During 1982, in California, four men – singer / rhythm guitarist Blackie Lawless, guitarist Randy Piper, bassist Rik Fox and drummer Tony Richards – formed a heavy metal band named W.A.S.P.
By the time that the group had signed a deal with Capitol Records and were ready to record their self-titled debut album Fox had departed, Lawless had switched to bass and guitarist Chris Holmes had joined.
The album “W.A.S.P.” was released in 1984 but did not feature their infamous debut single “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”, as the label were concerned that it would have a negative effect on sales. The single was released in Europe, and would only be included on the album when it was reissued in 1998. Oh, and if you thought the song title was bad, just check out the tasteful sleeve for the live version from 1988!
By now the band had a reputation for shocking live shows which often featured semi-naked models tied to torture racks and the throwing of raw meat into the audience.
An appearance in 1984 movie “The Dungeonmaster” followed, before Richards was replaced on the drum stool by Steve Riley for second album “The Last Command” in 1985.
Following the tour to promote “The Last Command” Piper departed and Lawless reverted to rhythm guitar, with bass duties being taken up by new man Johnny Rod in time for 1986 album “Inside The Electric Circus”.
When fourth album “The Headless Children” saw the light of day in 1989 drummer Riley had had a number of successors and it was Frankie Banali who featured on the record alongside Lawless, Holmes and Rod. By now, the lyrical themes that Lawless was writing about had moved on from the explicitly sexual and he was addressing social issues and politics.
Holmes left the band in the summer of 1989 (following his marriage to Lita Ford) and at that point Lawless effectively disbanded the group and began work on what was to be his first solo album. By the time that the resulting record, “The Crimson Idol”, was finished Lawless had decided to release it under the W.A.S.P. banner.
A concept album, 1992’s “The Crimson Idol” told the story of the rise and decline of a character named Jonathan Steel, a rock star (naturally enough), and featured Lawless and Banali along with guitarist Bob Kulick and additional contributions from drummer Stet Howland.
“Still Not Black Enough”, released in 1995, was also originally intended as a Lawless solo album, again featuring himself, Banali and Kulick (plus Howland on a couple of tracks). Again, it became a W.A.S.P. release.
By 1997 Holmes had returned and he, Lawless, Howland and bassist Mike Duda were the latest incarnation of W.A.S.P. If that year’s album, charmingly titled “Kill Fuck Die”, was an attempt at a glorious comeback, the results were mixed. On the record itself it was a return to sex and death lyrically but with an industrial twist to their sound which didn’t really work. On the accompanying tour the stage show apparently included simulations of sex with nuns and chopping up animals.
“Helldorado” (1999) and “Unholy Terror” (2001) followed before Holmes once more left the band. “Dying For The World” (2002) saw the introduction of new guitarist Darrell Roberts and Banali on drums once more.
The record was, according to Lawless, inspired by letters received from veterans of the Gulf War. He stated that “our motivation for this record was prefaced by letters sent to us from the tank divisions during the Gulf War, where the troops would actually go into battle blaring ‘Fuck Like A Beast’ and ‘Wild Child.’ After the events on 9/11, we felt we would give them a fresh batch; in essence, we’ve literally made an album to go kill people by”. Hmmm.
The concept album “The Neon God” came out in 2004 in two parts, and told the story of “the tragedy and consequences of one boy’s search for acceptance and purpose in his existence” and “of an abused and orphaned boy who finds that he has the ability to read and manipulate people. By utilizing his gifts, he is able to build a following whose devotion and allegiance create a loyalty so intense that he is poised to become a dark Messiah for the 21st century”. A little more cerebral than “Dying For The World” then!
Part one “The Rise” was issued in April and part two “The Demise” followed in Spetember. Both featured Lawless, Duda and Roberts with a mixture of drum parts from both Howland and Banali.
All change once more for 2007’s “Dominator” with just Lawless and Duda remaining and being joined by guitarist Doug Blair and drummer Mike Dupke.
Lawless, Duda, Blair and Dupke remained together for biblically themed “Babylon” (2009) and this year’s brand new album “Golgotha” – although Dupke did leave the band not long before the new record was released.
Blackie Lawless was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist family and was active in church until his teens, when he rebelled and became interested in the occult. This clearly had an impact on his band’s earlier work and imagery, and his familiarity with the Bible can be found in the apocalyptic and religious themes in some of the material too.
However, in recent years Lawless has said that he has returned to Christianity. For this reason he will no longer perform the song “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”, though “On Your Knees” still gets a regular airing and that’s doesn’t strike me as exactly innocent. Still, each to their own.
Still, let’s look at “Golgotha”. Lyrically, “Last Runaway”, “Fallen Under”, “Eyes Of My Maker”, “Hero Of The World” and “Golgotha” all have a Christian slant to them, with the latter being the most overt. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all Christian metal band Stryper did OK, and is a continuation of themes explored on the band’s past couple of albums too. However, when held up against the group’s earlier classic work? Not so sure.
Opener “Scream”, which sounds like classic W.A.S.P. mixed with some guitar chords from The Cult circa the late 80s, is a great track to open with. Uptempo, catchy, instantly recognisable as W.A.S.P. and featuring a great guitar solo too.
“Last Runaway” and “Shotgun” keep up the good work, the latter having a little of The Who vibe. Big ballad “Miss You”, meanwhile is reminiscent of the band’s ballads of old, but just nowhere near as good – and it’s nearly eight minutes long!
Things pick up again with “Fallen Under” but don’t really get back on track until the excellent “Slaves Of The New Order”. The next two tracks float on by without too much to write home about and then we’re into the final epic “Golgotha” (the third seven minute plus track of the album’s nine cuts). Despite the constant name-checking of Jesus getting a bit repetitive the song still manages to capture Lawless and his band sounding suitably grandiose and the track makes for a fitting finale to this album.
A mixed bag then, better overall than most W.A.S.P. albums since the low point of “Kill Fuck Die”, but still not up there with the classic 1984-1992 period. That said, Lawless may not have the visual shape that he used to but his voice seems, on this evidence, to still be in pretty good shape and musically his band are in fine form.
Not a brilliant heavy metal record then, but a decent one and one worth giving a spin…
1. Scream / 2. Last Runaway / 3. Shotgun / 4. Miss You / 5. Fallen Under / 6. Slaves Of The New World Order / 7. Eyes Of My Maker / 8. Hero Of The World / 9. Golgotha