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Sex, politics and religion. That’s W.A.S.P. in a nutshell. There is a problem though. Sometimes Blackie & co. just don’t get the balance right. Then one morning W.A.S.P. grew up overnight. That album was called ‘The Headless Children’. It was like a ‘best of’ that included albums that hadn’t even been written yet; you got the existential, the political and the trademark F.T.W. attitude precariously grouped in one hell of a release.
Then came ‘The Crimson Idol’. Case closed. Blackie not only delivered, he took over for a while there. Not much later came ‘Helldorado’. Someone please tell me that album didn’t happen. And along the way more of the same. Half masterful, half forgettable until you get to Parts 1 & 2 of ‘The Neon God’. Both Heavy Metal masterworks unfortunate enough to turn up at the same moment that words like ‘core’, ‘groove’ and ‘nu’ started impressing the impressionable. So W.A.S.P. not only took a metaphorical backseat, they were demoted to parking cars. Except that Blackie decided to call in sick and write this year’s ‘Dominator’ instead. Get ready for it people.
Blackie’s a one man show with a calling card that tells you exactly what each album’s about. This time around this most patriotic of Americans ain’t happy. He’s still patriotic, but someone’s giving patriotism a bad name. Time for Heavy Metal fireworks. Forget the permit, and let’s not bother with crowd control.
“Mercy” and “Long, Long Way to go” get the ball rolling, and the message is you guys shred while I tell them where to go. The lyrics aren’t always nice, but that’s not cheap schlock. It’s social outrage. When Blackie sings about treating your woman bad, read modern imperialism. “Take Me Up” and “The Burning Man” is more of the same. The concept of the album gathers momentum with one catchy number after another, plus some of the mightiest guitar work ever to slice it’s way across a W.A.S.P. release.
And let’s not take those catchy tunes for granted either. If you ever get the feeling that you’ve heard a W.A.S.P. melody before it’s because you probably have. The verse melody of “The Headless Children” is practically part of the band. But since choruses is where it’s at, Blackie grins before pulling out the big guns.
“Heaven’s Hung In Black” takes it’s title from Lincoln, and its metal stamp from no-one. It’s going to take 7 minutes for Blackie to mourn for the soldier being turned away from heaven, and you’re going sit and listen to it. This is how to do a Metal Requiem; open with fragments of traditional piece, move on to concentrated fury, and unleash with an anthem crossed with a funeral hymn. Shouldn't add up, but it does.
“Heaven’s Blessed” is the companion piece, and it works like bandaging the wounded. This is metal by a band that know how to do intense and broken in one breath. Blackie’s not ready to give up on the good in the world, but someone’s just gotta say something about the bad. Hence you have Blackie has spoken, and W.A.S.P. is back.
Despite being well known for their days on the sunset strip, W.A.S.P. are one of the best kept secrets in heavy metal. Everyone knows about the flaming codpieces and 3-minute pop metal of their early output, but many are ignorant of the fact that, since 1989's 'The headless children', W.A.S.P. have been issuing a constant string of high-quality, straight-faced - and often quite dark and poignant - heavy metal CDs.
Other than the experimental 'Kill, fuck, die' from 1997 and the throwback 'Helldorado' which followed in 1999, vocalist, songwriter and all-round superstar Blackie Lawless and his various associates have been putting out assured CDs much in the same vein as 'The headless children' for years now, with social and religious commentary replacing the double entendres on the lyrics sheet.
Line-up upheaval in the aftermath of the muddled and contrived 'Neon god' CDs (among the only real misfires the band have made) saw guitarist Darrell Roberts and long-time drum associate Stet Howland leave the set-up. Joining Lawless and bass player Mike Duda – now in his 11th year as a W.A.S.P. member – are drummer Mike Dupke and former touring lead guitarist Doug Blair, now a fully paid-up band member. Why Blair was never hired to perform with W.A.S.P. on record before now will - after hearing the incredible performance he turns in here - always be a mystery to me. His guitar solos are incredible, combining technical perfection with enough rocking swagger to fit the songs like a glove. Nothing he plays ever sounds like a throwaway fret run, but feels as though it was crafted to fit each song perfectly. Blair has spent the last few years playing in the prog band Signal2noise, and it sounds as though he is enjoying himself immensely playing something a little more traditional, but without ever sacrificing his talent in the process.
Like most recent W.A.S.P. releases, the CD is remarkably consistent, and thankfully on this occasion the songs are consistently excellent. There is nothing that could be described as throwaway or misjudged here. Some of the songs – 2 in particular – stand above the rest, but Lawless has crafted 8 (or 9) real winners for his fans with 'Dominator'.
The strongest point of this incredibly balanced CD comes in the middle, starting with "The burning man" - a soaring, venomous number that is dragged along by a quite excellent lead part from Blair while Lawless spits some none-too-subtle lyrics about the U.S. administration. Political agenda aside, this is easily one of the best songs W.A.S.P. have done in quite a while and will hopefully become a staple in the live environment.
Following this is "Heaven's hung in black" - not only the best song on 'Dominator', but also one of the best Lawless has ever written, and the most breathtakingly beautiful power ballad I have heard in some time. An anguished and tender vocal performance from Lawless details a soldier killed on the frontline reaching heaven's gate only find himself being turned away because there is simply no more room. Melodramatic and cheesy sure, but even an unbeliever like myself finds the prospect of a man finding his paradise reduced to nothing more than an overcrowded field hospital a harrowing one.
Despite this, Blair almost steals the show on this song with 2 titanic guitar solos of extraordinary emotion – in particular, the 2nd, which closes the song as the other instruments come to a stuttering halt, is a jaw-dropping composition able to match up to anything ever offered by a previous W.A.S.P. lead player, giving even Bob Kulick's legendary effort on "The idol" a run for its money. The song is briefly reprised as the CDs penultimate track, before the closer, "Deal with the devil" blasts away the cobwebs as it rides in on an age-old Status Quo-esque riff, with Darrell Roberts giving a memorable guest appearances, lashing out a multitude of brash rock 'n' roll solos as the CD crashes to thundering climax.
'Dominator' represents W.A.S.P. back to where they were going with 'Unholy terror' and 'Dying for the world' after the 'Neon god' sidestep, and with Lawless apparently allowing the music to come naturally rather than trying to force a concept CD to match previous efforts, the results are on a different level. Representative of the reborn W.A.S.P. sound and at the same time standing proudly on its own as a timeless heavy metal offering, 'Dominator' is a tremendous piece of work. W.A.S.P. are an institution, and this effort stands proud as one of their best.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
Like most people I was more than a little concerned about the quality of W.A.S.P.'s forthcoming release 'Dominator'. Let's face it, Blackie's output since The Crimson Idol has been inconsistent to say the least, and while I still had high hopes for this album I gotta admit I had my doubts about it as well.
Seriously, my doubts have ALL just been fucking laid to rest in a BIG WAY.
Dominator has all the makings of a modern classic. Every track on here kicks massive amounts of ass. Vocal, guitar, and drumming performances are nothing short of superb from start to finish. Production-wise I have no complaints, though production doesn't generally bug me anyway (unless it's REALLY bad, but it ain't on here so who cares?). Lyrically Blackie's has given us something intelligent and thought-provoking, as he has always been capable of doing. Everything fits on here and is rounded and balanced, and that's what I like in a good album.
We open with Mercy, a killer opener reminiscent of Wild Child, all killer, catchy vocal hooks and bitchin' leads. What follows is more of the same; fantastic drumming, fantastic vocals, fantastic guitar-playing, fantastic lyrics, perfectly mixing the serious side of the Crimson Idol with the sense of fun of the s/t. There is not a weak track, not a moment of filler on the whole damn album. Take Me Up is as emotional and stirring as the Idol, the chorus on Teacher is so infectious that I will give you a dollar if you don't find yourself singing it to yourself in the next week, and the riffing on Heaven's Blessed is totally killer.
Heaven's Hung in Black is a titanically epic tune starting with an eerie keyboard rendition of 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' and building into a beautiful and powerful mix of melody and passion stretching over seven minutes, with one of the finest solos I've ever heard to close. Blackie reprises this song on the seventh track, which feels like a very natural closer to the album; leaving us with a profound sense of sobriety and closure. He then hits us harder than a shot of Dallas whisky with a fucking balls-out rocker in the vein of 'Blind In Texas' called 'Deal With The Devil'. This 30ml glass of 80 proof asskickery simply makes you wanna get drunk and bang your fucking head – like any good W.A.S.P. rocker should. One might criticise that it disrupts the dark, sombre note we were left on at the end of the Reprise, but if you approach it as something of a bonus track this ain't much of a problem. Certainly the album would have suffered from disincluding it – it DOES kick ass, after all – and tacking it on the end is definitely the best place to put it without disrupting the flow of the rest of the album.
Conclusion? This a pure fucking W.A.S.P. album; well-deserving of a place in the hallowed halls of the band's first five albums. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have little respect for most metal released after 1992, but 'Dominator' is one of those albums that gives me a certain sense of confidence about the future of heavy metal.