I’ve got the guts to be somebody, to cry out!
For decades now, people have been dividing heavy metal into countless sub-genres since its birth nearly fifty years ago. Some collided, some got along, and others disappeared without much of a trace. After the initial “golden age” of bands from 1977-1983, where Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Motorhead among many others ruled the world, the great divide began. This would also mark the rise of thrash metal and glam metal, two genres whose fans mixed like water and oil. The only real common ground was the classic rockers such as AC/DC, Aerosmith, Van Halen, and others; as well as the metal innovators like Judas Priest, Dio, and the likes. But there was one band that seemed to fit just about every shoe and said band is known as W.A.S.P.
Forming out of a ‘70s proto-glam metal act known as Sister, W.A.S.P. came into fruition in the early eighties, managing to get their crushing debut out by 1984. It was led by the infamous Blackie Lawless, and while Chris Holmes, Randy Piper, Frankie Benali and others had heavy involvement, he was ultimately the Dave Mustaine of this band. While some scoff at tagging them as “glam,” others see them as fitting right in. But I believe that they work anywhere due to their harder attitude and grittier riffs that sit well with extreme metal seekers; while their pop-metal glazing, glammy looks, and “L.A. metal scene” hooks snatched all of the hair-sprayers. The truth is, W.A.S.P. may not have done much in the glam realm after the first three records, but they have a huge scope of different style innovations. There were albums dropped at every time period, and today I’m here to dissect and rank every single one of them.
I’m not counting Re-Idolized in the ranking since it wouldn’t make sense to do so, but it’s worth mentioning. Simply put, it is a re-release of The Crimson Idol, but with spoken word sections in between songs, a few additional titles, and cleaned up lyrics (thanks to Blackie Lawless’s new faith). It’s spread out to two discs and includes a DVD with images to go with the story. For the die-hard collectors, this is worth having just for the novelty, and its packaging is quite nice. But if you’re a classic W.A.S.P. listener only, take a hard pass on this.
15) Helldorado (1999) “If there’s a Hell then I’ll buy a round!”
It’s not often that a band’s worst album comes from trying too hard, but from not trying at all. However, Helldorado is W.A.S.P. trying way too hard. After an experimental run of records in the ‘90s, it seems as if Blackie Lawless wanted to go back to the glam roots. He very much does, except the songwriting is very watered down, and the lyrics are uncomfortably cringe-worthy. You could probably gather what I mean just from the song titles “Don’t Cry (Just Suck) or “Dirty Balls.” Beyond the songs being laughable, there’s also very little to gain musically. The title track may display fun energy, but I assure you that adrenaline doesn’t stick around. The only saving grace is “Damnation Angels,” a tune built on hefty riffs keeping it from being a total failure. Dig up that song, and pass on the rest.
Final Grade: D
14) Dominator (2007) “Hang ‘em higher, come breathe the fire all night”
Being the first of what I call the “Christian-era,” Dominator is the most bluntly political record that also drops hints at religion (despite there being a “fuck” in there). With the main focus being America and foreign policy, they’ve dropped the guitars down a peg at an attempt to make them more devastating, but W.A.S.P. sounds rather devastated themselves. This isn’t an abstractly bad record, but it’s rather generic and boring sounding, considering what they’ve previously achieved. “Heaven’s Hung In Black” is a long ballad that could have been neat but instead comes off corny, as does the reprise of it. I’ll admit “Burning Man” has quite a beefy foundation with galloping guitars, and I can dig the rock ‘n roll throwback vibes of “Deal With The Devil.” Beyond that, I can’t say there’s too much to walk away with here.
Final Grade: C-
13) Unholy Terror (2001) “I’m going to meet my maker”
The follow up to the previously discussed train-wreck Helldorado is definitely a step in the right direction, if nothing else. Unholy Terror, however, lacks innovation and seems like a cheap copy of Still Not Black Enough. This is another effort meant to reflect political issues of the time, but it’s done better than in Dominator. The title track is actually a spoken word piece over light guitars that leads into “Charisma,” a steady number with a slight chill. Sharp hooks can also be found in “Locomotive Man” a longer epic. Even “Evermore” is pretty solid with its Led Zeppelin uplifting vibes. Not a waste of time, but also doesn’t live up to the badassery that the album title suggests.
Final Grade: C
12) The Neon God Pt. 1: The Rise (2004) “I’m your new messiah, you’ll worship at my feet!”
Spoiler alert, this two part-record is going to fall back to back, since you really can’t have one without the other. But one is a little better than the other. For short, The Neon God double-concept album tells the story of a boy named Jesse who’s unfit mother dropped him off at an orphanage, and he lives a horrible and hellish life there. As he grows, he discovers a power he has that makes him gain followers, ultimately leading to “Rise.” By Part 2, he realizes that he doesn’t want that kind of life. The full, in-depth story can be found here, but truly the disc fails to hit all of the details in song format. What it seems to be in my eyes is a poor attempt at a similar layout to The Crimson Idol, except it’s overly long and nowhere near as good. I’ll give credit to “Sister Sadie” for being a long epic that invokes the feelings of a terrifying nun. “What I’ll Never Find” is a beautifully crafted ballad, and the use of horns throughout is kinda neat. But in reality, it’s tough to pin out much standout in this overly long effort.
Final Grade: C+
11) The Neon God Pt. 2: The Demise (2004) “You will bow down before me and you will remember me!”
Later that same year came Part 2, the shorter and more direct half that focuses on the powers and how they lead to Jesse’s downfall. It’s ever-so-slightly better than Part 1 because there’s far less fluff, and the story is more clear. The intensity shows in songs like “Clockwork Mary” big time, and “Come Back To Black” has a very interesting riff sequence in it. I also really like the lasting impression “Never Say Die” leaves despite being a bit repetitive. The use of keys in “The Demise” casts a night-time aura, which I’ve always liked. Although the second part is better than the first, neither are something that I’d suggest listening to more than once.
Final Grade: B-
10) Babylon (2009) “Six hundred-six six the rising beast, bears the mark of Babylon to be!”
We’ve hit the “repeat-listen” worthy efforts! The second of Blackie’s Christian-era, Babylon shows more of a commitment towards the message he wants to send and isn’t nearly as awkward or dumbed-down as Dominator. The lyrics are more personal, focusing on his finding of God, and the delivery is quite pleasant. “Babylon’s Burning” is a well-crafted narrative that has an aggressive foundation, which is followed by a tight cover of Deep Purple’s “Burn.” Other songs take a more uplifting path like “Live To Die Another Day,” which is a nice breather. “Seas Of Fire” on the other hand hones in on hard drum kicks and action-packed riffs, and the disc ends with a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Promised Land.” A bit of a jumble here, but the main ideas presented by W.A.S.P. are solid.
Final Grade: B
9) Golgotha (2015) “Jesus I need You now, free me I’m lost, somehow!”
And the most recent of the reborn discs, Golgotha displays the closest thing to a full-on Christian-metal W.A.S.P. record, and it’s amazingly the strongest. The first two tracks complement each other quite well. “Scream” is a bit of a concerned sounding banger that acts as a ray of hope, while “Last Runaway” shines said ray of hope as a righteous sounding classic rock tune. The title track is one of my favorites of all-time, a lengthy mercy-filled epic that’s loaded with mesmerizing solos. And of course, “Miss You” is another long one that acts as a ballad while remaining interesting the entire time. Those that hate religion may laugh at this, but musically it’s quite well written.
Final Grade: B+
8) Dying For The World (2002) “No don’t you dare say a prayer, it’s just the nights in your mare”
While Unholy Terrors showed a slight step-up, Dying For The World blew that one out of the water a year later, as it’s a darker and angrier follow-up. Considering it’s a reactionary disc to the 9/11 attacks from the year prior, this all makes sense. The guitars have a harsher distortion, and the drum kicks from Frankie Benali tack on a menacing layer. “Hell For Eternity” borders speed-metal with its fast frenzy that still holds tons of melody. Powerful riffs and vocal cries in “Hallowed Ground” add to the hopeless sensation that engulfs that song. Incredible rhythms and chants in the chorus make “Shadow Man” one of the more crisp tunes. Almost all of this is built on suspense, and Mike Duda’s bass-lines and the kicks in “Trail Of Tears” establish that quite well. This is easily the best album that W.A.S.P. ever did after the 1990s, and I highly recommend it.
Final Grade: B+
7) The Last Command (1985)“I drank for free, ‘til I couldn’t see!”
It may seem blasphemous to put The Last Command this low, as many view it as the pinnacle W.A.S.P. record. It’s a stellar disc indeed, but better efforts lie ahead. For the glam naysayers, this album fits that shoe the most, heard easily in opener and famous banger “Wild Child.” That song is a dialed back pop-metal tune in all of its excellence. My personal favorite, “Blind In Texas” is drenched in party-vibes. Chris Holmes and Randy Piper deliver sturdy, sleazy solos, this one having one of their finest in the intro. Softer and slower licks can be heard in “Cries In The Night,” served with a side of vocal harmony. Filler isn’t always bad, as I’m a sucker for “Jack Action,” but at the end of the day, this record has more of that than any of the classic run. As a glam-head myself, I still love this disc, and I know a glam metal record when I hear it.
Final Grade: A-
6) Kill.Fuck.Die (1997) “I am God, obscene death, I’m the worm on the razor’s edge, all pigs die; kill, fuck die!”
A lot of people hate Kill.Fuck.Die because of how industrial it is, calling it “Blackie Lawless does Marilyn Manson,” but there’s more to it than that. It starts off rather tame with the title track staying safe, but the album progressively gets very dark, right around when “Killahead” starts giving a sinking-gut feeling. By the time you hit “Kill Your Pretty Face,” it’s absolutely horrid and disgusting, backed with haunting synths and eerie licks behind harsher vocals. Terrifying screams and effects in “Fetus” leading to “Little Death” invokes such evil sensations with its drum pummeling and harsh vocals. It honestly sends chills up my spine. Suspense and long, drawn-out vocals in “U” bring the darkness to a critical mass, before record closer “The Horror” finishes the journey. That track wraps everything together in an eight-minute epic, and the entire experience is one of the filthiest records that isn’t considered extreme metal. I still can’t believe it’s W.A.S.P. at times, and surprisingly it was the album that got Chris Holmes to rejoin. Both Lawless and Holmes were dealing with a lot at the time, and the themes of self-harm, killing, nasty sex and evil entities brought it out. If you’ve been skeptical of this one, give it a try.
Final Grade: A-
5) Inside The Electric Circus (1986) “One woman down my street is too hot for the average man”
Ah yes, Blackie’s most hated album, which I’ve never understood. Inside The Electric Circus in my eyes is a slightly better-executed version of The Last Command. Still very glam-oriented, it does boast a meaner tone thanks to the echoed production and stronger push behind Blackie’s vocals. Steve Riley’s drumming also has more of a threat, and it’s quite raunchy overall. “9.5 Nasty” suggests some silliness, but in reality, that’s a fuming banger of a song that’s built on dirty riffs, despite their friendly execution and synth backing. The noodling bridge on “Sweet Cheetah,” another pop-metal hitter is quite fun, and the covers on this are solid! Ray Charles’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and Uriah Heap’s “Easy Livin’” are both solid and bolted down to fit the aesthetic perfectly. And of course, you’ve got your tunes like “I’m Alive” that attach speed-chugs onto the melody, creating the very thing that made W.A.S.P. such a universal band.
Final Grade: A-
4) Still Not Black Enough (1995) “I am politically incorrect and damn proud of it! I love my country, but am scared to death of its government”
Still Not Black Enough, like its predecessor The Crimson Idol was originally supposed to be a Blackie Lawless solo effort, but both wound up under the W.A.S.P. name, and heavily resemble each other. This one deals in a lot of his personal struggles, and for such an amazing disc, it’s oddly inconsistent. The first half is rather stable in build, with mostly upbeat tunes like “Goodbye America” and “Black Forever,” all backed by Frankie Benali’s thunderous drumming. “Scared To Death” is loaded with high pitched backing chants, and even the cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” matches the attitude displayed. But the second half is a jumbled bunch of (really good) songs. “Keep Holding On” is a breath-taking and ultra-soft ballad crafted over a piano and violins, and “Breathe” is another one with a synth backbone and a harder solo. Then you have “Rock ‘N Roll To Death,” a 1950’s styled rocker right along with “I Can’t,” a western-esque folk-rock ditty. All are incredible songs; they’re just an odd mix. And for the record, I genuinely think “Keep Holding On” is the softest song W.A.S.P. has ever released.
Final Grade: A
3) The Headless Children (1989) “The children that You’ve made have lost their minds!”
As many know, The Headless Children was the first big jump in style, with Chris Holmes being the only remaining original besides Lawless himself. It’s also the first one to utilize Frankie Benali, as he’d taken a break from Quiet Riot. This all led to more elaborate and mature songs, abolishing the glam image that was previously projected. “The Heretic” is the perfect opener, starting on a pissed off and aggressive note that shifts tones about halfway through with wavy fret noodles. Shredding at the end caps everything off perfectly. Moreover, this marked the first politically-charged album, which shows in songs like “The Neutron Bomber” being about Ronald Reagan with its memorable chorus. The title track rings in slow, Deep Purple-like rhythms and synths, containing one of the most powerful and structurally sound choruses W.A.S.P. ever wrote. The soft piano transition into “Thunderhead” is magnificent, and the chanting chorus here is spot on. “Forever Free” is rather depressing, dialing back the heavy and working as a ballad built on clean licks. The biggest outlier here is “Mean Man,” a reflective moment of the earlier days that is a humorous dig at Chris Holmes. This may not be a concept album, but the songs sure as hell work together as if it were one.
Final Grade: A
2) W.A.S.P. (1984) “Taste the love, The Lucifer’s magic that makes you numb”
The infamous debut that wreaked havoc in the ‘80s, W.A.S.P. is the closest they ever came to writing a traditional metal album. In my eyes, it’s like a grittier response to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil, taking the glam aesthetic and darkening it. With sex, partying, treachery, Satan, and Hell being the themes here, it fits very well. “I Wanna Be Somebody” and “On Your Knees” are heavy metal bangers that come close to speed metal build, which makes up a lot of this. “The Flame” is my personal favorite, a hidden gem that’s packed with vocal harmony in the chorus, hard riffs, and a pop-metal finish. “School Daze,” “B.A.D.,” and “L.O.V.E. Machine” all follow that kind of path as well, but there’s no doubt that each one offers up a nasty attitude. “L.O.V.E. Machine” contains some the best dual guitar work, as well as Chris Holmes’s solos being stellar. What some people sadly overlook is “Sleeping (In The Fire),” which is what I call a dark ballad. The whole thing sounds soft and tame, but it’s molded around black magic and Satan, showcasing such a creepy chill that’s served on the side. Every song on this is brilliant, and it’s stuffed with riffs and solos for days.
Final Grade: A
1) The Crimson Idol (1992) “Where is the love to shelter me? Only love, love set me free!”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached what I call not only a far-beyond perfect record but what I view as my favorite album of all time –The Crimson Idol. It’s a concept record that tells a tragic story of a realistic-fictional character named Jonathan Steel. The emotion, the intensity, and the songwriting are unbeatable. Even Frankie Banali’s drumming exceeded what he’s done on previous efforts. Never has any disc conveyed self-hate, confusion, and anger so well! To put it briefly…
This starts on an acoustic hook that arcs back throughout, known as “Titanic Overture” laying out Jonathan’s distaste for his situation, leading into “The Invisible Boy.” That one’s a driving number that tacks on angrier vocals and whip-effects to show his parents distaste for his existence, as he can’t please them. “Arena Of Pleasure” then acts as a sign of hope with a more upbeat tempo, bringing us to “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue).” This is the heaviest track, acting as the first rising action and Jonathan’s chance at becoming a rock-star to fill the void of emptiness. The chanting chorus, blistering drums, and buzzing riffs make this incredible. “The Gypsy Meets The Boy” then settles things down with synths and a haunting aura acting as a warning, which segues to “Doctor Rockter,” another hope-drenched song. “I Am One” is the second action-riser that capitalizes on Jonathan’s fame and success, crafted on harder riffs, before falling into “The Idol.” That one falls back on sadder acoustic passages that reveal how worthless the fame is without his family’s acceptance, ultimately just adding unwanted pressure and stress. The acoustics shift into an operatic chorus and harder solo, before morphing into “Hold On To My Heart.” This is a soft ‘80s-style ballad showcasing a cry for help, reaching the deepest trench of emotion. The concept ends with a ten-minute epic “The Great Misconceptions Of Me,” which introduces the third and final rise in action and suspense, bringing all of the musical styles together. It concludes with Jonathan hanging himself on stage through soft and peaceful note. Perfect isn’t enough to do this justice, and if you haven’t listened to it, I suggest that be your next move.
Final Grade: A+