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W.A.S.P. > Black Forever / Goodbye America > Reviews > hells_unicorn
W.A.S.P. - Black Forever / Goodbye America

A preamble to an older shade of black. - 84%

hells_unicorn, April 16th, 2019
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Raw Power

It was a dark and turbulent time, that brief transitional era between the fateful end of the grunge scene and the beginnings of the post-grunge parody that began rearing its soulless carcass. It was not so much a total power vacuum, but it was pretty safe to say that the wind had been taken out of the proverbial sails of grunge's recent ascendancy with the untimely passing of its most auspicious figurehead, and it wasn't wholly clear just where things were going to go when 1995 rolled in. Perhaps the greatest degree of stability to be found was among the remnant of the metal world, as apart from the recent groove craze ushered in by Pantera, Sepultura and Machine Head, those that had stuck closer to the old ways were largely oblivious to either the pressure to crack the Top 40 (that ship had basically sailed a couple years back) or the drama that was plaguing the rock mainstream. Perhaps the most oblivious to these goings on was W.A.S.P. front man and recent metal opera pioneer Blackie Lawless, who found himself in the ironic position of paralleling the highly personalized and arguably confessional character of the Seattle lyrical approach, though largely ignoring the sonic packaging that went along with it.

As with his largely overseas hit The Crimson Idol, the task of promoting his eventual follow up Still Not Black Enough would largely be one that would center on markets outside of Lawless' home country. Given the market had become even more inhospitable to 80s heavy metal by the middle of the decade, the lone EP known as Black Forever/Goodbye America would stand as a preview for what would come towards the tail end of 1995, existing in three different versions of varying worth. Of these releases, the two CD versions would prove far superior to the two song vinyl single, each containing additional b-side material that would rival and arguably surpass much of what made it onto the initial LP release. The relative superiority of these versions rests largely on whether one wishes to hear two competent AC/DC covers or two riveting original songs that, by all standards, should have been included on the subsequent LP. To be clear, "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Long Way To The Top" are basically faithful renditions with a punchier guitar sound and an even more forceful vocal display courtesy of Lawless, and one would be remiss to deny that AC/DC's influence has not been sizable on much of W.A.S.P.'s seminal output.

Be all this as it may, the more superior material contained in the first edition of this EP is where the real action lies, not withstanding that the duo of AC/DC covers does betray the more rock-based retread of the mid-80s that largely culminates in Still Not Black Enough's sound. The opening banger "Black Forever" shares a fair amount of musical similarity to "The Invisible Boy", though having more of a stripped down character and sporting a production that is a tad bit thinner. This tendency to channel elements of The Crimson Idol does not end with the opening song, as the politically charged mini-epic foray "Goodbye America" contains echoes of "Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)", including a similarly haunting poetic narration at the beginning over a droning acoustic guitar line. Overall, the presentation is a bit less metallic than that of the previous LP, but the same epic mixture of atmospheric keyboards and shred-happy guitar solos courtesy of Bob Kulick makes for a similarly spellbinding experience. The real pay dirt, however, is hit once the brilliant upbeat cruiser "Skin Walker" is unleashed, playing off a brilliant shimmering build up segment featuring an electric sitar and exploding into a blistering chorus segment like one of the climactic points heard on The Headless Children.

As the EP closes its doors with a brilliant and blistering ballad in "One Tribe" that all but outdoes the signature interludes into softer territory on the last two LPs, featuring a massive violin solo that would have made the likes of Celine Dion jealous, a pretty clear impression is left what would be the dominant character of Still Not Black Enough, namely Blackie's vocal work and lyrics. As much as the music that rounds out this release is a brilliant exercise in reaffirming and expanding upon the range of the W.A.S.P. catalog, there is a case to be made that these songs, even more so than the ones that were created during the sessions for The Crimson Idol, function more in a solo project capacity. All of the bells and whistles that make up W.A.S.P.'s career thus far are all over this, but the highly personalized lyrical expression that rains all over this like black water from the sky is a bit out of character. Some of Lawless' most intense moments as a vocalist, both in terms of raw aggression and range of emotional expression, are all over these songs and the ones that would surface on the upcoming LP. But above all else, it is a very different expression from the self-loathing one that defined the grunge period, one that is more self-aware and is unafraid to let it all hang out.