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Between the monumental The Headless Children, the haunting The Crimson Idol, and the horrific Kill Fuck Die we have, after two break-ups, what I consider Blackie Lawless’ forgotten masterpiece. While I deem it just that, it hardly gets the same praise from critics and fans alike, who cite this as a weak and disjointed effort attempting to walk in the footsteps of The Crimson Idol. If anything, this is Lawless’ most touching album, and next in aggressiveness after The Headless Children, Dying For The World, and Kill Fuck Die. After that, it attempts to also show a lively and fun side which, to greater effect, makes Still Not Black Enough even more compelling.
Even though Lawless dislikes the bass guitar, he plays the shit out of it on here. The lead and rhythm guitars, much like on The Crimson Idol, have been toned down quite a bit (except solos) and play a greater role with harmonies and light atmospheric duties. Main atmospheric duties are controlled by keys, which do a fantastic job at bringing down a high-like haze of black and blue tinges – an ethereal otherworld of forgotten love. Acoustics and clean chords play a huge role, much like the last album – these lines, played by Lawless himself once again, pour like grape juice – sweet, somber, and with a introspective richness. Bob Kulick handles lead duties, sure, but even he nails every solo and harmony with precision and unrelenting force.
Where Kulick has the energy, Lawless himself has the passion, the character, the creativity, and the soul. I must say that he’s never had a better performance. Has he been angrier? No doubt - Kill Fuck Die proves that, but Still Not Black Enough is a melancholic album that reflects on the despondent moments of life where reality can truly be as bleaker as it seems. Beyond observations of the insanity around us, Lawless echoes personal struggles and endeavors, namely in tracks like “I Can’t” and “No Way Out Of Here” – the tragic, poignant build-up of the former is matched only by the most epic of W.A.S.P. tracks while the latter contains dialectic lead sweeps and a hair-raising break that shows just how much one man can contain before snapping (the scream before the solo is insane!). The only time Blackie was this pissed off before was on the title-track of The Headless Children (“This Frankenstein of flesh, stitched together back from death!”) – his screams resonate like the turmoil of a raven’s life: despicable, shunned, and pitiful. His vocal style – those trademark grainy, hoarse yells and singing – goes from spiteful and raw to humid and tender. The ballads of “Keep Holding On” and “Breathe” compete well against “Hold On To My Heart” and “The Idol” off the previous album, but there is a stronger sense of searching for a lost identity – when Blackie speaks you can hear, and feel, the anguish lessening its death-grip on his soul.
Frankie Banali handles all the drumming aside from some stuff on “Scared To Death,” but drum rolls still encompass a great deal of his duties; it makes everything a bit more theatrical. Otherwise, he lays some nasty beats down with tons of double bass hops that sort of keep Blackie under control. For some, people will constantly be thinking about those drum rolls, as they’re almost on every song. Still, it’s good for operatic purposes and doesn’t cloud Banali’s rhythmic galloping. The snares are a tad airy, but the rest of the kit is beefy and in the same pit of misery as everyone else. Whereas the drum bass collides with the foundations of the album, the bass guitar collides with the very foundations of the earth. Their grumbles are gargantuan, fluffy, and slick enough to compete with the lead harmonies in a low, cavernous form (think thick rubber bands a Kleenex box).
With the groundwork of the music down, I’d prefer to turn out attention to the tracks themselves, which are much more direct compared to The Crimson Idol. The Jefferson Airplane cover and “Rock And Roll To Death” seem out of place compared to the others, especially the latter (with its 1950’s jive reminiscent of Marty McFly’s climactic song in Back To The Future). Remember though that I consider these short outbursts of euphoria – a side-effect to paranoia and depression that plagued Blackie’s life at the time. The tracks that bear witness to his disorder – the apocalyptic “Scared To Death”, the urgent title track, the profound “Goodbye America,” and the claustrophobic “No Way Out Of Here” – all showcase the inescapable beast in all of us. Some disparaging excerpts from a couple of these tracks prove Lawless’ capabilities to perceptually educate us on what life means today.
Scared To Death
“Grit your teeth and listen for the gun
Get in the runners block and kneel
And run the human race
That decadent decathlon
Let the games begin for real…
Am I a prisoner of the universe? Is destiny fixed among the stars?
Should I cry or laugh?
All I know is that
The best time to laugh is any time you can…”
“I'm engaged in a frenzy of mass self-destruction
I feed upon your famine to fuel my corruption
I'm whole-selling hatred and international incest
To carnivorous hyenas in a global theft fest
I've mastered the arts of death and foreign nations genocide
And those who turn on me commit national suicide”
This would also be the last W.A.S.P. album thus far where b-sides would play a large role in adding on to the whole piece (as it especially did with the previous two albums before this). The Black Forever / Goodbye America single showed that not only did Blackie still know how to write some killer tracks off record, but that he also managed to write / arrange the best ones of his career. The b-sides associated with Still Not Black Enough include the two AC/DC covers (“Long Way To The Top” and “Whole Lotta Rosie,” the latter having a psychotic lead trade-off), a jolly Queen cover, and two original tracks that every W.A.S.P. fan must hear to fully experience Blackie’s darkest hour – “Skin Walker” and “One Tribe.”
“Skin Walker” is the more conventional of the two, but its surrealistic tone grovels at the itch for conformity like nothing else. “One Tribe,” however, is the real deal.. Nothing else on this album competes – "One Tribe" is very rare on print and if anyone has a copy of Still Not Black Enough and hasn’t heard this, then they are missing more than their money’s worth. The dreary keys, the livid acoustics, the sensual harmonies, and arguably Lawless’ most passionate vocal performance outside of ballads lay herein. So much vigor decanted yet so few words to describe the full experience: the vocal and acoustic blemishes crescendo to a blissful violin solo, lead out to the rest of the dauntless charge, and henceforth carve a path for the charismatic, back-to-back solos which then run like an unopposed river of fiery colors. Such a lush song that amazes me every time I hear it, and even more so since it’s regarded as a b-side and sounds quite unique in W.A.S.P.’s huge library of songs.
Blackie has said that W.A.S.P. albums reflect how the band feels at the time. Well then, Still Not Black Enough couldn’t have been any blacker without giving up its very theme. Blackie managed to resurrect the once dead band (for the second time) to roam the planet once more; kind of reminds me of The Crow. Think about it: rockstar dies, comes back from the dead after a crow becomes his guardian angel (crow on the album art and in the “Black Forever” music video), thus allowing him to reflect upon his last days alive and exact retribution on those who’ve caused him pain. Wow, it fits Lawless so damn well – right down to the face paint he’ll soon be applying. Now all he needs to do is get revenge on the perpetrators, and boy does Kill Fuck Die do just that.