it’d be fair to suggest that ‘In the Light of Mourning‘ was meant to be a rally towards a dream album full of personal and professional reflection on Wagner‘s part. The album suggests we remember the artist not only for 80’s doom metal heraldry but also for 90’s stoner metal innovation and the fine work he’d been a part of once Trouble‘s arguably out of touch approach had become stale from his point of view beyond the late 2000’s. Though it’ll be considered a bittersweet last hurrah due to his unfortunate passing it’ll be more of a tragedy if some of the ideas explored here are never elaborated on by his collaborators, such as the cello grinding balladry of “If You Lost it All” and the stoked ‘Badmotorfinger‘-esque ride of closer “Wish You Well”. So, we ultimately find an endpoint with more than enough potential to have kept going and this is probably what smarts most — It’d be fair to say the fellow had plenty more good years in him if we consider the impact of ‘In the Light of Mourning‘ and from my point of view that makes it all the more essential. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:In the Lonely Light of Mourning
LABEL(S):Cruz Del Sur Music
RELEASE DATE:March 18th, 2022

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