Album of the Week 16-2015: W.A.S.P. – Dominator


Blackie Lawless’ attitude has gotten W.A.S.P. a lot of hatred through the years – often understandably – and their live performances have been hit-and-miss for quite a long time, but his songwriting has been consistently good ever since he took a more serious route with ‘The Headless Children’. While nothing has quite been as strong as the conceptual masterpiece ‘The Crimson Idol’, there’s always a handful of fantastic songs on the band’s albums and the band almost always combines the best aspects of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. ‘Dominator’ counts as a latter day highlight for the Los Angeles quartet.

While recent albums of the band have been enjoyable at the very least, often they have shown the band either trying to recreate former glories (the ‘The Neon God’ diptych, while highly impressive, is a blatant ‘The Crimson Idol’-rewrite) or dumbing down their sound in order to please the fanbase of their earliest work (‘Helldorado’). For ‘Dominator’, Lawless has just written a handful of strong songs. There apparently is an underlying political message, although it rather seems to be an act of protest, as Lawless’ sympathies are unclear. Ignore that and you’ve got yourselves a fine Hard Rock-ish Heavy Metal record. Or the other way around, if you will.

In the shape of ‘Teacher’ and opening track ‘Mercy’, the album contains two of my favorite W.A.S.P. songs. In all honesty, the songs are quite alike, both high-powered Rockers with big choruses where Lawless’ sandpaper vocal chords turn from a sinister half-whisper to a mighty roar. The riffs are simple, but incredibly effective and drummer Mike Dupke answers to that approach pefectly with his understanding of dynamics. Other highlights include ‘Take Me Up’, which starts like a ballad, but turns into a ‘Heaven And Hell’-like midtempo stomper, the rollicking ‘Long, Long Way To Go’ and the typical W.A.S.P. crusher ‘The Burning Man’.

All that is missing from ‘Dominator’ is one of those overwhelming power ballads (think ‘The Idol’ and ‘Sleeping (In The Fire)’) where Lawless’ voice gets beautiful in its ugliness. The sombre ‘Heaven’s Hung In Black’ comes close and has some amazing guitar leads courtesy of Doug Blair – easily the best guitarist the band ever had – but ultimately lacks the climax such a song asks for. And after a relatively dark record, closer ‘Deal With The Devil’ sort of sticks out like a sore thumb with its exuberant Rock ‘n’ Roll vibe. It’s not a bad song, but it would probably have worked better with different surroundings.

For W.A.S.P.’s ultimate work of art, you’ll have to turn to a different album (‘The Crimson Idol’, naturally), but respect for the band is due, since their third decade output is much better than the average for bands with careers of the same length. Powerful songwriting and serviceable musicianship are generally very compatible and ‘Dominator’ is a textbook example of that. Only Blair sometimes shines brighter than the rest, but nowhere near as much as in live performances of older songs. It’s well worth your time if you like either old school Heavy Metal or eighties Hard Rock. or both.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mercy’, ‘Teacher’, ‘Take Me Up’

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