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So this is the album everyone was worried about. Because now that Blackie has gone on the record as revisiting his religious roots, then that must mean the metal has gone out the window right? Come on people. This is Blackie Lawless we’re talking about.
The good news is that 25 years on – Blackie is as metal as ever. The bad news is that 25 years on – it’s almost exactly the same metal. Now some people would say that’s just Blackie & Co. staying true to their style. I’d answer that with a question: surely just one bandmate in the last 25 years has stopped Blackie mid-riff and said “Hey Blackie, that’s exactly the same melody you used in (insert one of 20 songs here)!”.
Okay so I’m exaggerating. But not by much. There’s just too much carbon copy in the Wasp discography. Most of it is in the verses. I actually have a theory that Blackie hasn’t written a new verse hook since about 1989. So let’s see how far the choruses have come.
“Crazy” is a firecracker of an opener despite the fact you've heard it all before. The lyrics may seem tame compared to the Wasp of old, but the heart on this sleeve is still bleeding. This is Blackie saying “I know I’ve been a bad boy, but hey bad boys need love too you know?”. And it helps that the catchy chorus is specially built for overtaking on a highway.
“Live To Die Another Day” sounds it like it might have been written by Blackie after he read my second paragraph above and decided “I’ll show him”. For once Wasp doesn’t sound like Wasp always does. Even the eighties throwback guitar reverb on the intro manages to sound nothing like how Wasp sounded back in the actual eighties. What you get is an unexpectedly upbeat head banger complete with gang chorus celebrating Blackie’s spiritual quest and rebirth.
But as Blackie would be first to tell you (as he habitually does in his usual intro blub on each new release) – there’s a always a darkside to things. And if your name’s Blackie, you generally deliver on the dark front. “Babylon’s Burning” is no exception. This one’s high drama metal with lots going on in all departments and layered everythings combining to produce a mini-epic of (quite literally) biblical proportions. For the record, the inspiration for this song is the Book of Revelation. Metal bands have always loved that book. To me it reads like the ravings a pot smoking weirdo. Good luck to him. And yet somehow here Blackie injects some genuine literary dignity with a menacing end narration that works and works well.
But then the middle of the album slips on a banana peel for all the wrong reasons. Or in the case of Wasp – for the usual reason. Blackie once again just can’t help himself and reaches straight back into his own back catalogue to phone in a string of semi-fillers.
“Into The Fire” is the best of the lot with it’s almost ballad quality of sadness and hurt reminiscent of the finest moments of either ‘The Crimson Idol’ or “The Neon God”. For “Thunder Red” and “Seas of Fire” though – reminisce transforms into straight out self parody. Even the song titles sound like something from another album. Neither is particularly bad. Just lazy. Which probably also explains why two out of nine songs on this album are covers. Boring covers. We shall never speak of them again.
There is one song and one song alone though that really is worth the price of entry even on its own. It’s called “The Godless Run”. It’s another ballad and one of Blackie’s finest moments. Period. Remember what I said above about a sleeve on the heart that literally drips with blood and clear eyed intensity? Well this one’s the surgical slicing up of a soul. Blackie knows he’s done some dumb things and invented some fresh takes on old mistakes. But this is his “I’m only human” moment. And he takes us there with a powerfully haunting little tune that builds like a power ballad without the sugar. In fact think more salt in the wounds and the yells that accompany.
In a way this is a strange album. It’s got the visionary scope of a Wasp concept album, but the normally loud and proud Blackie keeps it short here. Maybe he’s trying to hit the right note first. And as he would be the first to tell you, that’s the story of his life. The answer for me lies in the most poignant and powerful lyric on the album: “find time’s gone and made me afraid of the younger man I used to be”. Now, that’s why I still listen to Wasp.
While in the process of exploring W.A.S.P.’s supremely competent 80s albums, I noticed their 2009 opus, Babylon, and decided to go for it. As always with bands who’ve been around for over three decades now, there was one obvious fear concerning this album: would it just be a washed-up effort by a has-been band? Would Blackie Lawless’ numerous vocal and songwriting talents have grown tired with the years? I’m glad to say that, although this album doesn’t quite reach the quality of their first five masterpieces, it’s an impressively kickass effort.
Any fears of the band’s decline are put to rest with the massive rocking opener, Crazy. This is one of those heavy metal anthems which just force you to sing along and appreciate the full energy that our beloved genre has to offer. Blackie Lawless is, as usual, the shining star of the overall sound, providing his profound and powerful vocal delivery as well as the impressive guitar work, along with Doug Blair. The middle of the song features an excellent solo, perfectly placed as an epic transition to some more riffs and the last chorus.
As the album progresses, the template of its opener is used, with some (occasionally significant) modifications, for the follow-up tracks. Babylon in its entirety is essentially classic heavy metal with a variation on the usual W.A.S.P. sound. The album is almost devoid of any of the extremely epic and emotional ballads which make albums like The Crimson Idol so damn excellent. The W.A.S.P. atmosphere, however, is in full force, and several other highlights, such as Babylon’s Burning, remind with incredible accuracy of the band’s rich heritage. Similar to Crazy in its utter catchiness and heaviness, it adds a new level of epic reminiscent of the band’s earliest days and, at some levels, even takes it further than ever before. I’m glad to say that the entire band seems as fully dedicated here as they were during their glorious beginnings. The dedication is visible in the overall effort, mainly driven by the advanced and memorable guitar work (solos abound almost everywhere), as well as by the timeless voice of Blackie. Other elements, such as the drumming, the subtle keyboards and the bass, sound just as good and work with the music as they should. This is in good part due to the production, which allows everything to be heard to perfection and gives the album an added level of heaviness, although that does give away the modern mixing technology absent from 80s classics.
On the slow side of things, which, compared to past albums, isn’t as significant, there are Into the Fire and the especially slow Godless Run. The first is a strong ballad in traditional W.A.S.P. style, with intricate riffs and an emotionally charged vocal delivery. After this, however, the album starts to lose a little bit of steam. Thunder Red’s a decent song, with some memorable riffs around the middle and the end, but it tends to be something of a monotonous drag by W.A.S.P. standards, while Godless Run is rather plodding and pointless despite some good riffs and vocals. Seas of Fire is much better, with pounding drumming backing an instantly recognizable, mid-tempo song which is a definite highlight, although not quite on par with Crazy or Babylon’s Burning. The album ends with a cover of Chuck Berry, Promised Land, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the album at all, either musically or lyrically, and sounds straight out of the 50s (Blackie’s performance is somewhat reminiscent of Elvis). Including this track wasn’t the best of ideas, but at least it’s not actively irritating.
One thing that Babylon has in full supply is a powerful atmosphere, this time around based on the apocalyptic themes that drench the lyrics almost everywhere. Although the band’s usual brand of lyrics focusing on love and passion is still somewhat present, the former subject takes precedence. It deals with a very biblical apocalypse, with a heavy emphasis on fire and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The subject is tackled quite well and it makes the lyrics interesting to follow.
Babylon isn’t a fluke, but it’s not perfect either. With a couple of almost forgettable tracks and a misplaced cover, it’s dragged down a bit. Still, the quality material far outweighs the clunkers and this is certainly worth hearing since the W.A.S.P. trademark sound and high quality is still present. I’d even go as far as calling this album a highly desirable modern heavy metal effort, despite its shortcomings.
Still rocking the world well into his 54th year, W.A.S.P. mainman and all-round legend Blackie Lawless brings forth the fourteenth studio album of the band millions of American Christians thought might be the devil incarnate in those naive days of the '80s. Their anthemic "Wild Child", released in 1985 on "The Last Command", may be one of my favourite songs ever but short of knowing this and their self-titled debut albums I can't admit to knowing much of their material from the 24 intervening years.
Sure, their set at Hellfest was great this past summer but do W.A.S.P. still have what it takes on record in 2009 when a quick bit of research leads to the wide held conclusions that the band haven't released a truly great album in close to 20 years? Well if "Babylon" isn't the album to break that duck then W.A.S.P. are never likely to produce another 'great' album as through 43 minutes Blackie and his merry troop show their years of experience in releasing a collection of classic hard-rocking metal of the kind that is destined always to be loved.
Even ardent fans of hard rock/heavy metal of this nature would struggle to argue that the genre has had it's low moments since being spawned seemingly millennia ago, but such is the sheer likability of the sound that even today serious enjoyment can still be derived from it's rich waters. Opening with "Crazy", which itself opens with exactly the same chords as "Wild Child" (how did Blackie not notice?!), the quality is remarkably high throughout until the needless cover of Chuck Berry's "Promised Land", even including the obligatory ballad ("Godless Run") which is usually the track when my goodwill is thrown out the window never to be seen again. The conviction in which “Godless Run” is executed shows it to be infinitely better than the ballads deployed frequently by today’s power metal fraternity and stands as a testament to the ongoing quality of Lawless’ voice, a vocal that has changed little over the years yet shows no sign of tiring or fading.
Continuing the theme of succeeding where most others fail, "Babylon's Burning" is simply an excellent heavy metal sing-along destined for the live environment, while "Into The Fire", a part-ballad part-rocker, will no doubt be air guitared to in time with it's strong Foreigner "Juke Box Hero" feel and 80’s glory and decadence. Perhaps it's good that I can't much compare this to recent W.A.S.P. material; I might just have the air of naivety required to digest "Babylon" for truly what its worth. That worth is without doubt an expertly written and played hard rocking album that anyone and everyone who is reading this should enjoy.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net