FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 55: W.A.S.P – The Crimson Idol

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 55: W.A.S.P - The Crimson Idol

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 55: W.A.S.P – The Crimson Idol

This is the fifty-fifth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot.

While I’m writing this I’ll also be doing my laundry. I gave my flatmate a lend of my laundry card to do one wash and dry with, in exchange for four actual pound coins, the price of one wash and dry, since he had gone the whole year without actually getting a laundry card, setting up an online account to put money on said card or any of that business. Whatever, he’s lazy but we are friends.

So, I’ve loaded the laundry into the machine, and I’ve had £20 on my card, which I’ve used one wash/dry out of (So £16 is left when I give him the card, Math-chums) and he’s now used one wash/dry (so theoretically £12 is now left when I go to do my laundry). How much do I find on the card when I enter my work uniform and cover it with washing powder but £0.50.

What? How does that even happen? Give them an inch and they take a mile. Give them £4 and they’ll take £15.50. Proportionately not the same I’ll admit Math-chums, but still an egregious abuse of the trade. I’m sick of being a nice person. I lent another one of these ass-clowns a PS3 remote in September for ONE GAME of FIFA while his friends visited, at the begining of the year (when I was going through a lifestyle change trying to be less of a loner and trying to be less skeptical and stand-offish) which they immediately managed to loose and have never returned or refunded, despite constant hassling. Pricks. I’d be tempted to just have stolen theirs in repayment, but its not worth breaking the law over, even if there I was completely wasting, out of work and down. I had indeed had lots of promises broken and had moved from town to town, but not every promise, and it wasn’t drifting per se, more like moving to go to Uni. So. I guess I still have to obey the old law there lads. Still, I wish greedy pricks weren’t great pricks. Oh well.

Also, not relevant in anyway, but my bathroom is currently flooded because the bathroom above it is flooded, because another ass clown jammed a whole bar of soap down the plug whole and left the shower on…. and the floor has began to rot and morph on that floor, which has resulted in the same happening to the roof leaking on my floor and now there’s like 2cm of water on the floor, constant dripping and a steady leak of water into the lightbulb. Pricks. Why do pricks gotta be pricks? Its a) easier and b) more pleasant not to be a prick.

I want to go and lift weights to feel better, as Henry Rollins says its the best antidepressant there is yada yada. But I did that last night and it may be unwise to start again so soon. (May=”definitely”).

Anyway; this is First Impressions, not the bleedin splish splash show, or some kind of mirror world My Name Is Earl where I force others to atone for their misdeeds, or some kind of fitness blog… so I’m going to write about music, y’know, like the point of this series is?… and this time I’ll be checking out LA Glam Metal band W.A.S.P’s The Crimson Idol. This is the second W.A.S.P album that I’ve tackled here in my First Impressions series, I tried out their debut back in March, almost on a complete whim, and I’ve grown to really, really, really enjoy it. It came in a 2cd set with their second album too, which I also enjoy but not just as much. Something about their debut is just absolutely on-fire. I have since picked up three more W.A.S.P albums, another 2cd set with their 3rd and 4th albums on it and then this, The Crimson Idol.

I had read about The Crimson Idol a lot and seen it mentioned in countless lists of Greatest Metal Albums. Regular readers will know how much I love an pay attention to those. I remember when I got into Savatage last year that the plot of their concept album Streets:A Rock Opera was pretty similar to the supposed plot of this; a biography of a Rock Star. Didn’t Marilyn Manson do that too? I know Manson’s was a lot broader in scope but still, there is still the idea of a rock star singing about a fictional rock star. Wait a minute… in Marillion’s semi-autobiographic concept album about alcoholism Clutching At Straws is he a rock star too? or do they leave out the rock star bit?

Now, anyway, given how much I love W.A.S.P’s debut (and if you are skeptical about it just being some keyboard laiden, reverby, 80s Pop Metal album full of romantic ballads and watered down rock riffs, you’re a million miles off, its savage, pumping Judas Priest style Trad Metal with a lot of bite ((just check out ‘The Torture Never Stops’))) then you’d be surprised to know that even though I bought The Crimson Idol a good fourty-five days ago, I still haven’t gotten around to listening to it. Until now obviously. It’d be a bit of a disappointing article if I ended now without listening to it, now wouldn’t it? Unless you are really interested into my plumbing and utilities that is. Anyway, I say I’ve not listened to it yet. But that’s only half true. I mean, I’ve certainly heard snippets of the intro, before falling asleep in an exhausted wreck at 8pm, like I’ve been doing for the last two months, or distractedly heard a song or two on the bus to work when shuffling all the music on my phone like I do each morning, but I’ve never actually sat down with a wakened brain and took in the music like I want to.

In fact, when I bought the other two W.A.S.P records (Inside The Electric Circus and The Headless Children) like a month before that, I’ve just been sticking them on when I go to sleep. My Last FM scrobble count on W.A.S.P albums 3-5 is pretty high but my ACTUALLY LISTENED TO THEM PROPERLY COUNT is pretty much at zero. Its not as if I don’t want to listen to them, I mean I payed for them, I was enthusiastic after falling in love with their debut.

I tried to watch a clip from their 2000s era live DVD on Youtube to see if it was worth buying too, so excited about W.A.S.P was I, even with Kevin Smith continuously derisively mentioning them on SModcast (although interestingly praising Anthrax and singing lines from Among The Living’s not-a-single Title Track) and on this Youtube clip they played a song from their third album really, really poorly. It wasn’t just that they were playing badly, they were looking really depressingly silly and it kind of put me off. He looked like a saggy Divorcee embarrasingly dancing at a work Christmas party right after she’d been told she was going to be fired on Monday. So; In a month with two new Queensryche albums, and a new Black Sabbath, Megadeth and QOTSA album to listen to, listening to the less-energetic material of someone who James Gill described as “a child’s drawing of a witch” didn’t really become a priority.

I guess what I’m saying is that seeing that clip put me off them a little.

But anyway. Forget the supposedly (still supposedly I haven’t checked it out, remember?) disappointing Electric Circus era and let’s have a looksee at the “worthy of inclusion in the greatest metal albums of all time category” Crimson Idol album. An elaborate concept album with an entirely new band lineup that was originally meant to be singer Blackie Lawless (or Baba Yaga from Bartok The Magnificent)’s debut solo album.

Its meant to be serious, proggy, elaborate, and one of the best things the band ever released. Well, I like the sound of that…


Scratch that, my washing has finished. I’m going to go load it in the drier.


[Actual Play]

The album opens up with ‘The Titanic Overture,’ I wonder if its about the actual boat The Titanic or if its about Titans or if this guy’s band are called The Titans or something.

It starts of with acoustic guitars, and some softer singing than we’re used to from Blackie. Then it kicks off with this sort of Thick As A Brick style percussion battery, its got that sort of feeling of a Rush fill-buildup that I mentioned in that Boston article. Its got bounding, exciting energy leaping at you. Then the more sort of ‘Song’ bit of the song comes in, with double kicks, background dark keys, exciting lead lines. Jeez me, this drummer is hot stuff. Then it goes into this jaunty double kick laiden, Startovarius-sounding-Keys and Maideny-galloping part. Then a very Rush bit where the heavy bit ends with a shortened roll to silence, and I expect “…and the meek shall inherit the earth” to come, but I get a close second as the acoustic line comes back in. Now the lyrics start telling a story.

Then almost interruptingly, ‘The Invisible Boy’ kicks in. With again, so very impressive drumming. Its really high in the mix, and very distinctively produced. Its not very similar to their debut at all to be honest, the production of the vocals on the chorus is about the only similarity. Jeez. There are drum fills every three seconds, this is like hearing Leviathan for the first time (side not I bought a Leviathan Vinyl recently). What the heck is this drummer playing at? There are double handed hat wranglings into fills, constantly, it literally sounds like a drum solo, its almost getting in the way of the song. Oh, then a very nice solo. It doesn’t really sound like a Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P’s guitarist) solo, but that’s because it isn’t him, because the band on this solo-album-that-morphed-into-a-W.A.S.P album (like Megadeth’s The System Has Failed and Black Sabbath’s 7th Star) isn’t the usual W.A.S.P line up.

Wow. That song was an energetic slap in the chops. If any song I’ve heard this season could be described as “bombastic” then this is it.

Ok. Pause for a second. Let’s have a look see on Wikipedia for a second. Ok so, delinquent drug using street roamer becomes Rock Star (so far so Streets), wants parent’s acceptance but doesn’t get it, then hero hangs self with guitar strings. …um. Ok. A bit different after all.

So who are these new band members then? Ah. Bob Kulick from Kiss. Hmm. There’s two drummers credited. Frankie Banali from Quiet Riot and Stet Howland. I’m not sure who is responsible for what. But the production and constant fills make this guy seem like a virtuoso drummer the likes of Neil Peirt and Danny Carey. Yes. This guy. I’ve decided both drummers are one person for the purpose of convenience in my writing. Frankie Howland is a drumming beast.

The song continues on with an acoustic guitar and spoken word bit that reminds me of the Keeper Of The Seven Keys title track’s end mixed with the acoustic bits on Maiden’s 7th Son Of A 7th Son. It brings back bits from that Titanic Overture.

Then ‘Arena Of Pleasure’ starts up. Its very “big” sounding. Its massively loud. It also “bombastic” like the previous one. There are elements to it that do sound very W.A.S.P but also different elements, I wouldn’t necessarily say prog, but unusual. Its also got a sort of ‘You Could Be Mine’ sort of a vibe about it. The guitar solos are very entertaining. The bass in the buildups reminds me of Iron Maiden’s ‘Tail Gunner.’ You know when people describe songs as fist pumping or adrenaline pumping? That’s what this sounds like. It sounds like a sci-fi Motorbike chase scene with a robot driving the bike. Forget about a Rockstar’s depressing life story, this sounds like the front cover of Judas Priest’s Painkiller album mixed with Hideo Kojima’s directing.

You want to know something interesting? Guess who was an engineer on this record? Ross Robinson! You wouldn’t think Mr. Korn debut, Slipknot debut, Bizkit debut, Soulfly debut, would’ve worked on this. He usually likes stripped down and raw, and this is as over the top as it gets.

Next comes ‘Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)’ which starts off like a bit of a Savatage ballad, (and nothing like Maiden’s ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’ despite previous Maiden pilfering), but with a sort of knowing eye pointing to the Titanic Overture, then the chainsaw sound effects come in.

Then a fucking Jetplane takes off to fight badly animated City sized Robots. Imagine the scene in Guns Of The Patriots when the facility rises out of the sea… only in a late 80s cartoon. That’s what this sounds like. Its got this dark purple sounding guitar style, but then it has a catchy disco chorus. Its got the briefest whiff of ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)’ to it, but not so much as to cause suspicion. Wow. That drummer. This drumming is so over the top. Then when the guitar solo comes in, ah, this is so up my street. The energy is off the frigging chain. It sounds like they can barely contain themselves. Then it takes a very Prog-era Maiden left turn. Although, it takes that turn into a Thrash section when the smoke has cleared and you realize your sat in a Megadeth album as that Motorcycle Cyborg (Motopsycho the Motorcyborg) crashed through not only the wall of your bedroom but the fourth wall. This song is speaking directly to me, daring me not to like it. It knows everything I like and it just keeps layering it on thicker and thicker. “Here Jimmy, you want awesome? Have all the awesome in the world!”

This big build up bit with the galloping snare rolls, the chainsaw sound effects and crowd noise is so frigging exciting. The chorus comes back, after being teased by crowd chants. Then that dark purple lead. I love it so much. It ends the track. Frig me what a track. Go listen to it.

Next up, ‘The Gypsy Meets The Boy’ which is a big racist joke about tarmacking driveways. Or wait, no, it’s a cleverly constructed, acoustic track that sounds really sophisticated compared to the Electric Circus stuff (or so I’d believe, if I’d listened to properly). It brings back the Titanic bit in parts, but through this Planet Caravan sort of filter. Its very good. Its really cleverly done because it stands on its own, but it fits into the previous music of the album so well. Its mentally constructed with an approach Mars Volta would use. Or just The Wall and The Lamb Lies Down. Y’know. Its a concept album. Operation Mindcrime and all that?. Click your fingers it is done, the moon has now eclipsed the sun? Y’know?

Then the super drum fill mayhem comes back in. Its almost obnoxious at this point. He’s beating THE SHIT OUT OF those poor drums. I can’t just stand by and watch this sort of abuse. When he starts singing ‘I Just Wanna Be, Wanna Be The Crimson Idol’ it has this haunting Load era Metallica feel. It’s a bit ‘Outlaw Torn’ on it.

To make up for all that emotion, Motorcyborg stands on the gas and pounds out once more, in a blaze of over-the-top action movie Metal. Yes. Then the appallingly titled ‘Doctor Rockter’ starts up (what is it with fucking doctors in concept albums? Doctor Diaper the Slipperman, the Comfortably Numb guy,… not to mention non-concept albums; ‘Rock n Roll Doctor’ by Sabbath, Motorhead’s ‘Doctor Rock,’ Megadeth’s ‘The Docotor Is Calling’ etc. I mean W.A.S.P already have a song called ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor.’

“J’entend ton coeur” Blackie. Your pulse is high, contact your physician.

The song features a mixture of the same full-spectrum jammed full thing as ‘Invisible Boy.’ Its full of loud sustained keys, thrashy beats, buzzing guitars in both ears, highly produced vocals and those ENORMOUSLY LOUD TOM ROLLS that together just overloads your brain. Its a big solid block getting forced down your earhole that may as well be a wooden cubiod with the word ‘the music’ engraved on it, seeing as its just about as dense as that.

It pounds away catchily (but tiringly) until its conclusion. Then the album must be over because I hear crowd noise and I think I’ve reached the Live Bonus Tracks (more on that later), only luckily I’ve actually only reached the end of side one, and the crowd nosie is part of the concept album (about a rock star, remember?)’s atmosphere. The track ‘I Am One’ starts. Its not a cover of The Who’s ‘I’m One’ despite how W.A.S.P have already covered The Who by this point.

When the song actually kicks off, its got the best drum beat on the album, probably of the band’s career, and possibly of the genre. The chorus is like The Titanic Overture in spirit a little, and robs the Hell For Leather pace that the verse fires up a little, but is great nonetheless. And the whole thing is so bombastic and over the top anyway, its hard to actually be more excited. If it was exciting as I expected it to have been, my heart might explode in my chest.

Its kind of a clever mix of the previous material, which matches with the intro that suggests a world tour, same thing, different country, this is familiar beats and vocal lines, then ahhh Jesus, Fuck this analagy, you know where I was going, LISTEN TO THE DRUMS AT 4.00. Ahhhh. That gets me excited right there. Why don’t they base a whole song around that? I can’t believe they didn’t keep it up. This must be what listening to Protest The Hero feels like.

It ends. Then there’s a lot of story based dialogue and sound effects. Its pretty cheesy. Then the acoustics come in shimmering. It feels like a ballad might come in. There’s some sexy Momentary Lapse Of Reason sounding guitar teasing, the vocals are back like the very start of the record. A cool Fade To Black sounding acoustic guitar lead comes in. Its all very captivating. I’m on the edge of my seat. I wonder where this song is going?

The drums come in, but in a semi-acoustic ballad sort of a way. He manages a simple fill once in a while for once instead of taking over the song. This does sound pretty much like a power ballad now at this stage, but a good one. Ahhh, then a very Dave Gilmour influenced solo that I absolutely love. This is what getting sexy with a guitar means. Power Ballad is right, because this sounds so powerful, its got a frig load of UMPH that I wouldn’t expect from a Glam Ballad, let alone one that was meant to be a solo album. Another great solo. Yes. This would be amazing to hear live. I guess it is ripping off Comfortably Numb a bit now, but its doing it so energetically (and just so well) that it gets away with it.

It fades out and there’s more atmospheric story crowd noise, but then the next track starts in a way that didn’t quite gel like it was supposed to as its so studio that it didn’t match up to that crowd thing right.

Anyway, ‘Hold On To My Heart’ starts next and is more of a proper ballad. It’s a billion, billion miles away from the debut album. It sounds a bit Bryan Adams-esque. I like it though. I was about to type that its really restrained and tasteful and then this bit kicks in that is massively reverby and has ‘oooooooo’s and it sounds like the cheesiest Dream Theater ballad you’ve ever heard. It has this very tears-of-Celine Dion sounding solo. It sounds like the bit in the movie where the Husband sacrifices himself to die, and there’s a flashback to the couples most romantic moments in the film. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t make bajillions of dollars in that whole November Rain/Silent Lucidity period.

The album then goes back to how it usually sounds. Hmmm. I wonder if that means the record company made them add that extra-ballady-ballad for sales? Anyway…

The acoustics come in but in the usual way. Its got a bit of a Jethro Tull’s 80s period feel to it actually. A bit ‘Budapest’ or ‘Under Wraps 2.’ A cool way of doing the whole acoustic business. Speaking of cool, they bring back that ‘I Just Wanna Be The Crimson Idol’ bit except its ‘I Don’t Wanna Be.’ I love when Manson does things like that on Antichrist and Holywood. The time has come for bitter things, ey? Then the Motorcyborg starts gassing up the bike in a build up with a modern-Maideny lead line that’s ahead of its time. Then some of the familiar fills. Fuck me this drummer is great. Its usually a vocal line that comes cyclically around in concept albums, its nice to hear a drummer who tells a story.

This song is the most synthy, 80s sounding bit on the record, but that drummer is so pounding it never sounds wimpy. Then it goes really heavy for a bit, then boom, solo. Then the same combo again except with that Peirty bit on the drums taken to new length and excess. Then a new part that is like a darker heavier version of the main bit. Its so driving and promising. Then the character hangs himself with the guitar strings.

There’s a synthy epitaph that reminds me of the Olympus bit on Rush’s ‘Cygnus X1 Book 2:Hemispheres’ that morphs into the ‘I Don’t Wanna Be The Crimson Idol’ again. Jeez, this thing is well constructed hi. Then this, for want of a better word, epic version, where the toms go all ridiculously thundering, and then it goes into a full-on showdown, with Motorcyborg fighting Liquid Ocelot on top of Metal Gear Ray in the blistering Miami dawn light, palm trees splitting in two as fiery meteors crash down to earth in the background, before our hero is seen finally striking the killing blow and an out of place Judas Priesty couple of chords get hit before a ton of cymbal washing. What an end.

Then instead of it being the end. There’s a spoken word, SIXTEEN FUCKING MINUTE coda where he tells the story in a slightly pretentious way. With the recurrant guitar themes going off underneath and occasionally he says some lines from the lyrics. It is a solid idea. But… y’know. SIXTEEN FUCKING MINUTES of a spoken word guy talking unnaturally, um. No thanks.

Anyway. Apart from that disastrously misjudged ending (says massively judgmental prick) this was a fantastic album. Oh look. Thanks Wikipedia. Its actually a bonus track that they didn’t really end the album with because THAT WOULD BE MENTAL. Actually, no, it wouldn’t. I’m being a dick. Forgive me. But yeah, the album certainly ends better the way it actually does.

So yeah. Crimson Idol… very, very good. Extremely loud, overwhelming and over the top, but remarkably well constructed and surprisingly less cheesy than it could have been. Brilliant solos, varied vocals for Blackie and the best drumming I’ve heard in a long time. I like this album a hell of a lot. Its got an absolute fuck tonne of character. The production is truly unique too. Nothing sounds like this. Yeah, for a mixture of the actual quality and the sheer balls this record has, I think it justifies its reputation and inclusion in aforementioned album-lists.

Side note: There’s a bonus track called ‘The Eulogy’ that brings back that drumbeat I liked. It a cool song because its made of cool parts. But 90% of them were on the album already so I guess I can see why they cut it from the album. But it ends with this nice Piano version of a melody from the album that they should’ve kept.

My version also has a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ produced in the same super bombastic style as the album, that’s pretty entertaining, just to hear that famous drum beat with this production.

Side Note: My version of the album which preceded this, The Headless Children, has a bonus track, ‘Blind In Texas (live)’ that is literally the single worst bonus track I’ve ever heard. Who in their right mind would include this performance? Especially when the live bonus tracks on The Crimson Idol are of a superb quality both sonically and in terms of performance, while this version sounds like literally how drunken 14 year olds played in my first ever local concert experience. Its almost unrecognizable. Why would you add something so unflattering? I guess they may do it in a Some Kind Of Monster Documentary “Look we’re humans too, not just larger than life stars” kind of move… but, still… Listening to the first and fifth W.A.S.P album makes me think they are geniuses and listening to that makes me think they are a bunch of drunken hacks. Which is the truer call?

Ohh. My drying is done. Time to go pick that up. So; take-home message: check out The Crimson Idol and don’t lend out your laundry card.


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