Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Trauma-Rapture And Wrath

Pure Steel Records

Best known for being Cliff Burton's band before he went off and joined Metallica in 1983, Trauma is a U.S. power/speed metal band that was originally active from 1981 to 1985 before reforming in 2013. Not to be confused with the dozen plus other bands who have laid claim to the same moniker (or for that matter the other Trauma from California!), San Francisco's Trauma issued it's first recording in 1982 in the form of a three-track demo. While it was really nothing special it is nonetheless worth mentioning that on that particular demo bass duties were undertaken by the late, great Cliff Burton. In addition to releasing the 1982 demo Trauma ended up appearing on the Metal Blade Record's "Metal Massacre II" compilation with the decent enough song "Such a Shame". Two years later this Bay Area band released the full-length debut album, "Scratch and Scream", and while it was a decent enough LP the group's (N.W.O.B.H.M.-infused)  power/speed metal style didn't exactly set the world on fire. Overshadowed by their more successful neighbors the band eventually called it a day in 1985. While another demo cassette did appear in 1984 (one which I have honestly not heard) for Trauma it was all too short of a ride and that might have been the last we heard from the band if not for the folks at Shrapnel Records. In 2013 the band was asked if they would be willing to play out live once more in support of the reissue of their debut album. Quite obviously one thing lead to another as here is 2015 and we are just now getting a good look at the band's proper follow-up to "Scratch and Scream". Seeing as it's been thirty years since this band last released a full-length album you might just be asking if there is a place for Trauma these days. After all a lot has changed since the band first released "Scratch and Scream" and the landscape of heavy metal has undergone far too many transformations.Can a band like Trauma simply walk into a party and shakes things up? Thankfully the answer is a firm yes as "Rapture And Wrath" is not only the proper follow-up to "Scratch and Scream", but a better album through and through! For those of us who were left mostly unimpressed by Trauma's debut album (as I know I'm not alone in feeling that "Scratch and Scream" was merely "OK"*) this new disc almost sounds like a completely different/way more appealing band! While "Rapture And Wrath" sees the return of sole original member Donny Hillier (a high pitched vocalist who was also in Black Sunday Dream) and "Scratch and Scream" contributor Kris Gustofson (a skilled drummer who not only played on "Scratch and Scream", but also plays with the underrated melodic heavy metal band, St. Elmo's Fire) this is really the sound of a completely new band! This is most definitely a band that grew more mature and consistent with time and it is also one that blossomed into a spectacularly fresh unit in the end! It's taken Trauma some thirty years to do it, but they did it all the same! Whether that has anything to do with the stylish playing of guitarist Kurt Fry (guitars) or the contributions of new (as of 2014) and improved bass guitarist Steve Robello** (Dublin Death Patrol, ex-Heist, ex-Rock the Nation (Montrose/Hagar tribute) and ex-Out of Control) isn't so much the question as is where was this band back in the mid-eighties when we really could have used and appreciated them all the more! Maybe it simply is the natural progression of musicians as they age, but lead singer Donny Hillier sounds so much better here as does drummer Kris Gustofson. First off Donny has gone from screeching like a possessed version of Joey Belladonna (Anthrax) to having a voice that is similar to that of Bruce Dickenson! Considering Trauma's long-standing appreciation for band's like Iron Maiden it is a perfect fit here on "Rapture And Wrath". And as for the drumming of Kris Gustofson? One can't help but think that all that time he spent playing in a melodic hard rock band has really paid off. There is a marked improvement in his timing and no matter what type of metal is thrown at him on this 50+ minute recording he is always spot on! Whether it's N.W.O.B.H.M. dressed up as classic heavy metal ("Heart Of Stone" and "Kingdom Come") or a cut that looks to blend the likes of (solo) Dio, Black Sabbath and Pantera together ("The Walking Dead") Trauma's faithful drummer does his duty the best that he can. As this album does flirts with the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Dio it's only natural that a good guitarist is needed to move things along. Here's where Kurt Fry proves his worth. While Trauma's last full-length release required the services of two guitarists the group's latest release shows everyone how less can be more. The solos on "Pain", "The Walking Dead", "Egypt" and "Don’t Tread On Me" are each splendid in their own way as is the nice Metal Church-like guitar work of "Kingdom Come". Fry does well when teamed up with bass guitarist Steve Robello as the pair make for a formidable tag team. While the mix job of "Rapture And Wrath" doesn't always leave the guitarist of Trauma standing in the right light his playing compliments the four-string rocker standing next to him. With these two one side and the vocalist and drummer on the other side you are left with the sensation that here stands a classic heavy metal four-piece band. As it combines a lot of eighties elements the reference to classic heavy metal foursomes seems about right and if you take anything away from this review at all then take that to heart. The new Trauma disc is most-likely to appeal to eighties purists seeing as it wears those influences rather proudly. From the N.W.O.B.H.M. to eighties metal it's all here and when you take into account it's little winks towards older power and speed metal this new Trauma album actually picks right up where their debut left off! It's not without it's faults of course (see the mix job comment) and it's far ways off from being 2015's top heavy metal release (there's other issues with the production and there sure seems to be a lot of re-used riffs between the ten cuts here), but it's definitely a step up from the band's 1984 debut album and it's a real step in the right direction for these San Fran metalheads! I'm actually looking forward to seeing what's next for Trauma because I have this peculiar feeling that should there be a full-length album number three for Donny Hillier and company (and I truly hope there is one) it will be the one to really set Trauma s name in stone!

* See here and the second review here 

**No, we are are not talking about Cliff Burton. The group's current bass player is a marked improvement over "Scratch and Scream" contributor Lucas Advicula and not necessarily Cliff Burton!Just so that we are all clear on that point!

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