Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Two, "Voyeurs"
Two (aka "2wo")—"Voyeurs"
Genre: Industrial Rock
Label: Nothing/Interscope Records
Release Year: 1998
Run Time: 46:36
The Metal God Goes Industrial?
Vocalist Rob Halford surprised his loyal headbanger following when he left Judas Priest in 1991 to explore new musical pastures. He seemed to find his footing fairly quickly with Fight, a street-level metal combo in the vein of groove/thrashers like Pantera. Fight's two studio albums (War of Words in 1993 and A Small Deadly Space in 1995) attracted a cult audience, but didn't set sales charts on fire. Soon, Rob was a free agent again.
For his next project, Rob took an even greater, more unexpected creative leap. Surrounded by a new crew of young musicians, he attempted to hitch his wagon to the then-hot electronic/industrial rock sound personified by bands like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Known as "Two" (sometimes stylized as "2wo"), the new combo signed to NIN honcho Trent Reznor's Nothing Records label and released their debut album, Voyeurs, in 1998. Voyeurs proved to be a controversial release on numerous levels.
Naturally, the news that Rob had "gone industrial" sent shock waves through his metalhead fan base. In fact, Halford almost seemed to go out of his way to scandalize his old fans during promotions for Voyeurs. At one point he told a reporter that the traditional heavy metal scene he'd come from was "dead," and referred to then-hot nu-metal bands like Limp Bizkit as "the new sound of metal for the new millennium."
An additional flurry of press attention followed when Rob casually "came out" as a gay man during an interview with MTV. Rob's sexuality had been something of an "open secret" within the metal scene for many years, but it was still a surprise to hear it finally confirmed by the man himself.
Playing off of that revelation, the first music video from Voyeurs, "I Am A Pig," was directed by gay adult filmmaker Chi Chi LaRue and featured a variety of leather-clad couples gyrating and flailing in a sex dungeon. Halford didn't appear in the clip till its last few seconds, where he revealed his vaguely sinister black-cloaked, goateed new look. When I first saw the video it occurred to me that Rob looked a little like Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan (or maybe Pinhead from the Hellraiser films, without the pins).
Of course, all the controversy in the world won't help sell an album if the songs aren't any good. Did Voyeurs live up to the hype?
"I Am a Pig" Music Video
Voyeurs starts off well enough with the chugging "I Am a Pig," which is probably as close as Two ever gets to "metal" thanks to the twisty, jagged riffing of the then-unknown guitarist John Lowery, aka John 5 (who would later work with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie). "Stutter Kiss" rumbles along atop a pulsating, electronic groove, with Halford's voice peeking out from under a variety of effects.
The bass-heavy "Water's Leaking" and "My Ceiling's Low" are bouncy electronic rockers, with Halford affecting an appropriately sinister snarl/sneer throughout. Rob seems to be calling out his critics with the angry "Leave Me Alone," and the backing track to "If" has a rhythmic tribal feel. The double shot of "Deep in the Ground" and "Hey Sha La La" approach pop territory with almost dance-able rhythms and catchy choruses. "Wake Up" is synth-drenched drivel, but "Gimp" has a nice punchy bass sound and the laid back soundscapes of the closing "Bed of Rust" is Two at their most "epic" sounding.
In spite of all the attention, Voyeurs landed with a thud when it was released in early 1998. Reviews were lukewarm at best; a few critics gave Rob points for trying something so far out of his usual comfort zone, but his old fans wanted nothing to do with the "new" vibe, and the Nine Inch Nails/Manson modern rock audience Two was courting responded with a curt "Pffft. Stay in your lane, Dad."
Rob apparently had an epiphany during Two's brief European tour to promote Voyeurs. He later told interviewers that he was up on stage in the middle of a gig when he suddenly realized that he wasn't "connecting" with the Two material, or with the audience, in the way he was accustomed to, and found himself wondering, "What am I doing? This isn't me." Rob took that as a sign that it was time to slam on the brakes. Two was supposed to take part in the summer 1998 OzzFest tour of the U.S., but Rob put the band on ice instead and began plotting his next move.
Rob would later characterize the Two experience as an "experiment" that he'd needed to get out of his system to scratch a creative itch. His next project, "Halford," on the other hand, was a triumphant return to his old-school, classic heavy metal roots. After releasing two ripping, screaming studio albums with Halford (2000's Resurrection and 2002's Crucible), Rob rejoined Judas Priest in 2004 and continues to front the band today. Meanwhile, Voyeurs has been relegated to the dusty vaults of used-CD vendors with deep inventories.
Summing It Up
Is Voyeurs as terrible as its reputation suggests? I don't think so. I was never a huge fan of the electronic/industrial sound, but I still found it to be a fairly listenable (though now quite dated) slice of '90s aggro-rock. That said, I probably would never have bothered with this album if Rob Halford hadn't been involved with it.
20+ years after its release, Voyeurs' appeal is probably limited to curiosity seekers and gotta-have-everything collectors of the Metal God's body of work.
© 2020 Keith Abt