Review Summary: In his youth, Blackie Lawless was one of rock's finest heathens. Somehow, alebit with uneven results, he has grafted this to some form of maturity here.
W.A.S.P., the monstrous 80s creation of Blackie Lawless, have always held a soft spot in my heart. There is something endlessly charming and upbeat to the music, and something utterly fascinating in Blackie's ability to tell a story. Be it adolescent sexuality or the War on Terror, the man has proven he can tell it, imbuing any tale with his unique personality. This album features a cover of Deep Purple
’s “Burn”, which Lawless completely makes his own without breaking a sweat.
On to Babylon
, then. What do the boys have in store for us this time? "You gotta be crazy to say you love me" he screams on the album's first track. Are we? Quite possibly, but we are happy that way, so lead us onwards Mr. Lawless! Supposedly this album is about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but on listening this is not particularly evident. That said, the entire album - even the Deep Purple
cover - holds together a cohesive work, with a lot of thematic continuity to it ("Babylon's Burning", "Burn", "Into the Fire", Seas of Fire" – the whole album seems to be about fire), with a mood carrying across from one song to the next.
Compared to the band's 80s heyday, the songs are less gloriously wicked, but on the upside the album sounds more polished and refined. Here is a band mellowing with age, which works to Lawless’ advantage generally – to try and be as vile as the persona he portrayed as a younger man would be impossible to take seriously anymore. There is perhaps a little less focus than on albums past, but generally W.A.S.P. are as sharp as ever here, and the evolution in sound is quite natural. "Crazy" and "Babylon's Burning" have some of the best pop hooks to come out of a metal band in years. The album’s peak is “Into the Fire”, a Satan-fuelled ballad in which Lawless briefly slips back in to being the Blackie Lawless of old. Like some sort of hellish conductor, he leads the band into the dark recesses of his mind as only he can.
At the 25 minute mark though, the album enters filler territory. "Thunder Red", "Seas of Fire" and "Godless Run" are technically correct but sounding cold and over-rehearsed, lacking in W.A.S.P.'s natural impish charm. The mid section to "Seas of Fire" has some energetic, relentless drums driving it onwards, and "Godless Run" sees Lawless revisiting his croaky ballad voice of old, which is good for nostalgia. The album closes with a version of "Promised Land" by Chuck Berry
. The best word for the song is nice
, a word not commonly used when talking about W.A.S.P.. Out of place on the album, and with a loose style not befitting the tight musicians in the band, there is something endearing to this closing number all the same. For the first time in his career, Lawless sounds relaxed, no longer carrying the weight of scaring the world on his shoulders. It makes you appreciate the effort he puts in to his craft the rest of the time, and you find yourself wanting to indulge the man – just this once, you want him to sing whatever he wants. After all these years, Lawless feels like an old friend, and it seems like smiling while listening to “Promised Land” is doing the man a bit of a favour.
Drummer Mike Dupke should get an award for how good he is on this album, though really the entire line-up give a stellar performance. While W.A.S.P. has been all about Blackie Lawless a few years, and all of them have performed on at least one prior W.A.S.P. album. This shows, with the band showing remarkable tightness for what many would have you believe is effectively a solo vehicle of Blackie Lawless. The production is little different to that of the 1980s, only more crisp. The sound balance is generous to every musician in the band, with Lawless happy to skip in and out of the music's focus when it suits the song. These things hold the album together as the songwriting drags towards the end, and the sense of a collective makes the music all the more powerful.
An incredible first half and a reasonably good second half might not seem like a great deal, but buy this album and somehow Blackie Lawless will guarantee you to see otherwise. It is hard to know how he does it, but he remains as compelling as ever.