Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2020
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Down on My Knees, I Pledge Allegiance - 100%

Cat III, March 1st, 2020
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, Rock Candy Records (Reissue, Remastered)

For as revolutionary as the Plasmatics were for their early blending of punk and metal, it didn't take long before one influence overtook the other. Sophomore album Beyond the Valley of 1984 is their only LP in which their sound is roughly equal parts punk and metal. By their next album, Coup d'État, they'd transformed into a machine as metal as the tank on the cover. The band changed appearance to reflect this shift, giving up gaudy anti-fashion to instead look like dropouts from Nuke 'Em High.

Dieter Dierks, producer for Scorpions and later Accept and Twister Sister, deserves no small portion of credit for the sonic side of the band's transition. Even in its infancy, the band was never as proudly unpracticed as other punk bands, but Coup d'État saw the unit performing with a proficiency beyond what could be expected based on the trajectory of their last two albums, achieving a level of tightness they would fail to match on any subsequent material. Dierks demanded clients meet his exacting standards. Drummer T.C. Tolliver says in the documentary 10 Years of Revolutionary Rock 'n' Roll, “When I thought the album was complete, [Dierks] asked if we were ready to do the album.” Being a staple of their live shows, jams featured in previous Plasmatics releases, and, despite this being their first album not to include live tracks, jamming is still present, though it too has a new character, sounding studiously rehearsed rather than spontaneous; an observation not criticism—you're left thoroughly rocked by the midsection of “Just Like on TV” wherein each instrument takes turns soloing. Though previous albums weren't showpieces of rawness, they were produced with punk restraint, marked by a flat sound even when the band moved from the CBGB audience to courting the Priest and Maiden set. Living up to his credentials, Dierks gave the Plasmatics a production in line with their new sensibilities. Coup d'État is more dynamic though overwhelming is a more apt descriptor as haymaker guitars blast out while the bass bulldozes its way forward, drums let out a healthy pow! and the cymbals are satisfying whether rattling or crashing.

Production is the most noticeable culprit for the band's metalization, but it didn't act alone and certainly is not the most culpable; the songwriting is the ringleader of the operation. Tempos range from slow to mid-paced. The record doesn't pick up the pace until the fifth track, “No Class” which isn't off the charts in terms of speed considering all the other Motörhead songs they could have chosen to cover. They hadn't abandoned their knack for hooksmithing, yet their focus was shifted to heaviness. Riffs fall like so many anvils on Loony Tunes' heads. In his second appearance on a Plasmatics release and first playing on every track, Chris Romanelli makes sure the basslines likewise emphasize percussive force over boppin' and groovin' (or even simple rockin'). This is Richie Stotts' final stint as the band's lead guitarist and though his departure was not amicable (from the little we know), you couldn't ask for a better swansong. Longtime rhythm guitarist Wes Beech handles leads on three of the tracks, and for the first time has as many writing credits as Stotts does (Romanelli has one too, “The Damned”). Both axemen's soloing show chops without letting fancy fretwork overgrow to the detriment of the music.

While none of the tracks plod to the degree of doom metal, many evoke the same feelings and not just by way of low tuning and high gain. “Country Fairs” has the darkest riffs of any Plasmatics song, interspersed with clean notes that are light and staccato. As a testament to these musicians, multiple other tracks (“Lightning Breaks”, “Mistress of Taboo”, “Path of Glory”) have a similar structure, alternating between soft and hard parts, without ever becoming repetitive—I didn't notice this pattern until taking notes. Pursuing more sinister sounds didn't result in losing what attracted fans in the first place. The first three tracks ride classic grooves. “Path of Glory”, “Mistress of Taboo” and the latter half of “The Damned” rumble along like Panzers at a gnarly clip showing they're capable of marrying quick tempos with metal heft. Recruiting T.C. Tolliver made these fast sections possible. He's the fleetest drummer they'd ever had, though speed wasn't his only attribute. During the slower sections that predominate he hits like his kit owes him money, yet with the flair and complexity to show he offers skill as much as power.

As always, band creator and manager Rod Swenson wrote the lyrics, covering the usual topics. On the B-side it becomes socially aware. In the fashion typical of Plasmatics (and a lot of punk bands really) the points being made are vague, conveying anti-authority sentiment rather than any concrete idea or policy. Prior songs weren't apocalyptic like this and neither were later ones until Maggots: The Record. There's a feeling of resignation, with only “Path of Glory” hinting at the revolution alluded to in the album title. If not a stellar lyricist, Swenson at least conjures some demented imagery, e.g. “Morbid weirdos inside your head”, “Giant ape-like invaders swim the river to New York”. The other tracks are about sex. Not a topic unknown to metal bands at the time, though being explicit and touching on topics like BDSM made the Plasmatics transgressive when others were simply vulgar. This was reflected in singer Wendy O. Williams who appeared, on stage as well as the album cover, with only a few inches of electrical tape hiding her nipples from our eyes, yet her mohawk and spiked elbow pads didn't align with the idea of a hot woman then or now, even if such things no longer shock. Attire is just the beginning when it comes to her outré sexuality. Possessing one of rock's most fearsome growls, she wasn't the typical sex kitten singing about sexy things, nor even an oh so naughty dominatrix. My review of Metal Priestess starts by stating the EP heralded Williams as a dynamo, not merely a good frontwoman but a force. Coup d'État supernovas that performance, challenging what it meant to be a rock singer.

What I'm referring to is best illustrated in the first track, “Put Your Love in Me” (possibly a response to the AC/DC song “Let Me Put My Love into You”, though not a cover of Hot Chocolate's minor disco hit). The first noise she makes is a towering scream, the verses are spewed out in a gravel bark, punctuated with more screams, and ending with vocal emanations so intense, calling them screams won't suffice—we need a new word. Williams was no stranger to screaming, but none of her previous efforts utilized the technique like this in either frequency or magnitude, nor would subsequent albums for reasons most understandable. Each day she traveled to Cologne for treatment to prevent vocal cord damage, a story I'd normally suspect of being folklore to boost a singer's bona fides, but here doesn't test my credulity one iota. When not screaming, her go-to is her trademark bark, pushed to levels of masculinity just shy of Lemmy. Clean vocals are present as well, performed even more delicately than on previous albums, to strengthen the contrast, such as in “Lightning Breaks” where her voice is light and childlike in the song's soft sections. Remember this was released in 1982. Harsh vocals existed, but only had a sporadic presence in underground music, making it all the more amazing Coup d'État was the Plasmatics' major label debut, having left Stiff Records for Capitol Records, though it explains why the album didn't sell and Capitol never released a followup. In case you haven't caught on, I'm in awe of this performance. Since this record, we've had screamers out the ass, but none have matched what Ms. Williams accomplished here. It took multiple listens before I paid heed to what the instruments were doing.

Coup d'État is also unique for being the only Plasmatics/Wendy O. Williams album not to have been reissued by Plasmatics Media, Inc., though they sell t-shirts of it on their website, so maybe it's a rights issue. UK label Rock Candy has our back and reissued it in 2005 on a remastered CD with bonus tracks and liner notes. I don't have a copy of the original mastering to compare, but this version sounds great to me (not that I'm pernickety about remasters anyway). The liner notes are fine, the bonus tracks unnecessary. They're demo versions of two tracks from the album plus one, “Uniformed Guards”, that didn't make it onto the final LP. If the entirety of these demo sessions hadn't been released as Coup de Grace a few years prior, these tracks would merit getting excited about (these versions are slightly louder/bassier, for what it's worth). It's not all redundant as the bonuses round out with a fun piece of history in the form of a minute-long radio ad featuring a Don LaFontaine-esque narrator.

After this LP, the Plasmatics name was retired to be replaced by that of its famous singer. The lineup remained mostly intact and officially the decision was made to skirt any rights issues with Capitol, but it was clear the changes went beyond nomenclature. The next effort WOW, vied for the mainstream success that Coup d'État flouted. WOW's failure to sell big lead the band to partially return to their roots, but they'd never recreate their initial magic. In 2020, this portion of their career with its puzzling missteps and weird sidebars and points of brilliance still shining through makes for fascinating history (see my reviews for details), yet it's with melancholy that I consider had there been more albums up to Coup d'État standards, the Plasmatics would lay claim to their rightful place as innovators and badasses. To be sure, their legacy isn't wholly unacknowledged. Rockstars have been spotted in Plasmatics tees, like Eddie Vedder who wore one in the pages of Rolling Stone, Slash and most importantly Chris Reifert. Destruction covered “The Damned” on the Mad Butcher EP, and Deceased and Children of Bodom have covered their songs more recently. Still, the Plasmatics are underrepresented in rock and metal conversations.

My discography review is intended as a corrective to this situation. The Plasmatics mattered. Though mega-stardom evaded their grasp, they enjoyed enough notoriety they can be credited with turning far more punks onto heavy metal (and vice versa) than other early practitioners of blending the two styles like say G.I.S.M. Even if there are still snobs unable to cope with this fact, bridging these once disparate worlds was epochal, sowing the seeds for extreme metal in its various forms. Wendy Orlean Williams introduced harsh vocals to legions of kids. That's but one thing to laud her for. As the finale of the main part of my Plasmatics series, allow me to honor her. A teenage runaway, later an adult actress on stage and screen, before being crowned the Queen of Shock, her ensuing legal battles were victories for free speech, and contrary to what the skimpy outfits and lewd lyrics suggested, she was not in favor of promiscuity, once appearing in a safe sex PSA saying the immortal line “If it's not clean enough to put it in your mouth, don't take it home and sleep with it” as well as using the back cover of her final LP to warn against casual sex. Drugs were also condemned in that text—unlike so many in her field, she lived clean, and, unlike so many straight edgers, did so without being a self-righteous asshole. After multiple attempts, she succeeded in ending her life twenty-two years ago. Reading her terse suicide note reveals her reasoning was not romantic but lucid. Fixating on her death would be a disservice to her art, nor would she have wanted us to. It took many talented musicians to create the band's songs and technicians to set up their stage shows, but it was Wendy who lured us in and it is Wendy who keeps us around.