November 24, 2009

W.A.S.P. - Babylon

W.A.S.P. is a band I have only had a passing affiliation with over the years. I never listened to them much in their heyday. I am not sure why this was, they certainly have a sound and swagger that is right up my alley. I did have a copy of The Headless Children that I was quite fond of, but that is as far as it went. Years later, 2005 as a matter of fact, I saw them headline a bill of metal acts that included Stephen Pearcy (of Ratt), LA Guns, and Metal Church. That was an insane show that saw frontman Blackie Lawless still performing like he did back in the day. A couple of years later they released the excellent Dominator album, proving that W.A.S.P. is still a relevant force. Now Blackie and company have a new album, Babylon, which delivers another dose of metal and hard rock.

As I began listening to Babylon, I was hoping to recapture some of that Dominator power. Sadly, those feelings were not there. The deeper into the album I got, I kept waiting for that one song that would push Babylon over the edge into that fist in the air, sneer on the face feeling I got from Dominator and when I go back to some of those Headless Children cuts. It never came. I did feel like they were going to do it with "Babylon's Burning" and "Thunder Red," but did not quite make it.

Now, don't get me wrong. Babylon is a solid album that you should be happy to get your hands on. It is solid effort from start to finish, with nary a stinker in the bunch. I guess its biggest problem is consistency. The production is solid, everything is crisp, clear, and begs to be cranked up. Plus, there is still no band that sounds like them. Despite the revolving door of supporting cast that Blackie has surrounded himself with, the band's sound has always stayed strong. Not only that, but while Blackie Lawless does not quite have the range that he had back in the 80's and 90's, he still has that instantly recognizable style. No one can sing like he can. Just listen to that classic waver. Fantastic.


The album kicks off with "Crazy," a good opener that is sure to bring "Wildchild" to mind. That is followed up by "Live to Die Another Day." This song has a good galloping drama to it, broken up by a nice solo in the middle. This leads directly into "Babylon's Burning," one of the better tunes on the album.

The fourth track is the first of two cover tracks. Here, Blackie and his team have put their stamp on Deep Purple's "Burn." They almost make it sound like a W.A.S.P. original! They turn the amps to eleven and charge their way through it like only they know how. Frankly, it took me a moment to recognize it.

Much like Dominator, my favorite song is the big ballad-type track. On the earlier album it was "Heaven Hung in Black," here it is "Into the Fire." Blackie has a way of bringing high drama to these types of songs. His voice sounds so pained with a bed of anger. It is a feat that I am unsure how he is able to do it. He draws you in with the dramatic music and that unique voice. It is always about the voice.

The album then moves back the high energy with "Thunder Red" and the galloping rock and roll of "Seas of Fire" before taking a soft left and a hard right to finish us off.

First is the second ballad of the album, "Godless Run." This is another song that has Blackie letting loose the high drama that his voice has a knack for as he sings a song that strikes me as very personal. It almost sounds like he is reflecting on the journey of life that has led him here.

For a complete change of pace, Babylon closes with a cover of Chuck Berry's "Promised Land." I am at a loss for words. It sounds cool as hell but seems to make little sense in context of the album or the band as a whole.

Before signing off, I must recognize the effort of the rest of the band. Mike Duda keeps things moving with his straightforward bass work. Mike Dupke is the man behind the kit and while he is not spectacular, turns in good work that will keep your head rocking to the beat. Now, the man of the hour is lead guitarist Doug Blair. The man really cuts loose with some rip roaring solos throughout. Great stuff.

Bottomline. W.A.S.P. may not be the first name on your lips when your looking for some rock and roll, but they are still here and delivering good music. This album shows their skills are not diminishing. Blackie leads the rock and roll charge and I suspect he will be lurking around the edges for many years to come.


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