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This album marked a real change with the band. Gone (predominately) were the tales of partying, how much school sucked, and, to put it bluntly, fucking. Upon first listen, this really didn’t faze me at all. I guess the change in sound, production, pace, and style caught me off guard – I was unable to recognize this upon first listen, thus making The Headless Children a slight grower. For the most part, the simplistic songs have been omitted with ones bearing stronger guitar leads, interludes / intros / outros crossing epic boundaries, and others filled to the brim with oozing emotion and passion that only Lawless could let loose. The way I see it, this album is split in half (thirds if you count the 1998 reissue).
The first four tracks and the “The Neutron Bomber” I count as the first and most impressive half of the album. Yes, “The Neutron Bomber” comes after "Mean Man," but I find "Mean Man" to be such a lame track with it’s simplistic approach, uninspired attitude, and uneventful run that I always skip it. It doesn’t even stand up to the worst of an earlier W.A.S.P. track, which is pathetic and inexcusable – yelling “I’m a mean motherfucking man” with a fractionally cool riff isn’t a good combination. Otherwise, the other half consists of songs with less ambition than the first half (they are closer to earlier W.A.S.P. songs). In that group, however, is arguably W.A.S.P.’s most heartfelt ballad of the 80s, “Forever Free.” I’ve never heard Blackie with so much anguish in his voice before this; it sounds like he can barely get through his lines – the passion, the personal touch, and the despair; it’s all so enduring. Anyway, the reissue tracks carry their own signature impressions and tones in such a way that they’re not really associated with the rest of the album (they’re a bit darker, for one).
The album is loads more focused than Inside The Electric Circus, which consisted of catchy songs after more catchy songs (good for concerts). Here the tone is darker, more aggressive, much more epic, and developed. It’s a different W.A.S.P. that really surprised me in how mature it all sounds – everything from the riffs to the arrangements and the way Lawless sings shows that they overhauled the writing process. This can be heard with the gargantuan anthem of a first track (with its rapturous, melodic, Iron Maiden-esque outro), the title track’s skull-crushing riffs and apocalyptic atmosphere, and what I’d call the best track on the whole album (and probably of W.A.S.P.'s career), “Thunderhead”. Everything from the band’s infectious chorus, to the starkly haunting keyboard intro, to the blasphemous solo interlude-tradeoff between Satan and Blackie (they’re literally talking to each other) will get you pumped out of your seat. Count the number of solos that appear in this track - it's like a harmonic tsunami!
The guitar tone is rough but belligerent, much more than the electrically surging one found on the previous album. The riffs themselves aren’t as bumbling as they used to be, either, but they still hold that distinct ‘80s tinge. Bass support I’d call their best, since the lines are great and you can actually hear them aside by the guitars. When Blackie was on bass, he really didn’t give a whole lot of spotlight to his own lines (or audibility), but at that time it was excusable because the songs were short and catchy. Here, they’re more refined and hold their own closer to a blubbery fashion where you can actually hear it protruding it’s lines against the rest. Drumming itself is vicious, helping attain that aggressive attitude that marks nearly the entire album. The sound is rupturing with every part of the kit a hard-hitting machine. The patterns are very comfortable with the rhythm of the songs, helping manifest a tight experience all-around. In the car I love hearing the double bass galloping with the cymbals crashing like artillery rounds against the earth beside me. Blackie himself retains his brand of yelling / screaming that no one else can replicate. It’s a little more hoarse since he had to adjust toward the album’s more hostile tone, but in this respect he’s much more convincing in the role when shouting all pissed off, especially in the first half of the album.
Anyway, if I had to recommend you a particular version, I’d say go for the reissue. It gives you not only four extra good tracks, but also a production boost that I’d praise. The original isn’t so bad on the production, but it feels pretty lacking with only ten tracks and the experience goes by too quickly, so those extra tracks come in handy. By in large, this marked W.A.S.P.’s journey into deeper and darker territories which, to this day, the band has still been living in. As much as I love the first three albums, this one rules as their most compelling of the ‘80s.