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The paradoxical tragedy of superstardom. - 100%

hells_unicorn, April 13th, 2019
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Capitol Records

George Carlin once remarked on his distaste for America's seemingly slavish fixation with national symbols by stating "I leave symbols to the symbol-minded." This saying has since become a sort of nihilistic credo among apathetic trustees of cultural fatalism as a blanket dismissal of not only objects pertaining to American patriotism, but often any sort of metaphorical expression that touches upon ethical, political or aesthetic pursuits. This was likely not Carlin's intention, and even the most edgy of apathy-mongering hipsters who are nostalgic for his 1992 Jammin' In New York standup to the point of ironically religious devotion will apply this mentality hypocritically, but it stands as a rather telling example of the ongoing cultural decay that had seeped into the American zeitgeist in the 90s. Taking note of the horrid state of the world, then paraphrasing that "Well, whatever, never mind..." saying popularized by rock music's, at the time, supposed savior with a cynical smirk was what the kids were into, and there was no telling them otherwise. But in spite of the anything goes mindset that would seem to logically follow from such an environment, there were two things that were clearly taboo to the newfound ideology of Generation X, and those were any sort of remnant of 80s culture, and anything that sought to pull down the veil of sarcasm and deal with matters in a compelling manner.

It may seem ironic that this state of affairs would be the birthplace of one of heavy metal's crowning achievements, but it is always at the story's darkest hour that true heroism is realized. Naturally the American market was largely uninterested in anything that an 80s icon of shock rock and excess such as Blackie Lawless had to say on things, thus the conceptual metal opera that is The Crimson Idol originally sought greener pastures in the European market and didn't even see an official release in the U.S. until well into 1993, arguably when the market was even worse for anything carrying the metal banner. If any trustees of grunge culture at the time took notice of this album, it would have likely been to scoff at the notion of an act like W.A.S.P. going a more serious route in a manner similar to Nirvana's jeering at Bon Jovi donning flannel and a shorter haircut, blissfully unaware of the cautionary tale that laid within for their soon to be dead fad or the musical credibility that it carried, fueled in part by similar influences to those boasted by Kurt Cobain when interviewed on the origins of his style. Then again, persons beheld to such a mentality probably would not have known what to do with the musical content of this massive opus, either from a lyrical standpoint or for the fact that musically this album functions as the perfect synthesis of everything they proclaimed to love and despise about rock and metal's recent past.

To anyone schooled in the evolutionary strides of rock and metal music through the 70s and 80s, this album's stylistic origins are immediately obvious, as is the logical progression that emerges relative to its immediate predecessor The Headless Children. The template of both musical and lyrical storytelling dovetails heavily with The Who's rock opera format as employed on Tommy and Quadrophenia, interweaved with folksy acoustic passages that often mimic Pete Townsend's signature style, yet reinterprets them into a far darker and depressive mode of expression. Likewise, the generally jazzy looseness and stylistic eclecticism of The Who's approach is tempered into a far more regimented and tight template, consisting of occasional symphonic and atmospheric detailing, but largely makes up the difference by injecting a metallic sense of aggression and a healthy array of flashy guitar solos to heighten the album's sense of drama. Truth be told, while Blackie Lawless comes dangerously close to being a one-man band here, embodying the musical characters of both Townsend and Roger Daltrey (the latter of whom he shares many similarities), credit should be given to Bob Kulick and especially ex-Lion guitarist Doug Aldrich for picking up the slack of the recently departed Chris Holmes and providing a highly idiomatic and technical set of lead breaks to this massive work.

With the blessing of Pete Townsend and the recent success in emulating this album's inspiration via a cover of "The Real Me" on the last album, one might take this album to be a glorified rock album that abandons the intensity of the past four albums for the more nuanced territory of a 70s rock throwback, but this is the exact opposite of what Lawless commits to recording here. Combining some aspects of the more AC/DC meets Twisted Sister sound of the early days with the epic, Iron Maiden-influenced splendor that typified The Headless Children, this album stands as the most logical next step for the W.A.S.P. brand, a fact that was lost on Lawless himself at the time due to its more ambitious character, and continues to be on that of mainstream rock critics who still fail to properly understand this album's nature. On the more stripped down and metallic side of this resulting spectrum stands crushing rockers of passion and angst like "The Invisible Boy" and "Arena Of Pleasure", the latter sporting a wicked chorus riff that sounds like a slightly more thrashing answer to Sabbath's "Neon Knights". Occasionally this more metallic edge smacks up against an older rocking vibe that dovetails with the 70s rock inclinations of the acoustic passages, most notably on "Docter Rockter", which listens heavy and hard enough for early 80s Judas Priest but is sonically comparable to several songs from The Who's early 70s period.

Though individually, each song found on this album is quite impressive and can function in a standalone fashion similar to W.A.S.P.'s more accessible early days, this is an album that basically compels the listener to treat it like a book to be read from start to finish. In this light, while the album proves to go a bit heavier on the balladry than anything Lawless had ever put together, there is a utility to every recurring acoustic interlude and the mostly balladic anthems of "The Gypsy Meets The Boy", the extended epic power ballad "The Idol" and the somewhat more sugary yet functional "Hold On To My Heart". The resulting sense of melancholy and longing plays perfectly into the struggle of the central character of this all too familiar and semi-autobiographical tale, creating needed breaks between the points of raucous passion and fury that signifies his angst as he struggles against his "Four Doors Of Doom", a less than subtle nod to the four personalities of the principle character in Quadrophenia. Yet the real brilliance of this all-encompassing conceptual formula is the points of musical climax, namely the brilliant sing-along rocker "I Am One", the galloping Iron Maiden-infused epic anthem to the villainous record executive "Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)", and the grand finale/tragic end of the protagonist "The Great Misconceptions Of Me" that all but listens like a suicide note set to music.

It is often customary for time to be set aside to remark upon the existing flaws or otherwise provide a caveat to an otherwise perfect creation, but such a thing doesn't really apply here. About the only point that could be made regarding this album's presentation is that there was additional material that was cut in order to make it marketable to the average W.A.S.P. fan of the day, material that would have further heightened this album's similarity to its longwinded and vivid forerunner Quadrophenia. However, it only really becomes an issue for anyone who views the original release as lacking due to the multiplicity of supplemental releases that further elaborate on the story such as a collection of b-side single songs and the single/video The Story Of Jonathan that features Lawless doing a 17 minute narration of the album's story in its entirety to the sound of an acoustic guitar recapping interlude material from the album and some creepy atmospheric additives comparable to an Edgar Allen Poe book on tape experience. Nevertheless, the story stands sufficiently strong solely on the lyrics of the 10 songs that ultimately made it onto the original release, and the remnants tend to function more as gravy on latter reissues that largely serve to fill gaps in the protagonist's early life in his abusive home that is summed up on "The Invisible Boy" and recapped at the album's finale.

In retrospect, The Crimson Idol was the right album at the right time, not only in a mere musical sense, but also as a stern rebuke against the direction that Generation X was headed with the ascendancy of grunge and the demise of metal as a commercial force in the states. Though Lawless may not have specifically intended it, he all but perfectly prophesied the fall of the Seattle scene as a cultural phenomenon, and provided a telltale warning to the icons and the masses of said scene in the midst of their commercial hegemony of what was waiting for them in the near future. To this day, the author of this review is still awestruck at how the final confession of the Jonathan Steel character on "The Great Misconceptions Of Me" lines up with Kurt Cobain's suicide note, though Steel's account lacks the specific affinities with punk culture and has the audacity to name his own parents as the original culprits of his fate, thus causing one to wonder if maybe Lawless understood the friction that existed between the Baby Boomer generation and their forgotten children better than Cobain himself, or if Lawless' elder and more brazen nature simply gave him the courage to spell it out. It's a timeless testament to the dangers of the Faustian bargain that comes with fame, the harm that parents visit on their children through self-absorbed and tyrannical rule, and a symbolic representation of how only love can save the prodigal son. Perhaps this simply is the lone speculation of a symbol-minded onlooker, but symbols have their place, and this album is one that towers high above the rest.

The marriage of sleeze and emotion - 100%

Caleb9000, June 10th, 2016

There have been few concept albums in the history of music that possess the capacity to take the listener on the journey that it was created to take him or her on. Especially ones in the "sleazy" hard rock genre. This is largely due to the fact that very little real emotion lies within most of the music (even the pussy ballads). However, there was an exception made during an unlikely time period, made by an unlikely band. While certainly not a hair band, the L.A. Sunset Strip metallers known as W.A.S.P. were certainly on the catchier, less brutal side of heavy metal (although not for the time of their formation). The thought of them releasing a concept album seemed as though it would most likely be a massive disappointment to those who had enjoyed their material at the time. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is the best album of their entire career, as well as one of the greatest metal albums of all time. Never in my entire life have I heard music of this nature with so much emotional weight. Every second of the music on the album is perfectly suitable for the concept, as well as highly memorable and appealing. The way that it all begins is perfect. Just the opening lyrics are thought-provoking.

"I look at my face in the mirror
...and I don't understand.
Don't feel like a boy and it's not getting clearer
...but I don't feel like a man".

Right afterwards, you know that something big is bound to occur indeed. It does just that with "The Invisible Boy", a frightfully energetic dark anthem with no forgeability whatsoever. Greatly brings tension to what is to come later on in the story. But it really brings things up on the following track, "Arena of Pleasure", a fast and furious rocker that manages to bring together the feelings of excitement and sadness in a way that is nothing short of perfect. The tension builds up even further both musically and conceptually. As our protagonist, Jonathan begins do discover the wonders of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, the albums becomes more and more multi-dementional stylistically, yet straightforward feelingly. The ode to drug-use, "Doctor Rockter", as well as the time of getting a record deal in "Chainsaw Charlie", as well as others showcases the album's capability to do just that. As incredibly fun as the first half of this album is, the second half is incredibly depressing. It is made up of a mixture of very gloomy hard rock and balladry. An example of the first would be "I Am One", an atmospheric track that seems exciting when you don't listen to the album, but to those who have, it seems like a gateway to something horrible that is bound to happen to Jonathan. I will not spoil anything more conceptually, but "Hold On To My Heart" is an incredibly soulful and sorrowful ballad with amazing lead vocals. The main melody line in this track is rather simple, but what it does within itself is unforgettable and definitely worthy of note on a perfect album such as this one.

However, the real highlight and climax point is the closing song. "The Great Misconception Of Me", is the greatest song that W.A.S.P. has ever written in their entire career. There are moments of depressing balladry, epic hard-rocking, as well what seems like beautiful ambience. The first section, which is the acoustic intro, is incredibly depressing. When Blackie sings, "I don't wanna be the crimson idol of a million eyes", it eats at your every being. It reuses certain sections from the rest of the album, perfectly crafting a track that shows you all that Jonathan has gone through, as well as what it has led up to. The wailing done by Blackie in the heavier sections is the best that it had been in years. Just when people thought that his voice was beginning to wear out, he gives the performance of a lifetime. The balladry that follows gives the perfect fade-out effect. This is one of the best songs in metal and it is definitely the most underrated.

This is the most underrated album in all of metal. The fellow reviewers who have touched it on this site seem to agree with me. Do not skip over this album because of the false allegations that this is hair metal in the vein of Poison, this is raw and dirty heavy metal mixed with utter emotion. I never thought that sleeze and emotion could ever mix until I had given this album a listen. I have always felt that depressing music has carried more emotional weight than uplifting music. This album purely proves that. Blackie Lawless was alone in the making of this album. He did what he had to do and he did it to his farthest extent. This is an album that will satisfy most fans of classic W.A.S.P. and those who want more feeling alike. This is one of the greatest concept albums of all time, as well as an album that could change the way that you think about bands such as Dokken, early Motley Crue, as well as W.A.S.P.

The pinnacle of Blackie's musical career? - 97%

harrees, January 25th, 2014

The Crimson Idol by W.A.S.P. released in 1992 is a concept album that circles around a story of a Rock star named Jonathan. The legend has it that this is partly autobiographical of Blackie Lawless himself.. Whatever it is, this is still considered as one of the best concept albums of all time..

After getting lyrically serious with the release of Headless Children, Blackie had come with an album that links the lyrical and musical components so wonderfully. Never has been the aural space used in a better manner in a heavy metal album like in Crimson idol.

Since this is a concept album, the lyrics and themes are repeated throughout.. Like.. part of “I am One” is repeated in “The Great Misconception of Me”.. part of “Invisible Boy” is repeated in “The Great Misconception of Me”... even the solos are repeated... But you know what, it works wonderfully and gives the sense of completeness.

The musical influence of Blackie is also evident in this LP. Like in "The Titanic Overture", we could hear the influence of The Who. Blackie knows from where to drink the influences.

Musically, this album is an upgrade of the first five albums.. The dead-on sense of melody which WASP is so capable of.. Simple but effective riffs, but in Crimson Idol, Blackie mixes these elements with emotions never experimented in any of the WASP earlier albums. The thumping intro to "Arena of Pleasure".. the crazy middle portion of "Chainsaw Charlie".. the beautiful "Gypsy Meets the Boy".. The balls out "Doctor Rockter" similar to the Headless Children B side "For Whom the Bell Tolls" And the live intro in "I am One".. All beasts of the highest order.. "Being crazy in paradise is easy...." and the solos beneath it.. You have to hear this to believe in this.

I cannot find a single duffer in this LP. Some might say "Hold on to the Heart", though it might not be a connecting song in the scheme of things on a lyrical front, the sense of brilliance in the music is unquestionable. Absolute genius stuff..

A befitting epic number kept at the last which sums up the story and the musical themes that appeared at various other places are repeated here.. Long live.. long live.. long live the king of Mercy... sounds familiar?

This should be the standard by which all concept albums should be judged. This is probably the 1273529th time I am listening to this album and it never tires.. Every time I get to hear something new.. Some noodling solos.. riffs that are repeated elsewhere in the album..

I am sure that any self respecting metal-head would already be possessing this LP, if not, get it now.. Pick up the two CD version which includes the menacing "Phantoms in the Mirror" (was it missed to be included in the LP? Or was it from Headless Children session? Never mind.. we have it in here), the stunning cover of Led Zeps "When the Levee Breaks" and quite a number of live songs.. All played very competitively..

Highlights: Everything!!

Blackie and folks has never come up with anything like this before or after. This has to the pinnacle of Blackie's musical career.

What are you waiting for? Get up, grab the CD and bang!! You will keep hearing this more and more...

Excuse me while I raid the medicine cabinet - 99%

BastardHead, January 26th, 2013

So last week I rallied against a cult classic that I cannot for the life of me grasp the universal adoration for (Toxik's Think This), and was swiftly called out for my atrocious taste. I won't deny it, I dislike a lot of things that the general metal fandom adores (Dark Angel, Manilla Road) and vice versa (Lamb of God, As I Lay Dying), I'm bound to butt heads with people fairly often. But, while I adore being the center of controversy and attention, every once in a while I feel the need to wheel backwards and join in a good ol' fashioned circle jerk. The biscuit in the center of it all today? Why no other than W.A.S.P.'s most ambitious, and amazing, most outstandlingly mindblowingly great concept album, 1992's, The Crimson Idol.

I would like to run a quick experiment on you if you've yet to hear this album. First off what the fuck is wrong with you? Secondly, go to Youtube and look up "Doctor Rockter". Take in that song, it's the shortest one on the album outside of the intro track, so it's not much of a time investment. It's a fun, hard rocking track, while at the same time carries a very strong, dark overtone. The Deep Purple styled rock organ keys keep the tone bleak and dreary despite the high tempo, and the broken plea for salvation in drugs in the chorus just gives this sick feeling of cognitive dissonance. It's a jovial rhythm coupled with a layer of dirty, horrifying tragedy on top of it. It all works perfectly.

It is also the worst song on the album.

Seriously, almost no other record in the history of heavy metal can shake a stick at the consistently stratospheric quality of the songs on display in The Crimson Idol. This is one of those one-in-a-million albums where every idea hits bullseye, all but one or two minor nitpicks about this album are just perfect. Not a single note is wasted, Blackie's ear for melody was always astonishing, but here it just reaches a new level. No solo is excessively noodly, no riff is overdone, no chorus repeated too often, everything is perfectly portioned and hits every target. I can't stress enough how nearly every single element at play falls into place with absolutely no awkwardness.

Now before I derail into foaming-at-the-mouth fanboy lunacy, I have to make a preposterous claim really quickly that I'm sure will make perfect sense once I explain myself. Simply put, The Crimson Idol is the heaviest metal album of all time. I mean this on a purely emotional level, no other album, besides maybe Wormphlegm's Tomb of the Ancient King carries the sheer emotional weight that this album carries. The first time I heard this, I knew it was a concept album, but I didn't really know the story behind it. I didn't listen to the lyrics very closely, but by the time the closing notes of "The Great Misconception of Me" were wrapping up, I just felt... awful. I felt like the worst human being on the planet, for absolutely no readily discernible reason. My whole world was bleak and grey, and I just felt like I lost my best friend, and that it was somehow my fault. Every single time I listen to this album, even now that I know the narrative, I end the experience feeling drab and depressed. Seriously, this album should come packaged with a revolver and a solitary bullet, it's so goddamned bleak.

Two of the reasons the emotional impact hits so expertly close to the soul are the pacing and repeating motifs. The opening overture, aptly named "The Titanic Overture" introduces at least two of the main themes of the album, with other riffs, melodies, and vocal lines being introduced down the road that resurface more and more as the album goes on ("Only love can set me free", "Long live the King of Mercy", and "I don't want to be..." are the three most prominent). Throw this in with the flawless pacing and you have a recipe for clinical depression. The album starts off with a hat trick of high octane rockers, all layered with enough ominous foreboding to last an entire Axis of Perdition album, before giving way to a ballad break (and a fittingly dark one at that), two more rockers, and ends on two and a half ballads, with the last ten minute track being half and half, with a reprise to the opening sequences of "The Titanic Overture" to wrap up the album nicely. What this does is allow us listeners to experience the album in the same way that the narrator (Jonathon) is experiencing the story. With the urgent start out of a dark beginning, our appetite is whet by the promise of this monolithic experience, and as it progresses, it gets darker and darker, eventually slowing itself to a peaceful crawl. By the time "The Idol" is done, you're really to just lay down and accept death as your punishment for all the decadence that preceded that moment, just as Johnny is unfulfilled by the fact that his newfound success still doesn't earn him the respect of the always cold and distant family that had disowned him. "The Great Misconception of Me" ends the album in the most beautiful way imaginable, a remorseful plea for forgiveness followed by a public suicide. This shit is so heavy and tragic, and the way it's laid out lends itself to vicarious shame and hopelessness. The repeating themes and motifs are so brilliant because the same things that were so epic and entertaining in the beginning of the album are the same things that are slowly killing us by the end. The same imagery in a different light, and it really puts the entire theme of the album in perspective. And all of this emotional depth and complexity is coming from the same songwriter that routinely delivered no less than six songs about masturbation per album back in the 80s, go figure!

That previous paragraph really sums up what makes the album work so well, but it would all be moot if the songwriting wasn't stellar as well. Every element meshes in a brilliantly dark way, particularly those keys. They're mainly that rock organ sound that Jon Lord made his trademark a few decades prior, and they're almost always layering themselves over the classic metal riffage in an ominous fog. Each and every riff also manages to capture the emotion of their respective tracks perfectly, with "Arena of Pleasure" being a giant riff monster that is both fulfilling and at the same time numbing, whereas "I am One" sounds initially triumphant before descending into more foreboding territory. The unconventional use of two different drummers (Stet Howland and Frankie Banali) produces some incredibly busy and frantic rhythms. Seriously, these fellas really channeled their inner Bill Ward for these performances, there are rolls and fills all over the place. While flashy, they always work to the advantage of the musical narrative, increasing in complexity and frequency the more urgent the guitar work would get. And all of this is masterfully contained within the framework of that special brand of fist pumping heavy metal that W.A.S.P. was always so stunningly good at. The infectious hooks are still around, however dark they may be nowadays. The first three songs in particular nail this particular strength of Blackie's the strongest, with "The Invisible Boy" being one of the catchiest songs about neglectful, abusive childhood ever written. Every chorus sticks in your mind, from the sorrowful plea for forgiveness of "The Idol", the celebration of debauchery of "Arena of Pleasure", or the rock n roll excess of "I am One".

If I'm going to be nitpicky on an Antwilerian level, I do have to point out that, while the pacing of the album is perfect, I can't help but wonder if "Hold On to My Heart" is misplaced. "The Idol" ends with Jonathon's parents essentially telling him that he's dead to them, and so the broken man is told that "it's showtime", and a roaring crowd crescendos in. Smash cut to silence, and then the fantastic acoustic ballad, "Hold On to My Heart" plays. When it concludes, the finale ("The Great Misconception of Me") begins with Jonathon saying "Welcome to the show...". It just feels like time stopped and the obvious power ballad was kind of shoehorned in right there. It's literally the only moment the narrative suffers, and I feel like the two ballads should have swapped places, because the pacing is still beautifully flawless with those two slow songs being at the end of the album, but story-wise it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

But that's it, that one little nitpick is literally my only issue with The Crimson Idol. Everything else about this album is among the best in the genre. The songwriting, the hooks, the riffs, the solos, the choruses, the ballads, the mood, the tone, the pacing, the atmosphere, the story, every single thing works magnificently, most importantly of which is the emotional connection that most people can make with this album. It revels in an upbeat darkness that initially veils a bottomless depth of brooding sadness that eventually takes center stage by album's end. This is among the weightiest metal ever written, across any subgenre. When I'm depressed, I rarely listen to optimistic music in hopes it'll cheer me up, instead I like to find something sad or hopeless and just wallow in my negativity for an hour, and The Crimson Idol is right up there with Sunn O)))'s Black One and Tyranny's Tides of Awakening for such a task, the main difference being that I one can listen to this without a requisite mood, but don't be surprised if you, like me, end up feeling like you need to grab a straight razor and head to the bath by the time it wraps up.

Originally written for

Downfall - 92%

OzzyApu, November 1st, 2009

Of all the W.A.S.P. albums, the one that’s hailed as the best took the longest to sink in, and the personal reward may be greater than all the other albums. This isn't my favorite by the band, but it shot from the lowest of the low to within my top five beloved W.A.S.P. albums. This album has a life of its own – the missing link which the first four couldn’t supply. The story has been told a million times to a wide variety of fans; a common tale of finding comfort in the solitude of life. The difference is that the voyage is told through intricate weaving cleverly crafted into one of the best concept albums serving heavy metal.

The leads are especially gratifying, showcasing elaborate melodies and stampeding riffs split between Lawless and Bob Kulick. The tone is softer than The Headless Children, but that makes it more comforting for the disposition. The acoustic inclusions bring out a textual flavoring and the rhythm backs it up in times of need. When this happens, the songs go all-out like a burst of rage. On top of it you have the bass, which trickles fervently moreso than on the last album. The tone reaches deafening proportions when the bass is involved, taken on by Blackie himself once more. During the ‘80s he hardly cared for this “instrument of ignorance,” but his performance with it here dimisses such a claim. Especially during the acoustic sections is where you’ll find yourself in love with the soothing bass lines, easing the mood and creating a relaxing atmosphere. Be prepared to wake up, though, since during the heavier parts it doesn’t mess around; when it rides with the riffs, it rides to slay. If you are a new W.A.S.P. fan who arrived fresh off the ‘80s material (as I was when I first heard this), then you’ll find that this album uses more acoustics than the first four albums combined.

The production is clearer, the instruments are crisper, the vibe is darker, and the riffs are more melodic and morose than before. The most anguish comes from Lawless himself; his vocals poignant, guilty, frail, and dry. He’ll scream, he’ll shout, he’ll snarl, but most of all he’ll sing passionately. The mix is balanced with the utmost precision, so his vocals aren’t buried a bit like they were on the previous album or high above the instruments like on the album before that. Through his voice you recognize the voice of Jonathan, the martyr of our story. The adventure is a common one, but the tale is much more touching and Blackie, as well as the listener, must come to understand that everytime this story is sung, Jonathan Steel is meant to die.

Keyboards play a much larger role in the music, adding a chilling backdrop with very icy notes. When I first heard them, I thought they were utter crap. With each album I heard, the keys slowly crept to being likeable, luring me in with every listen. As I began to understand the music and the concept as a whole, I found keys appreciable. They truly add a spiritual touch to the overly dark and deadly melodies; rhythms find themselves between slow and tender to driving with fury. The drums have the best supporting role, galloping with rides, strides, and rolls to give off a theatrical display of force. Nothing stale here; only pure power and accuracy with Frankie and Stet – yes, two more than capable drummers going ballistic with the most royal of kits. Everything from the toms to the bombarding cymbals and the hurtling double bass sounds very lively, novel, and somber.

The Headless Children took the traditional heavy metal style up to that point and revamped the shit out of it. The result: an album that was half and half – that is, half epic and half of the same. It was marred with identity; duality was questionable and, while more serious than the others, it was still a fun outing that tried to be something it wasn’t. The Crimson Idol knows what it wants to be; it doesn’t need to dig through the band’s past life – it has a role and it carries out that mission with compassion and dedication that surpassed the band’s standards. The epics are among the tame in this metal opera, feeding the hunger of progressive fans and heavy metal fans alike. While the strengths certainly lie in what culminates between the instruments, the choruses remembered to be catchy at the same time: the best choruses on the album comes from “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue),” “I Am One,” and “The Idol” / “The Great Misconceptions Of Me” (both are similar (the former being a magnificent ballad and the latter being a climactic finale)). In-between them are equal ballads and rockers the same, but much shorter and with the sole purpose of driving the story along while detailing emotional ups and downs.

On the previous albums, there were always conflicts in regard to the appeal of certain tracks. The first half of The Headless Children can be seen as the more ambitious and doesn’t take to kindly to the others, while the staples on the debut outshine the lesser known ones on that very album by quite a lot. The Last Command didn’t have a hard case, since most of the tracks on there are of equal value, but here we see all the tracks working together to bring one message, one experience, and one story for all to hear. Any aspiring musician ought to give this a listen, and for W.A.S.P. fans it’s a definitive, mandatory listening.

Awesome combination of both concept and metal!!! - 100%

cravingforvenom, March 17th, 2009

This has got to be one of the greatest albums ever known to mankind. What can I say about this beast? Its practically the kind of stuff you would want to tag along as long as you live. It combines elements of both hard hitting heavy metal and contemporary rock opera, more like what Meatloaf did back in his prime but heavier and thrashier by a good 10x. You thought Operation Mindcrime is the best metal concept album ever? This beats the shit out of it any given day. Blackie continues to impress further and further. This man’s a metal machine.

What we have here is a wonderfully crafted album brilliantly capturing the life of an aspiring rock musician called Jonathan and how his taste of superstar success eventually gets him to take his own life. Born a not so perfect son to a family, he runs away from home and eventually gets into bad company. One fine day he decides to make more money by pursuing his love for rock music and soon become a star. Getting all the leisures of life, he now feels the urge to get his family love back, which he eventually doesn’t and thus ends up giving up his own life.

Each track flows one after the other so smoothly, it feels like one gigantic track over an hour in length. The well executed acoustic solo in “The Titanic Overture” is used throughout the album to give it the feel and the atmosphere. Hard hitters include the catchy “The Invisible Boy”, the epic “Chainsaw Charlie” , the punchy “Arena Of Pleasure”, the anthemic “I Am One” and the insanity driven “Doctor Rockter”. Although there are a few slower ones found in here, they are not your conventional rock ballads. These may well be called the ultimate heavy metal ballads. “The Idol” and “Hold On To My Heart” are an absolute treat to listen to and give this album a meaningful balance.

The finisher “The Great Misconceptions Of Me” is the monster around. Clocking at almost ten minutes in length, this tells the story of Jonathan from start to finish basically doing the job of what one may refer to as a Wren and Martin influenced summary writing. In my words, this could be called a Heavy Metal Summary. The riffs and the slow acoustic breakdowns in between give this track a genuine touch altogether.

My suggestion is very simple. If you are a sucker for a catchy concept and traditional metal and would like to taste the unique combo of both, then this is just what you should look for, the next time you go record shopping. You aint gonna be wasting any so called precious dimes on this. Its worth a fortune. Highly recommended to all long running W.A.S.P fans and also those who would like a little deviation from the same old conventional metal sound. This is the true heights of imagination.

A Kick In The Balls - 95%

heavens_coffin, April 16th, 2007

You know, I heard a few W.A.S.P. hits and saw some videos when I was a kid, but nothing ever really grabbed me. Maybe it was because I was too infatuated with bands like Slayer, Sepultura, Metallica, Dismember, etc and too narrow minded to give them a chance. I always associated them with the glam movement, which I was never fond of, and subsequently never paid them any attention.

A couple people were discussing how Operation: Mindcrime and The Crimson Idol were two of their favorite concept albums of all time. So I buried that thought in the back of my mind and when I went into the metal store one day, I was searching through the boxes of $5 used CDs and came across a copy of The Crimson Idol. Needless to say I was skeptical because of what I've always associated W.A.S.P. with. But I figured it's only $5 so what the hell?

Well fuck me running if this isn't one of the best albums I have ever heard! It's not too often you take a chance on an album expecting it to suck and instead it kicks you square in the balls, and continues to kick you in the balls harder each time you listen to it. My jaw was about at the floor by the time I was done listening to it for the first time. By the end of the second time, I thought of it as one of those "Why didn't I buy you 10 years ago?" albums.

I really enjoy the story of the album which is sounds like an autobiography to me. Either way it's a good story with a very well-written narrative intro and the lyrics are great as well. This album got me looking at my speakers right from the start of The Titanic Overture.

The Invisible Boy is a fucking awesome song with a catchy-as-fuck chorus, same for Arena Of Pleasure. But nothing tops Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)--nothing. That is without a doubt my favorite song on this album. Great riffs, great lyrics, and Blackie's vocals absolutely destroy.

Also as mentioned in prior reviews, it's awesome how you hear sections of The Titanic Overture in The Invisible Boy and The Great Misconceptions Of Me, as well as parts of The Invisible Boy in The Great Misconceptions Of Me. This album just fucking works phenomenally as a concept album. It flows magnificently as an album, and the individual songs themselves are top notch.

Highlights off this one for me (though there is not ONE bad song on this album):

The Titanic Overture
The Invisible Boy
Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)
The Gypsy Meets The Boy
The Great Misconceptions Of Me

Albums this great are a rarity, and albums this great are the albums that remind you why you started listening to heavy metal in the first place. I am sorry I didn't get this sooner.


Perfection - 100%

Soulforged, February 3rd, 2005

W.A.S.P., notoriously famous for their over the top stage antics, was the outrageous band that personified the 80’s metal attitude. Indeed, they had pissed a lot of people off through the years. But at this stage, Blackie Lawless was left to pursue the project however he pleased. Chris Holmes had left only a few years earlier, and Johnny Rod went with him. Perhaps this record is the result of 3 years of fame-sick loneliness and soul-searching.

Indeed, I believe Blackie reached the ultimate peak with this record. Many have claimed it is an autobiography of the man, explaining perhaps the extremely emotional vocal performance. However, in essence, it is still the same W.A.S.P. we have all come to love, but the album explores an emotional side of the band that had as yet remained unseen. The result is a stunning concept album that narrates the life of a rockstar by the name of Jonathan who longed for fame, but no longer wants it because of lack of real happiness in his life. Although Blackie would perform most of the instrumentation, guitars, keyboards and bass, veteran axeman Bob Kulick was hired to lend his skills, and a duo of drummers (Stet Howland and Frankie Banali) would be employed.

On to the music then. The songs stay consistent in mood throughout the album. There is not one weak song here. In fact, there are several parts which are reused throughout the album to give the whole body of work a very consistent feel. The songs themselves show a lot of variation as well. You have fast up-tempo rockers such as Arena Of Pleasure and Doctor Rockter. One song that particularly strikes a chord is “Chainsaw Charlie” which is how intense a song this fast can get. Blackie sings in complete anger, attacking greedy music business executives. Ballads include “The Gypsy Meets The Boy” and “The Idol”. The latter has that unquestionable epic tag written all over it, accentuated by yet another brilliant vocal performance but also a brilliant and downright huge solo the likes of which are very rarely seen. Bob Kulick makes his guitar cry and weep like no other. And to top it all off, just when the listener begins to think they possibly cannot top that song, they come up with “The Great Misconceptions Of Me”. Clocking in at 9:46, it’s the longest song on the album, but oh-my, what a closer it is. All the lyrical themes come back and are merged into a whole, giving the feeling that the story of Jonathan has come full circle.

By this point, it is pretty obvious that everyone puts on a brilliant performance. The drums, guitars, keyboards…they all fall in the place to make for one of the best Metal records of the nineties, and also of all time. The drumming is very different from the previous W.A.S.P. outings, becoming extremely technical, with precision based fills played out on the toms at breakneck speed. The lyrics are full of meaning and very interesting to read. Blackie has cemented his position as a prolific song writer and not just an airhead, especially considering the fact that here is a man who used to write about getting blowjobs.

I can hardly find weak points on this album, but if there has to be anything, “Hold On To My Heart” probably is one of the weaker songs on the album, and not up to par with the rest. But well, any song would find it hard to match the brilliance of “The Idol” and “The Great Misconceptions Of Me” when sandwiched between the two. However, that song also grows on you and either way, the album is meant to be absorbed as a whole, in which case it all makes sense.

The album is able to ceaselessly move the listener to feel the emotions that Jonathan is going through, and that is perhaps the highest accolade the album can get. From the longing for fame and acceptance after being shunned by his family ("I just wanna be the crimson idol of a million eyes"), to wanting nothing more than acceptance from his parents ("My father was the idol, it was never me"), it’s absolute brilliance. Is the music a shade of the torment Blackie has been through? Whatever the answer, the Crimson Idol will forever remain as a masterpiece of pure emotional yet anthemic music.

Total fucking pwnage! - 100%

NightOfTheRealm, June 7th, 2004

For some strange reason, W.A.S.P. did not hold a place in my collection until very recently, following my first experience with them when I caught their concert on a whim back in 2001. As soon as the band took the stage, I was floored, and I was instantly hooked.

From the band’s s/t debut in 1984 and throughout the rest of 1980s (which included four other W.A.S.P. albums), W.A.S.P. made a name for themselves not only as one of metal’s wildest acts, but also noted for their consistency. Few bands have the songwriting talent necessary to write classic tune after classic tune as W.A.S.P. has done, not only in the 80s, but also throughout their career.

THE CRIMSON IDOL is no exception to the level of quality one would expect from W.A.S.P. up to this point, though a few differences stand out that make this album the finest moment of W.A.S.P.’s career. First, guitarist Chris Holmes departed from the band for this album, leaving it basically as a Blackie Lawless solo project with Frank Banali and Bob Kulick standing behind Metal’s most notorious frontman. Second, Blackie has made this a concept album with an angry, scarred, tracic tale to tell. Finally, any moments of 80s cheesiness are gone from this record. THE CRIMSON IDOL is a dark, brooding album both lyrically and musically.

The story behind THE CRIMSON IDOL is the tale of Jonathan Steel, a young man whose role is to be the black sheep of his zealous Christian family. Leaving home at a young age, Jonathan heads to the city, where he meets up with (Chainsaw) Charlie, who is president of a gigantic corporate music label (The Chainsaw) and presides over the local “morgue” (The music industry, “where music comes to die”). From there, the concept details Jonathan’s taste of success, followed by its consequences. The lyrics on the album are brilliant, poignant, and introspective. I won’t give any more details, but it’s obvious that Blackie means the story to be autobiographical to a point. For instance, the name of Jonathan’s father is William, the same as Blackie’s father.

Musically, THE CRIMSON IDOL has everything one would desire in a metal album. The riffs are crisp, heavy, and catchy on nearly every song, and the solos are plentiful enough to suit any taste. One of my favourite aspects of W.A.S.P. is their incredible sense of melody. This isn’t melody for melody’s sake; W.A.S.P.’s melodies are deliberate and purposeful. In addition, Blackie Lawless’ voice is among the most unique in metal. His voice has a broken, jagged edge to it, though with a definite melodious backbone, and he belts out lines with as much energy as any singer in metal. Frank Banali’s performance on the skins is impeccable; his work on the throne drives the band with that much more force. These guys may not have written the book on how to play metal of the highest caliber, but they certainly have perfected the art.

Every song on the album is a gem, and the sequencing is very creative, often mixing softer acoustic parts before leading into a balls-out rocker. This arrangement strengthens the album’s concept of Jonathan’s physical and emotional roller coaster. A couple standout tunes on this album are, “Arena of Pleasure,” which trades numerous solos and riffs throughout, and “The Great Misconceptions of Me,” the album’s powerful epic closer. After an acoustic intro passage, the song is off running on one of the best gallops in metal. The synths creep in here to punctuate the rhythm, creating some absolutely beautiful moments.

Also on the album is the best track W.A.S.P. has ever done, “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue”). Complete with chainsaw sound effects, the rhythm is absolutely wild, and the chorus is catchy as hell. Just when you think it can’t get any better, the middle part kicks in with these great lines, “I’m the president of showbiz, my name is Charlie/I’m a cocksucking asshole, that’s what they call me/Here from my Hollywood tower I rule/I’m a lying motherfucker, the chainsaw’s my tool.” I challenge you to resist singing along while cruising down the freeway at 90+ miles per hour. This song will rip your balls off!

Not only is THE CRIMSON IDOL the finest album W.A.S.P. has ever put out, but it also ranks among my personal favourite concept albums albums of all time along with such greats as OPERATION:MINDCRIME, HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT I, and SCENES FROM A MEMORY. Buy this album or be forever branded a poseur!

(originally written by my for, February, 2003)

Their masterpiece. - 97%

Nightcrawler, October 4th, 2003

Wow. That was my initial reaction after hearing it the first time. Their fourth studio effort The Headless Children was completely amazing, and also saw them take the step into a more thoughtful lyrical and musical direction, while not giving up the heavy metal spirit of the first three. Their fifth album however is not the kind of album to put on when you want to rock like crazy.
The Crimson Idol is a concept album built on a very sad and emotional story, and the way it is written and performed you really feel the pain of main character Jonathan. The album is very emotional all through, with more ballads than on any of their other albums.

The band is totally in top shape on this album, both songwriting and performance-wise. Blackie Lawless pretty much reach his vocal peak here, (though, again, I haven't heard any of their albums after this one- yet) and totally brings out all the emotion in the story. He also handles keyboard duties. The keyboards are pretty overt on here, but extremely well played. And he also handles bass guitar once again, which is totally well done. And like that's not enough, he also handles the rhythm and (together with Bob Kulick) lead guitars. Which means- yes- Chris Holmes is gone. And it does the band good, actually. While Chris was perfect for their first four, he doesn't quite have the diversity and emotion in his guitar style to handle the depth of this one. Blackie and Kulick work perfectly as a team, and their guitarwork is totally amazing.
Finally, the drumming, which is handled by Stet Howland and Frankie Banali. And frankly, this album has some of the most bizarre drumming ever. Most notably on the opening track The Invisible Boy, but evident throughout the entire album, is the drumming style often using a bunch of tom fills for the rhythm section instead of fills. This is really strange, and sometimes it stands out a bit too much and gets kinda annoying, but it mostly works very well.

And what about the actual songs? As you've figured out, the songwriting on The Crimson Idol is more personal, deep and emotional than their other stuff.
But the album still has it's fair share of total rockers in the classic W.A.S.P. vein, and all of them on the same level as masterpieces such as Blind in Texas or even I Wanna Be Somebody.

The Titanic Overture is a mesmerizing intro which builds up a great atmosphere with some very emotional acoustic guitarlines and some heavier parts in the middle. It leads into the first "real" track, The Invisible Boy, which is the first of the above mentioned all-out rockers. And while the lyrics and the mood is quite depressing, the song is fast, punchy and energetic, and guaranteed for some solid headbanging. It goes on into Arena of Pleasure, which begins with a short but extremely cool spoken part, which there are many of in this album to keep the story going. Arena of Pleasure is another all-out rocker, but with a more upbeat and atmospheric mood. Think something like Wild Child meets Hellion, and you're about there. And the song is definitely up in the same quality as those songs, with the totally amazing chorus standing out.
Next is what many people including me consider to be the masterpiece of this album. Ending up as my fourth favourite W.A.S.P. song, Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue) is an 8-minute plus masterpiece, and is about as epic as it gets when the song in question is another all-out straightforward rock assault. It begins with another cool spoken part with underlying acoustic riffs, then the massacre begins. Samples of raging chainsaws lead into the relentless riffage of the best song on the album. The song is completely dead-on mindblowing all through, but there are some exceptional moments. Most notably, the chorus. The vocal melodies are insanely catchy, you gotta hear it to believe it. And the same melody is used as a "hey-hey" singalong moment towards the end of the song. Another notable moment is the crazy speed metal riffage driven bridge, with more incredibly catchy and intense vocal lines. But really, the song is completely amazing all through.
Next is the first of several ballads on here. The Gypsy Meets The Boy is a new version of For Whom The Bell Tolls, a B-side from The Headless Children. And while the original was pretty damn boring, this is a complete masterpiece. Most notable is the middle section, where we revisit the acoustic melodies found on The Titanic Overture - another of the album's qualities is, as mentioned, that there are parts of the album, both musically and lyrically, that get revisited several times throughout the album, and everything seems to fit perfectly - and also the first appearance of the powerful vocal line "I just wanna be the crimson idol of a million." That part, with the acoustics underneath, is one of the most emotional moments in metal.
Next, the album moves back into rockage territory with Doctor Rockter and I Am One. There isn't much to say about the former- total rocking madness, nothing less. I Am One has some mentionable moments in the pretty complex but dead-on chorus, and also features the slower middle section, featuring the first. If you're in the right mood this will send shivers down your spine over and over.
The Idol follows, and is the second ballad found on here, but not the last. This as well reaches over 8 minute, without ever in the slightest feeling overlong.
Blackie's vocal performance is beautiful, and much cleaner than usual. It also has loads of beautiful and atmospheric acoustic guitar lines, most notably the one at the start of the first vers by 2:50. Listen to this song in complete darkness, and I guarantee that it will be one of the most mesmerizing musical moments you'll ever experience. The chorus also features that beautiful vocal part from I Am One, but here it's strengthened by the underlying acoustics, and manages to provide the ultimate highlight of the entire album. And there's more- it's not until this song you realize what they gained with the departure of Chris Holmes. The solo in this song is just out of this world, totally up there with Beyond The Realms of Death. The Idol is most definitely the second greatest song on the album.
Next up, we have Hold On To My Heart, another acoustic ballad, but this one has a complete different atmosphere, in that it's less epic and not as sad and depressing. The song construction is also much simpler, but it's a great song, with the powerful chorus standing out as the best part.
And it's time for the grand finale. The Great Misconceptions Of Me brings together the greatest of the musical and lyrical moments of the entire album and adding new, no less amazing parts, into one great masterpiece of epic proportions. The song goes through a number of stages, varies from beautifully emotional to insanely rocking, but maintains a huge and depressed atmosphere, which is perfect for the story's sad end.

All the songs on here work individually and could all easily be counted as total classics. But it's really the storyline that ties them together and grants the emotional depths necessary to make the album as amazing as it turned out.

...oops, this review turned out a lot longer than I planned. All that really needs to be said is this: Buy it.
The Crimson Idol shows W.A.S.P. embracing their former party metal elements, but adds a great emotional depth and power, and makes this one of the ultimate classics in metal. Definitely in my all-time top ten.

A True Metal Masterpiece - 95%

vonDread, September 17th, 2003

W.A.S.P. was one of those bands I had always passed off as old 80’s cheese metal, never bothering to actually listen to them. But in recent years, my tastes have expanded thanks to this wonderful invention we call the internet. It’s really a shame I didn’t discover how freaking amazing these guys are until not too long ago, and anyone who passes up this album is missing out on a true heavy metal classic.

It’s an ambitious work of art to say the least; a consistently excellent achievement from beginning to end. Familiar passages flow throughout the course of the album, tying all the songs together into one magnificent piece of epic storytelling. Blackie’s soaring vocals are haunting, bursting with emotion--among the best in his genre. The drumwork is excellent, the solos very impressive. And the melody, oh the melody! This album showcases one of the most complete and beautiful senses of melody I’ve heard in all of metal. But the ass-kicking, name-taking numbers are also present and accounted for: “Invisible Boy,” “Arena of Pleasure,” “Doctor Rocktor,” and of course, the immortal “Chainsaw Charlie,” all completely own everything in sight.

I would call this the greatest concept album, nay, the greatest metal album of all time, if it weren’t for one thing. “Hold on to My Heart” is one of the pussiest ballads I’ve ever heard. W.A.S.P.’s ballads are often a highlight of their albums, but this one is just WRONG. It doesn’t fit the story; it’s a blemish that completely interrupts the flow of this otherwise godly masterpiece. I even went so far as to burn this onto a CD-R, removing that song and adding the “Eulogy” b-side to the end. That version I would gladly give a perfect 10. But as it is, I can’t go higher than a 9.5.

Still, this is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the heavy metal genre. A paragon of songwriting brilliance--the band’s magnum opus. And if they can look past appearances, even those scared off by W.A.S.P.'s partying, 80’s hair metal reputation and stage antics (sawblade codpieces and all) should find something here worthy of appreciation and reverence. I certainly did.

Holy fucking shit!!!!! - 97%

UltraBoris, February 15th, 2003

This is my first time reviewing a WASP album only a few minutes after hearing it... three times in a row. I had thought that there was no way in Hell that they could top The Headless Children. They did.

Holy fuck, is this impressive or what? This is just about the best concept album of all time (Iron Maiden's "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" takes the cake, but not by much!). The songs are linked together both lyrically and, more importantly, musically - for example, there are bits of The Titanic Overture in The Gypsy Meets the Boy - parts of The Invisible Boy in The Great Misconception of Me... etc etc etc.

Oh yeah, how is the actual music? Well, ya like WASP? You'll like this. It is official, on the first five albums there isn't a single misplaced note... the dead-on sense of melody that has always been present is now combined with an emotional depth as yet unexplored - and yes, that includes the insanity of Thunderhead and The Headless Children... well, on here we have Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue), and I am One, and the amazing epic The Great Misconception of Me, and and and... oh so much more.

First off... "The Titanic Overture" - a bit of an intro piece, which builds up and gets heavier and heavier, with some of the riffs reflecting the main themes of the album, that will pop up later. Then we get into "The Invisible Boy" (Red, crimson red! And I am the whipping boy!). A very fucking solid song, which then leads into the absolute highlight of the album, which is the next two songs...

"Arena of Pleasure" immediately grabs you by the balls and forces you to bow down to its riff superiority... then it gets even better with "Chainsaw Charlie", which is the best song on here, going through a variety of tempos - this one is pretty much 100% intense all the way through, except for the middle section which kinda manages to get up to 110%. Fuck yeah! "I'm a lying motherfucker, the chainsaw's my tool!" Throw in some incredible soloing, and we have a complete winner here.

Next up was sort of a surprise - it's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", the old Headless Children B-side. No, it's actually "The Gypsy Meets the Boy" - this version starts off softer, and the acoustic guitar is present in the entire song from beginning to end, even as they go through some of the motives of "The Titanic Overture" again. This is the first of several incredible ballads of the album - WASP can actually nail the art of the ballad with the best of them.

Then, "Doctor Rockter"... another fast, catchy number, with some solo work that is a bit similar to "Chainsaw Charlie", and I think that was 100% intentional. Then, we go into "I Am One", which is another incredible song... from the live introduction, to the massive riffage and lead-guitar passages. Awesome!

Next, "The Idol". This is another ballad, but its epic-ness and intensity are unquestionable. This manages to be heavy as fuck, despite being not all that fast or all that distorted. In sharp contrast to that one is "Hold On To My Heart", which is another ballad, and completely different in mood. This is the 'low point' of the album, at least story-wise. It's another highlight as far as the music is concerned. WASP have managed to do what Opeth, James Taylor, and who the fuck else knows could never get right - write an acoustic ballad that just fucking rules. Imagine "The Bard's Song" as close comparison - though the mood is completely different.

Finally, the closing track. "The Great Misconception of Me" is truly an epic number - it sums up the musical ideals of the entire album up to this point, including the great "Red! I see red! I am the whipping boy!" part (sound familiar?) - the themes keep coming back, and it'll probably take a while before I recognise them all. This is an odd album - this is only my fourth time listening, and I'm already hooked, but I'm sure it'll be a grower. Fates Warning "The Spectre Within" comes to mind, as an album that I keep hearing new interesting things in, with every new listen.

Okay - should you get this album? FUCK YEAH!!! This is an absolutely legendary release. How they managed to top The Headless Children, I will never know, but they did. The best WASP album I've ever heard.