Rock History

A Brief Biographic Tribute to Eric Wagner: 42 Years of Doom Metal

Although Monster Riff has always swung harder into Stoner Rock than Doom Metal, we’ve always respected the Stoner Rock scene’s sonic cousin. After all, the genres share similar roots, and they frequently swap techniques, effects, and themes. 

One of Doom Metal’s biggest influences was Eric Wagner, the former singer for Trouble and, later, The Skull. 

Sadly, one of the genre’s earliest heroes passed away on Sunday, August 22 after battling COVID at 62 years of age. 

Wagner leaves behind an influential body of work that remains a key piece of the Doom Metal canon. He’ll be sorely missed. 

Eric Wagner, former Trouble vocalist

Eric Wagner’s Musical Legacy

Born on April 24, 1959, Eric Wagner became a founding member of Trouble in 1979. With Wagner at the vocal helm, the band took their time honing their sound, waiting until 1984 for Trouble’s first release: Psalm 9. Originally an eponymous album, Psalm 9 is widely regarded as one of the first true Doom Metal releases. 

Despite its obviously heavy nature, glimpses of Christian themes within Psalm 9 eventually earned Trouble the description of “White Metal”—a differentiator between Trouble and the typical fare found in the Black Metal scene. These themes were largely a result of Wagner’s Catholic upbringing and the influence religion had on his earliest lyrics. Trouble, of course, rejected the “White Metal” description. 

Here’s a small taste of Psalm 9:

The Tempter

Psalm 9

Although Psalm 9 didn’t win the band massive fanfare, it did plant the seeds for their eventual cult following, and its momentum led to the release of The Skull in 1985. 

The Skull was met with a flood of rave reviews, and a tour followed—but it also didn’t lead to significant radio play or massive record sales. While The Skull was every bit as heavy as Psalm 9, many of the songs on The Skull occasionally move at a gallop, making it an exciting, breath-taking listen. 

Here’s a small taste of The Skull:

Pray for the Dead

Fear No Evil

Despite the band’s persistence, 1987’s Run to the Light was a similar commercial flop (though it was met with favorable reviews). After a brief hiatus, the band was noticed by legendary producer Rick Rubin, who signed them to Def American Recordings. With Rubin’s support, Wagner and the rest of the band wrote Trouble, a 1990 release that showed the band’s Psychedelic side and ability to write pure Metal bangers in addition to their past Doom Metal work. Trouble toured relentlessly on the success of their new album, traveling with the likes of Dio, The Ramones, and Danzig.

Here’s a small taste of Trouble:

At the End of My Daze

The Wolf

In the following years, Trouble also released Manic Frustration (1992) and Plastic Green Head (1995). 

Putting A Lid on Trouble

In 1997, Wagner took a break from Trouble to form Lid with guitarist Danny Cavanagh, a founding member of Anathema. Compared to Trouble’s Doom delivery, Lid’s In the Mushroom was often light and cheery, similar to the radio-friendly Rock that ruled the airwaves in the mid-1990s. 

While they drifted between the heavy, layered catchiness of Alice in Chains and the melancholic Pop Rock of the Goo Goo Dolls, Lid struggled to find commercial success during its brief existence. 

Here’s a small taste of In the Mushroom’s range:

The Dream Is Over

Window Pain

Back to Trouble And Praise From Probot

Wagner eventually returned to Trouble, but the band primarily played live performances for the next few years. 

Interestingly, ex-Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl released a 2004 tribute album to celebrate his love for Metal, a 10-track effort delivered under the name Probot. The self-titled record featured the legends like Lemmy Kilmister, Wino, King Diamond, and, of course, Eric Wagner. 

Here’s Eric Wagner appearing on Probot:

My Tortured Soul

Praising Eric Wagner and Trouble even further, Dave Grohl explained in the Probot liner notes that purchasing and hearing Psalm 9 was like getting the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.

In 2007, Trouble released Simple Mind Condition in Europe—a move that wouldn’t follow in the US until 2009. Dedicated to former Trouble drummer Barry Stern, Simple Mind Condition again showed the band expanding its sound, showing colors of Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and plenty of Heavy Metal and Stoner Rock. 

Here’s a small taste of Simple Mind Condition

Goin’ Home

Forming The Skull

In May of 2008, Trouble announced Eric Wagner’s departure from the seminal Doom group.

But in 2011, Wagner briefly joined the band for Days of the Doomed Fest, and the warm reception from the crowd sparked something within a few of the members. Soon after, Wagner formed The Skull with former Trouble bassist Ron Holzner and former Trouble drummer Jeff Olson. 

Taking their name from the second Trouble album, The Skull returned many of the band members to their Doom roots, even going as far as covering Trouble songs in their live shows. Playing slow and low and heavy, The Skull again showcased Wagner and co. at their gloomiest—a far cry from the emotions on the Lid project in the mid-1990s! 

Here’s a small taste of The Skull: 

The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Torch of Reality

Eric Wagner’s Final Days

Although The Skull were co-headlining a US tour that started in July with fellow Doom pioneers The Obsessed, they dropped out earlier this month over fears of COVID-19. In a Facebook post, the band wrote:

“Hey All… Due to the ongoing and growing COVID situation sweeping the nation again, particularly in the South where we are currently, we, THE SKULL, have opted to put the brakes on our current tour with THE OBSESSED, who will continue on without us. We will reschedule as much as we can and tour  again properly when things calm down. Thank you for understanding and please be safe out there.”

Just last week, The Skull then backed out of Psycho Vegas, again citing COVID as the primary culprit. In a now-deleted Facebook post, the band wrote:

“Hey all. More bad news… We will not be able to play Psycho Vegas this Thursday. While 3 out of 4 of us who tested positive for Covid are recovering nicely… Eric Wagner’s bout with Covid has gotten worse and he was admitted to the hospital yesterday with COVID pneumonia. Positive thoughts and words will be helpful.”

Unfortunately, Eric Wagner was unable to recover. He passed away on Sunday, August 22, 2021. 

Eric Wagner’s Legacy

Eric Wagner leaves behind an expansive, highly influential body of work. With Trouble, Eric Wagner helped pave the way for modern Doom and Stoner acts alike. With The Skull, Wagner and his fellow band members helped to keep that spark alive, even while the majority of the Doom and Stoner scene is celebrated deep underground. 

Rest in power, Eric Wagner. You’ll be missed.

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