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Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: W.A.S.P., "Helldorado"

I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

W.A.S.P. – "Helldorado"

W.A.S.P. – "Helldorado"

W.A.S.P. – Helldorado

Released: 1999
Label: CMC International Records

The early 1990s were rough for L.A. shock rockers W.A.S.P., led by Tipper Gore's arch-enemy Blackie Lawless. The band's trademark brand of '80s style heavy metal was in decline, and their legendary blood-and-thunder stage theatrics were being eclipsed by younger, edgier artists like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson.

Lawless did his best to keep W.A.S.P. in the public eye, shifting away from shock tactics and trying his hand at a serious, Tommy-style rock opera (1992's The Crimson Idol). He then tried to face the Marilyn Manson phenomenon head-on with 1997's K.F.D., an experiment in techno-tinged horror rock (the album's initials stood for Kill, F**k, Die) whose supporting concert tour featured a pig being slaughtered on stage each night! Though each of these albums garnered their fair share of fans, none of them burned up the Billboard charts.

During the mixing process for 1998's Double Live Assassins concert album, Lawless realized that W.A.S.P. needed to get back to the basics that had alternately endeared and horrified the record-buying public during their '80s heyday. By ignoring then-current metal trends and flavor-of-the-month gimmicks, the result was 1999's Helldorado, the most ferocious W.A.S.P. disc in almost a decade.

The Songs

Helldorado opens with the sinister intro "Drive By," in which a cackling Lawless welcomes the listener to Hell in his best insane carnival barker's voice, while a demonic hot-rod engine revs in the background. This leads into the title track, where the band slams the gas pedal to the floor and keeps it there for the rest of the CD.

Helldorado is a trip down metal memory lane, with all the sick humor and questionable morals that made Lawless infamous. This band might be an acquired taste for some, and their subject matter certainly isn't for everybody, but if you were a fan during W.A.S.P.'s greasy, grimy '80s heyday when they were cranking out obnoxious three-chord classics like "Animal (F*** Like a Beast)" and "Blind in Texas," then Helldorado will instantly bring a smile to your face.

W.A.S.P.'s sound has always lived and died by the combination of Blackie Lawless and prodigal guitarist Chris Holmes. Like a sleaze-metal version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, these guys always brought out the best (or should that be "worst?") in each other. When Helldorado was released, Holmes had only recently returned to the W.A.S.P. ranks after an eight-year hiatus, but he and Lawless still fit together like a pair of bloody gloves. On Helldorado, they're tearing out razor-sharp riffs that sound like they were lifted from classic AC/DC records, while drummer Stet Howland and bassist Mike Duda provide a rock-solid bottom end.

You'll definitely need a juvenile sense of humor in order to truly appreciate songs like "Cocaine Cowboys" or "Don't Cry, Just Suck," but when were W.A.S.P. ever about subtlety? Hell, the best song on this album is a rip-roaring, hilariously filthy ode called "Dirty Balls," for cryin' out loud. If that song had been on one of W.A.S.P.'s early albums, Tipper and the P.M.R.C. would've been all over Lawless like a cheap suit.

Overall, the sensation while listening to Helldorado is akin to standing in front of a roaring locomotive—you either jump on or get the hell out of the way!

The Reaction

Reaction to the album from the band's fanbase was split—while some reviews hailed the retro vibe of Helldorado, others who had grown to appreciate Blackie's maturing artistic vision on latter-day albums like The Crimson Idol and 1995's Still Not Black Enough were disappointed in the disc, saying it represented a step backward for the band, and accusing Lawless of pandering to the boneheaded, Beavis & Butt-Head demographic to make a few quick bucks.

You can count me as one of those who was very pleased with Helldorado's old-school vibe when I first heard it back in 1999. I didn't mind Blackie's early '90s stabs at artistic integrity, but it was nice to hear the "real" meat and potatoes W.A.S.P. sound again. Revisiting this album again more than 20 years (!) after its release, Helldorado still sounds like a "lost" W.A.S.P. recording that fell out of a time capsule from the early 1980s. It would have fit nicely in between their legendary 1984 debut and 1985's The Last Command.

Author Germaine Greer once said, "You're only young once, but you can be immature forever." This must have been W.A.S.P.'s motto when they created Helldorado. It may be raunchy, offensive, and dumb as a box of rocks, but if you're looking for an album that will blow your speakers, gross out your friends, and provide a near-endless supply of juvenile smirks, then, by all means, give Helldorado a spin.

© 2018 Keith Abt