Wednesday, 25 November 2015

W.A.S.P.'s 'Golgotha' - Album Review

While W.A.S.P. were a big part of the hair metal movement in America in the 1980s, they were always a much heavier band than that. They were almost anti-hair metal, with a darker take on the image, and metal anthems that were as catchy but much heavier and grittier. They were also one of the most controversial, with lyrics and a stage show created to shock. This notoriety seemed to wear a little thin however, and by 1989 W.A.S.P. were taking a much more mature approach to songwriting and presentation. Fourth album The Headless Children is arguably the start of the W.A.S.P. that we know today, and this was cemented on 1992's The Crimson Idol, who's emotional concept and melodic metal presentation would easily make it into my Top 10 Albums of All-Time list if I was to make one. The majority (although not all) of W.A.S.P.'s studio output since has contained the hallmarks of those two seminal albums. While their first three albums are arguably their most famous and commercially successful, it is throughout the rest of their career where W.A.S.P. have been their most creative and interesting. Two decades on and W.A.S.P. are still going strong, and their fifteenth album Golgotha was released last month. This is the third album on the trot to contain the band's most recent line-up, consisting of: the band's founder and leader Blackie Lawless, guitarist Doug Blair, bassist Mike Duda, and drummer Mike Dupke. Dupke actually left the band before the album was released, but he plays on the album and puts in a good shift. No official replacement for him has yet been announced. Sound wise, Golgotha shares similarities with 2007's Dominator and 2009's Babylon, the band's most recent two albums. The production is almost identical, and Lawless has done well to create continuity between the releases. With six years passing between Babylon's release and Golgotha's, expectations were certainly high. The lengthy '30 Years of Thunder' tour undertaken by the band in 2012, and Lawless' broken leg and long recovery time certainly put the album's production and release back, but it is with us now, and it is certainly another strong offering from the band. Recent W.A.S.P. will certainly never match up to the legendary first five albums, but Lawless and his band have written and produced another collection of classy metal songs, that range from anthemic rockers to atmospheric ballads. A production style that was a little rougher around the edges would have probably made the songs sound even better, but the quality of the songwriting cannot be denied. Some of the band's most ambitious songs in a while are on this album, along with some of the best guitar work ever seen on a W.A.S.P. album courtesy of Blair.

Lead single Scream is very typical of the band's modern sound, and is remarkably similar to the opening numbers from both Dominator and Babylon. The ringing guitar melody is classic W.A.S.P., and the song contains a rousing chorus where Lawless demonstrates that his unique voice is still completely intact. Keyboards have become a big part of the band's studio sound over the years, and a dense but melodic organ sound surrounds the song and makes it sound huge. Blair opens his account here with the first of many excellent guitar solos. This one is fast and melodic, with plenty of sweeping runs. The moody but catchy W.A.S.P. sound is present here, and Scream sets the tone for the rest of the album. Last Runaway actually has a little of Born to Run era Bruce Springsteen about it, while still be unquestionably W.A.S.P.. Duda's bass guitar shines through with a nice growl, and propels the song along at a decent pace, while Lawless' rough vocals sit well above the bed of keyboards and big power chords. As well as the Springsteen feel, there is a strong dose of AOR here. This is one of the most instantly accessible songs in the W.A.S.P. catalogue, and it would be a great entry point for new fans. Shotgun starts out sounding very similar to oldie 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y. (I will put it on record here that that song title really annoys me!), and is probably the most old-school song on the album. It is a dirty song, with a big riff and some really snarly vocals from Lawless that shows he has lost none of his bite. He has always had a knack for pulling of those great howls, where he holds a powerful note for a long time. This song is full of those, and it really brings back memories of those early albums. There's another excellent solo here, with what sounds like a lot of whammy bar use to get some crazy effects on the notes. After three rockers, Miss You comes in as the album's first ballad. Apparently this song was originally written during The Crimson Idol sessions, but was never used at the time. Lawless has resurrected it here and it is one of the most epic ballads the band have ever produced. Lawless, as well as being able to howl and snarl with the best of them, has a great voice for ballads. The slightly cracked quality only makes his ability to convey emotion much greater, and that is displayed here. The song slowly builds up during the verse, as layers of dark, clean guitar pile up and Dupke's drums slowly become more powerful. By the time the song reaches the chorus, the song has taken off and it really takes hold. There are countless guitar solos throughout this song, and some go on for quite a while. Blair plays his heart out here, and lays down some of his best ever lead work. In contrast, Fallen Under seems a little weak. It maintains that ballad feeling, but with a little more speed, but it pales in comparison to the masterful Miss You that came before. It is repetitive, and probably the album's weakest song.

Another epic, Slaves of the New World Order, follows. It starts off slow with some wordless vocals from Lawless, but it is not long before a crunching riff comes in that also takes you back to W.A.S.P.'s glory days. I have always liked the way Lawless uses his drummers to compliment riffs. Drummers in W.A.S.P. are far more musical than in a lot of other bands, and they use the beat to actually improve the feel of the riff rather than just back it up. This song is a good example of that, and Dupke plays well on his final outing with the band. Half way through Blair launches into another guitar assault, with plenty of mean string bends and fluid lead runs. This song feels like a distant relative of Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue), and the mid-section that sees most of the music drop out to be left with a strong keyboard note is very reminiscent of that song. The way it then slowly build up afterwards is also similar, but without being self-plagiarising. After the lengthy previous song, Eyes of my Maker is a simpler affair. It is a bit of a plodder, but it works well with a big bassline and a catchy chorus that works well despite the slower pace. It is definitely not one of the album's best songs, but it is still enjoyable with an performance from Lawless especially in the vocal department. Hero of the World is similar, but with more bite. Again it starts of slow, but the song builds up nicely, which is typical of the band. It has a very strong chorus too, which has the huge harmony vocals the band are known for. Lawless must spend a lot of time on backing vocals, as they are always excellent and really improve the feel of the song. The album's final song, the epic title track, is another high point. It is another long song, that has the feel of the ballad, but in truth it rocks harder than that. Blair's guitar is constantly bleeding melody, even when Lawless is singing. His bluesy phrasing and runs here are stellar, and he steals Lawless' thunder at times, despite another excellent chorus. This is one of the best songs the band has written in a long time, and it makes the perfect album closer. They ended their set with this song too when I saw them in Nottingham in September, and it also worked well in that context. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song ends with another Blair workout that equals his efforts elsewhere. As I said previously, he is really on fire throughout this album, and has possibly cemented his claim as W.A.S.P.'s greatest lead guitarist. Overall, Golgotha is another great album from W.A.S.P. that sits well along with the rest of their recent discography. I envision that this is an album I will be playing a lot!

The album was released on 2nd October 2015 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Scream.

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