W.A.S.P. – Helldorado (1999 BMG)
Here’s an album I haven’t rocked in a while. Let’s see how it holds up 16 years after release. In 1999, this was W.A.S.P.’s “return to form” album after the industrial-metal of K.F.D. In the liner notes, Blackie says that the goal was not to make a record that sounded like their first album, but sounded like their first demos. In other words, even more raw. Those were the goalposts. Topically, Blackie was done with the messages and concept albums for the moment. You can tell by the song titles: “Don’t Cry (Just Suck)” and “Dirty Balls”, for example.
The record opens with creepy carnival music, motorcycle engines, and a voice asking us if we wanna go now? This goofy opener (called “Drive By”) goes on way too long, but at least the first song up is the purely smoking “Hellodrado”. It’s definitely in the mold of the legendary first W.A.S.P. album, and the production does recollect an earlier era. This blazing fast ride to hell n’ back is plenty fun, even if Blackie is just playing a sped up and more distorted Chuck Berry riff. Either way, I’m on board, but I’m definitely fastening my seatbelt.
“Don’t Cry (Just Suck)” is lyrically as offensive as you’d expect. Blackie went too far on this one. There’s something to be said for leaving things to the imagination. There’s nothing wrong with the music (similar to the first track with an Angus Young riff) but the lyrics aren’t justified. I’m sure everybody thought it was hilarious when they wrote it and recorded it, but all I hear are old tired cliches turned up to 11, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
A slower and more ominous mood, akin to “The Razors Edge” by AC/DC, inhabits “Damnation Angels”. This is a cool song, fitting the slot that a track like “B.A.D.” held on the first album. “Damnation Angels” is fittingly the only long song (over six minutes) on an album otherwise composed of shorties. “Dirty Balls” is one such shorty, and it’s fucking awesome. Too bad about the lame intro. Again, Blackie would have been better off leaving something to the imagination. “Dirty Balls” is otherwise hilarious and smokin’ hot at the same time. Sometimes all W.A.S.P. really needs is a rock n’ roll riff and a screamy chorus. “Dirty balls! Balls! Balls! Is all I need, hang ’em high, oh tonight, so the world can see!” I’m easily amused — all it takes is someone saying “balls” and I’m concealing snickers. (When I was a kid, my favourite song was “Big Balls”.)
“High on the Flames” kicks ass in a mid-tempo groove once again aping the AC/DC template. The problem with Helldorado isn’t bad songs, but songs that sound too much alike. “High on the Flames” kicks ass, but blink for a moment and you might think it’s “Damnation Angels” again. “Cocaine Cowboys” compounds the issue. It is a virtual carbon copy of “Dirty Balls” and “Helldorado”, and even the next song “Can’t Die Tonight”. I have found this to be a problem on W.A.S.P. albums going all the way back to The Crimson Idol if not before. There seems to be a W.A.S.P. template that you can mix and match parts from. Take this riff, add this solo, use that bridge, add lyrics and stir.
“Saturday Night Cockfight” is a great song title, you have to admit. This one sounds especially raw, and has a neat little riff that doesn’t sound like a duplicate of all the others. I dig Holmes’ solo(s) on this one; he just kicks ass on it. “Saturday Night Cockfight” is the sleeper track, a real classic tucked away at the end of the album right when you think it’s going downhill.
Finally, the album careens to an end by crashing into the boards. A 9-song album (don’t forget the first track is just an intro), already bogged down by carbon copy riffs, ends on “Hot Rods to Hell (Helldorado Reprise)”. That’s right, Blackie ends the CD with a reprise of the opening track. This amounts to a whole lotta solos and screaming, and that’s all well and good, but you feel like the album was perhaps padded out a bit where it could have used a little more time at the songwriter’s table.
I like Helldorado, and if you love the first W.A.S.P. album, you’ll like this too. You won’t love it as much, and you won’t play it as much, but it’ll have its place in your collection.
Pet peave: Four full pages of the eight page booklet are dedicated to Blackie hawking his W.A.S.P. merch.