BraveWords Ranks The Albums: W.A.S.P.
December 19, 2022, 12 months ago
Loud, brash, bold, introspective, creepy, controversial, offensive, sentimental – any of these adjectives apply to California’s W.A.S.P. Blackie Lawless and crew are celebrating 40 years of raucous rockin’ heavy metal. With 15 studio albums of original material, Blackie has managed differing lineups and drastic tone changes from partying to political – rebellion to religious – exuberance to depression – anarchy to patriotism and so on. W.A.S.P. has songs to cover every mood imaginable and BraveWords ranks the 15 W.A.S.P. studio albums from worst to first.
*Note – not counting 2018’s Re-Idolized, a re-recording of The Crimson Idol.
15) Helldorado – 1999 (CMC International)
This is the most dishonest record in the W.A.S.P. catalogue. Besides being notable as the final album guitarist Chris Holmes played on, the rockers came off the ambitious, but excellent K.F.D. and then flipped to the crass, vulgar, and obnoxious Helldorado. Blackie’s mission was to turn the clock back to glory days of the ‘80s, but he was a couple years too early on the glam metal resurgence. With song titles like “Don’t Cry (Just Suck)”, “Dirty Balls”, and “Saturday Night Cockfight”, there are some laugh out loud moments, but the ridiculous lyrics aren’t the problem; it’s the lame musicality and constant riff patterns being repeated throughout each song. The clear winner is “Damnation Angels” – a doomy, powerful track with actual strong songwriting that is absent from the other cuts.
14) The Neon God: Part Two – The Demise – 2004 (Sanctuary)
Is it better to be forgettable, or just downright awful? The two album concept series of The Neon God are the most useless records in the W.A.S.P. discography. It sounds harsh, but it’s just a meager copy of The Crimson Idol with recycled story themes and repeated musical hooks. I respect Blackie’s vision going after it with a huge concept, but it just doesn’t work. Part 2 has some more rock ‘n’ roll moments – love the stomp and snarl of “Come Back To Black” and the frontman sure knows how to put an epic together – the 13 minute closer “The Last Redemption” builds up the climax and conclusion with astute songwriting.
13) The Neon God: Part One – The Rise – 2004 (Metal-Is)
Frustration sometimes seeps in when going through W.A.S.P.’s career. With The Neon God, you can sense the passion from Blackie and his emotional vocal delivery, but as written above, it’s basically a retread of The Crimson Idol. The difference is The Crimson Idol is excellent and The Neon God is just…there. There isn’t anything horrible or terribly written musically – it’s just something fans have heard before. There are a couple gems however; “Asylum #9” has monumental vocal and chorus work with pounding rhythms and keyboards while “The Red Room Of The Rising Sun” has a surprising, but sublime psychedelic vibe. But then there’s stuff like “Sister Sadie (And The Black Habits)” which is just a rewritten version of “Chainsaw Charlie”.
12) Unholy Terror – 2001 (Metal-Is)
Probably the safest record Blackie and co. have put out, musically speaking. Chris Holmes is credited as lead guitarist, but he claims he never played a note on it. The drum work was split between Stet Howland and Frankie Banali, and Mike Duda on bass. Love the pissed off Blackie and wailing solos in “Wasted White Boys” and the ominous lyrics in the doom-laden “Charisma”. “Who Slayed Baby Jane?” well…slays musically as well. “Hate To Love Me” is classic W.A.S.P. rocking with an intimidating swagger. It’s familiar and doesn’t take too many chances – just correcting the wrongs from Helldorado. Not an outstanding record, but serviceable.
11) Golgotha – 2015 (Napalm)
Still the latest release of original material, Golgotha is Blackie inspired spiritually – the title is a reference to the hill Jesus Christ was crucified on and the title track is emotionally draining no matter where you fall on the religious spectrum. “Miss You” is pure sadness and it’s no wonder why; it was originally written for The Crimson Idol. Golgotha is a different flavor, a new attitude and completely different from the W.A.S.P. of 1985. “Slaves Of The New World Order” is galloping and fiercer in presentation while “Last Runaway” holds energy taken from the past. It’s a mature offering, but still provides a suitable and honest punch. Pretty remarkable for a band that was over 30 years in their career when issued.
10) Still Not Black Enough – 1995 (Raw Power)
It’s hard ranking this album. This one has grown the most on repeated listens. Continuing the themes from the harrowing The Crimson Idol, Blackie is still reeling in the negative, depressive emotions while also issuing a scathing political rant with the aptly titled “Goodbye America”. There are some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll influences present, especially in the anthem “Black Forever”, the Chuck Berry-like “Rock And Roll To Death” and the Elvis Presley inspired “Keep Holding On”. The cover of Jefferson Airplane classic “Somebody To Love” is fantastic and the closing track “I Can’t” is chilling lyrically (funnily enough some of the lyrics would be copied “Clockwork Mary” from The Neon God – Pt 2.) Frankie Banali’s drum work and Bob Kulick on lead guitar add musical nuances that raise the material. It’s a weird record, especially in the musical climate of the mid-‘90s, but one that deserves some recognition.
9) Dominator – 2007 (Demolition)
When the opening chords of “Mercy” hit, you know you’re in for a treat as after The Neon God debacle, W.A.S.P. was back in full force with Dominator. A politically charged album, the drumming from Mike Dupke elevates Dominator to another level with a big sound and creative fills. Blackie is fine form vocally with razor sharp howls and while there are some musical reminders of the past – it isn’t as blatant as The Neon God or Unholy Terror. It’s a fresh album and was way better than what any of their peers were releasing in 2007. “Deal With The Devil” is a fiery closer while “The Burning Man” roars with intensity and “Long, Long Way To Go” chugs to the highest plains. Good stuff!
8) Babylon – 2009 (Demolition)
The refreshed W.A.S.P. on Dominator is completely cleansed on Babylon. The continued lineup of Blackie, Doug Blair (lead guitar), Mike Duda (bass), and Mike Dupke (drums) churns out a staggeringly strong CD. Sure, opener “Crazy” reminds of “Wild Child”, but there are crisp numbers like the haunting “Babylon’s Burning” and the galloping “Thunder Red”. The Deep Purple cover of “Burn” (originally intended for Dominator) has the W.A.S.P. spin put on it and turns out well. Dupke stands out again with his drumming ability. Dude is talented. Babylon showed the band was still more than capable to create high quality material.
7) Inside The Electric Circus – 1986 (Capitol)
This is W.A.S.P. at the apex of their glam period. Not many acts can pull off the raunchiness of “9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y.” and “Shoot From The Hip”. Maybe Mötley Crüe, but Vince Neil can’t pull off Blackie’s dirty snarls. Side A rips from start to finish with the grand opening “The Big Welcome” that segues into the title track. “Restless Gypsy” is catchiness to the largest degree that pulls off a ‘70s feel flawlessly. The band also has the ability to record cover songs that fit in with an album’s vibe and it’s no different with Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and Uriah Heep’s “Easy Living”. It’s a shame that side B slips with weak filler like the forgettable “King Of Sodom And Gomorrah” and the too long “Sweet Cheetah” (although the solos are nice), but overall got to love the sleaziness and killer lineup of Blackie Lawless, Chris Holmes, Johnny Rod (bass), and Steve Riley (drums).
6) Dying For The World – 2002 (Metal-Is)
If there is one to own of W.A.S.P’s releases since 2000, this is the one right here. Our man Blackie is pissed off and angry as the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center inspired this offering. It’s full of anger, brooding, and volcanic emotions backed by galloping, motivated rhythms and steamrolling lead work (Darrell Roberts completely slays on here). “My Wicked Heart”, “Stone Cold Killers” and “Revengeance” are quintessential W.A.S.P. The bass work of Mike Duda and drumming of Frankie Banali is top notch. Lost in the haze of the early-‘00s, Dying For The World should not be slept on.
5) K.F.D. – 1997 (Castle)
Imagine music written with Blackie’s usual tricks, but through an industrial, mechanical metal lens. Reuniting with Chris Holmes, K.F.D. (short for Kill. F*ck. Die.) drips with this churning, machine like drumming and a startling raw production. Blackie has commented that he and Chris were at low points in their lives at the time and it comes out in the lyrics. Some of these songs paint vivid, disturbing images – “Kill Your Pretty Face”, “Little Death”, “My Tortured Eyes” – there are some messed up thoughts going on here. “Take The Addiction” is like if W.A.S.P. teamed up with Marilyn Manson on a track. On the surface it shouldn’t work, but it does, and it works amazingly well. Closer “The Horror” is especially chilling. It’s a strange, unique time in the band’s history and a fascinating one to dive into.
4) The Last Command – 1985 (Capitol)
Brash, confident, and anthemic, but with a little more polish, The Last Command is W.A.S.P. expanding on the effort of their explosive debut. From the lustful, clean-chorded “Wild Child” to the balls-out drunkenness of “Blind In Texas”, to the sinister “Cries In The Night”, and the fist-pumping howls of the title track, this is W.A.S.P. giving listeners a diverse range of material to bite into. In case you needed more, the lovely closer “Sex Drive” summarizes their sleaziness – “Like a dog in heat all dirty love is a treat, and ya know it’s just too good to believe!”
3) W.A.S.P. – 1984 (Capitol)
Where it all began – Blackie Lawless, Chris Holmes, Tony Richards, and Randy Piper lay down one of the best debuts of all time. The rawest (except for maybe K.F.D.) and dirtiest record; the songwriting is vibrant and punishing as this is a band making a statement that they are a force to be reckoned with. There’s no need to go through the tracks – this album speaks for itself – a thrilling, lewd, rebellious ride with these four crazy guys at the controls. The closer rings true – “The Torture Never Stops” and we don’t want it to.
2) The Crimson Idol – 1992 (Capitol)
There aren’t enough words to describe the sheer quality of The Crimson Idol. It’s really the record Blackie has been dying to successfully recreate (hello The Neon God) as it resonates on so many levels. The storytelling and themes are brilliant. It is so depressing and emotionally draining, but yet you just can’t help but listen to this over and over again, because it’s so good. Backed by a drumming duo of Stet Howland and Frankie Banali, Blackie is joined by Bob Kulick and even Doug Aldrich on guitars. The performances are moving and played with distraught emotion. As the notes hit – even in the upbeat and raucous “Doctor Rockter”, you can sense the dread and that our main character Jonathan isn’t doing well despite finding success as a musician. Just listen to the "The Idol" - you can feel the torture in Jonathan's soul; it hits so hard. The Crimson Idol isn’t something to just listen to – it is to be experienced. There are a plethora of great musical and lyrical moments – it truly is the best concept album of all-time.
1) The Headless Children – 1989 (Capitol)
As amazing as The Crimson Idol is, The Headless Children is in a class of its own. It is a testament to the creative genius of Blackie Lawless that W.A.S.P. has released some of the greatest records of all-time. The Headless Children was a new W.A.S.P. Shedding the wild, loud image; they let the music do the talking. The ode to guitarist Chris Holmes, “Mean Man”, and “Rebel In The F.D.G.” is the closest they would get to recreating their previous material, but it’s the stellar opener “The Heretic (The Lost Child)”, the title track, and “Thunderhead” which shows a mature band brimming with a stark heaviness tackling different subject matter rather than sex and shock. The sentimental ballad “Forever Free” stands as one of their best and another one Blackie has tried recreating in later songs.
The Headless Children is a band saying goodbye to the ‘80s – almost like they sensed the glam bubble was about to burst. With Johnny Rod on bass along with newcomer Frankie Banali behind the kit, Uriah Heep legend Ken Hensley joins on keyboards and elevates the brilliant cover of The Who’s “The Real Me”. The album is full of hooks, roaring guitars, and aggressive vocals; it is the perfect assemblage of traditional heavy metal, glam, poignant and bold lyricism, and ‘70s rock. Plainly speaking, The Headless Children unendingly rocks and needs to be in everyone’s collection.