I never saw W.A.S.P. live during their early meat-slinging days.* I loved “The Last Command” and their self-titled debut, but I was just a preteen when those albums were released, young enough to giggle at “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast).” I even convinced a parent to take me to see the god-awful movie, “The Dungeonmaster,” partially because W.A.S.P. had an appearance in it. . .
I lost touch with W.A.S.P. for a few years after “The Last Command” completed its MTV and radio cycle. Don’t @ me; this was over thirty years ago. At that time, I was riding my tape deck time machine through the incredible music eras of the 60s and 70s, while also going all in on the Thrash scene and its street-level denim aesthetic.
Fast-forward to 1992.
My friends’ band opened for W.A.S.P. at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, NJ, for a stop on “The Crimson Idol” tour. I hadn’t heard that or “The Headless Children” albums yet; I mainly just knew the old stuff. Blackie Lawless and the boys played their cover of The Who’s “The Real Me,” early in the set, then went through a slew of classics like “Wild Child,” “I Wanna Be Somebody,” “L.O.V.E. Machine,” et al. I was fully reimmersed.
But what really hit home for me was this new dimension of W.A.S.P. that I’d never encountered before: epic songs with majestic instrumental breaks and solos. Where the older stuff was fun, crude, crass, straight-ahead Hard Rock n’ Metal (see “Blind in Texas”), this material had depth, grandeur, and seriousness that I frankly didn’t know Blackie Lawless had in him. I’d always called myself a W.A.S.P. fan, but that night on the Fast Lane general admission floor, I gained a new level of respect for them. With my appreciation reawakened, further investigation led me to some incredible discoveries of what I’d been missing.
The songs that most changed my perspective were “The Heretic” and “The Headless Children” (I could have sworn that W.A.S.P. played both of those at the show, but setlist.fm disputes my memory, saying they’d only played “The Headless Children”). They’re both variations on the same theme, with a distinctly similar makeup and feel, with Blackie’s voice and lyrics painting landscapes of horror and despair over darkly powerful chord progressions. There was apparently no epiphany moment that spurred this new maturity in the songwriting; Lawless told Musician Magazine in 1989 that it was inspired by talking to fans, realizing that there were “a lot of things to be said about the world we live in,” adding, “This record was designed to make young people think.”
For me, decades later, I still love their songs that rock and shout, but I also deeply appreciate their songs that think and feel. Part of what makes W.A.S.P. a great Metal band with staying power is their capability to deliver both.
*In the earliest days of W.A.S.P., part of their concert shock tactics included Blackie hurling raw meat from the stage into the audience. Nothing like a face full of wet pig’s liver when you’re in the front row. . .
Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as the co-host of the popular Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino, but in this space, he’s also the lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel and a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.