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W.A.S.P. is the metal equivalent of a man with a past. No matter what they do, they’ll always be known for one thing. Let’s call it the shock factor. A steady supply of suspicious codpieces, moronic lyrics and messy stage shows kind of branded them. The sad part is that some fans demand this W.A.S.P. and nothing but. If that’s you, you better look away right now.
So the year was 1989 and grunge was lurking and ready to pounce. The rock and metal scene either made way or made it up as they went along. Here's what Blackie Lawless did. He washed the fake blood off his hands, put on dark clothes and suddenly looked up at the world. The problem is he didn’t like what he saw. The result was the best W.A.S.P. album to date. And the same philosophy of telling it like it is has served him well ever since. On the one occasion he left the philosophy at the door (‘Helldorado’), he came up with something I'm sure he stepped into on the way to the studio.
“Heretic (The Lost Child)” is pound-for-pound the very last thing anyone would ever have expected from a band famous for a song called “Fuck Like A Beast”. Gone are the lazy riffs, fluked choruses and dumb lyrics. In exchange you get a seven minute plus emotional powerhouse statement of sadness and angst that manages deep hurt and astonishing hooks in the same breathe. The haunting prelude builds up to verses that deliver an all-time classic W.A.S.P. chorus forced to desperately battle it out with shredding on a Richter scale run.
The next masterpiece moment is the song “The Headless Children”. And you know what, I could almost cut and paste the whole paragraph above. It’s all there; a gripping opening that builds up to a chorus that delivers catchy and cautionary; the lyrics point a finger at the world over and over again – and the guitars delve instead of destruct like they used to on the early albums. Back then solos just did what they were told. The only other real difference on this song is the vocal hook used for the verses; W.A.S.P. have (and will later) use exactly the same hook a million times over. Yeah, I know – a bit lazy – but honestly, this is the song it was meant for all along.
“Thunderhead” comes in at number four on the album – and although not as almighty an outburst – it still manages some brilliance. The unexpectedly soft piano opening is beautiful in its sadness and leaves you utterly unprepared for the lyrical onslaught of a song about drug addiction that owns you and destroys you all at once. The gang vocals seem to snap at you and the catchiness ensures you get the message loud and clear.
If you’ve been following closely, you’ll have worked out that I skipped the second song. It’s called “The Real Me”. Yep, the same one you’ve heard before; the one by The Who. Some fans love it. Not my thing, and I’ve always liked to think Blackie stuck it on there because a) he likes it and b) the title says it all in terms of what he’s doing on this release. Not so much suddenly all grown up, as suddenly all out loud.
But as any W.A.S.P. fan will tell you, there really is more than one Blackie. That’s how a handful of metal classics ends up on the same album as the next cut: “Mean Man”. I’m sure I read somewhere that Blackie said this song was about Chris Holmes. Either this song or another on the album. Either way, you get tattoos and motorbikes and something you’ve heard before.
In fact the same attitude sums up the rest of the album. Just look at the song titles: “Maneater”, “Rebel in the F.D.G.” and so on. Feel free to yawn if you like. Even the nuclear protest satire in “The Neutron Bomber” gets contaminated by the old school W.A.S.P. riffing that does the job until it’s out of a job. But the good news though, is that Blackie is still managing to avoid the welfare queues twenty years later. So there.