Retro Rock Review: W.A.S.P.'s "Helldorado" (1999)
CMC International Records, 1999
The early 1990s were a rough patch for L.A. shock rockers W.A.S.P., led by Tipper Gore's arch-enemy Blackie Lawless. W.A.S.P.'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 bands like Marilyn Manson. Lawless did his best to keep his band's name in the public eye, shifting away from shock tactics and trying his hand at a serious, Who-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 onstage! 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 it was time to get back to the basics that had alternately endeared and horrified the record-buying public during W.A.S.P.'s '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.
Review of W.A.S.P.'s "Helldorado"
Helldorado opens with a sinister intro called "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!
Reactions to "Helldorado"
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 or 1995's Still Not Black Enough were disappointed in the disc, saying it represented a step backwards 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 nearly 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.
W.A.S.P. Select Discography:
Animal (F*** Like a Beast) single - Music For Nations, 1984
W.A.S.P. - Capitol, 1984
The Last Command - Capitol, 1985
Inside the Electric Circus - Capitol, 1986
Live...In the Raw - Capitol, 1987
The Headless Children - Capitol, 1989
The Crimson Idol - Capitol, 1992
Still Not Black Enough - Raw Power, 1995
K.F.D. - Castle, 1997
Double Live Assassins - CMC International, 1998
Helldorado - CMC International, 1999
Unholy Terror - Metal-Is, 2001
Dying For The World - Metal-Is, 2002
The Neon God Part 1: The Rise - Sanctuary, 2004
The Neon God Part 2: The Demise - Sancturary, 2004
Dominator - Demolition, 2007
Babylon - Demolition, 2009
Golgotha - Napalm, 2015
Re-Idolized: The Soundtrack to the Crimson Idol - Napalm, 2018
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