CMC International Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/14/1999
If there ever was any doubt that W.A.S.P. was back in top form, their latest disc Helldorado should kill it faster than swatting a fly with a machine gun.
Coming off of the emotional purge that was K.F.D. and rediscovering the joys of metal's form of "roots rock" on Double Live Assassins, Blackie Lawless and crew return to the eardrum-splitting, ass-kicking style of metal that first put the band on the map with W.A.S.P. and The Last Command. As impressed as I had been with W.A.S.P.'s last two releases, the quality of the songwriting and performances on Helldorado shocked even me.
While this album could easily have been the follow-up to The Last Command - Lawless doesn't sound like he's aged a day - don't you dare call this album "retro". Vocalist/guitarist Lawless, lead guitarist Chris Holmes, bassist Mike Duda and drummer Stet Howland take the bull by the... well, if not the horns, then another part of its anatomy, and do a Texas two-step on the nervous system of the listener. I dare you to not keep a smile on your face while listening to this album.
The opening interlude "Drive By" might make the listener think they're in for another dose of the industrial-flavored metal that made up the bulk of K.F.D. - but Lawless and crew quickly show they're out to play rock for rock's sake on the title track. Holmes's guitar playing could easily be some of the best of his career on this song, proving what an important part he plays in W.A.S.P. Lawless's layered vocals shine as always - quite possibly this was one of the most ignored factors of this band throughout their career.
Just when you think you have time to come up for air, W.A.S.P. sends another audio barrage at you - and it never felt better. Tracks like "Cocaine Cowboys," "Can't Die Tonight" and "Damnation Angels" all are some of W.A.S.P.'s best work, and easily belong up on the shelf with such classics from their career as "Blind In Texas" and "I Wanna Be Somebody".
One track that has gotten a lot of pre-release commentary is "Dirty Balls," especially when it has been compared in its style to "Blind In Texas". I would dispute that, and would say it's more in the style of similar tracks like "Sex Drive" and "Ballcrusher". However you compare it, it still is a decent track, and one that is sure to get Tipper Gore's Maidenforms in a bunch.
There are only two minor complaints I have with Helldorado. First, Duda still needs to be brought up in the mix - I often had a hard time hearing his bass parts - and there are times that Lawless should have mixed his vocals up higher, especially on "Saturday Night Cockfight". Second, I really wish this album had been longer. With only nine real songs on it - one of which, "Hot Rods To Hell," is a reprise of "Helldorado" - it almost seems anti-climactic when the disc spins down, leaving the listener saying, "That's IT?!?" Granted, Lawless might not have wanted to wear out his welcome by putting subpar material on this album, but I can't help it, I'm greedy when it comes to W.A.S.P.'s music.
Helldorado is the album that W.A.S.P. fans - especially those who consider The Last Command and their debut album to be the high-water marks for the band - have been patiently waiting for. Pick up the disc, slap it in the player, and take a big drink - your patience has finally been rewarded.