W.A.S.P. - Dominator 4/5
2. Long, long way to go
3. Take me up
4. The burning man
5. Heaven's hung in black
6. Heaven's blessed
8. Heaven's hung in black (reprise)
9. Deal with the devil
Despite being well known for their days on the sunset strip, W.A.S.P. are one of the best kept secrets in heavy metal. Everyone knows about the flaming codpieces and 3-minute pop metal of their early output, but many are ignorant of the fact that, since 1989's 'The headless children', W.A.S.P. have been issuing a constant string of high-quality, straight-faced - and often quite dark and poignant - heavy metal CDs.
Other than the experimental 'Kill, fuck, die' from 1997 and the throwback 'Helldorado' which followed in 1999, vocalist, songwriter and all-round superstar Blackie Lawless and his various associates have been putting out assured CDs much in the same vein as 'The headless children' for years now, with social and religious commentary replacing the double entendres on the lyrics sheet.
Line-up upheaval in the aftermath of the muddled and contrived 'Neon god' CDs (among the only real misfires the band have made) saw guitarist Darrell Roberts and long-time drum associate Stet Howland leave the set-up. Joining Lawless and bass player Mike Duda – now in his 11th year as a W.A.S.P. member – are drummer Mike Dupke and former touring lead guitarist Doug Blair, now a fully paid-up band member. Why Blair was never hired to perform with W.A.S.P. on record before now will - after hearing the incredible performance he turns in here - always be a mystery to me. His guitar solos are incredible, combining technical perfection with enough rocking swagger to fit the songs like a glove. Nothing he plays ever sounds like a throwaway fret run, but feels as though it was crafted to fit each song perfectly. Blair has spent the last few years playing in the prog band Signal2noise, and it sounds as though he is enjoying himself immensely playing something a little more traditional, but without ever sacrificing his talent in the process.
Like most recent W.A.S.P. releases, the CD is remarkably consistent, and thankfully on this occasion the songs are consistently excellent. There is nothing that could be described as throwaway or misjudged here. Some of the songs – 2 in particular – stand above the rest, but Lawless has crafted 8 (or 9) real winners for his fans with 'Dominator'.
The strongest point of this incredibly balanced CD comes in the middle, starting with "The burning man" - a soaring, venomous number that is dragged along by a quite excellent lead part from Blair while Lawless spits some none-too-subtle lyrics about the U.S. administration. Political agenda aside, this is easily one of the best songs W.A.S.P. have done in quite a while and will hopefully become a staple in the live environment.
Following this is "Heaven's hung in black" - not only the best song on 'Dominator', but also one of the best Lawless has ever written, and the most breathtakingly beautiful power ballad I have heard in some time. An anguished and tender vocal performance from Lawless details a soldier killed on the frontline reaching heaven's gate only find himself being turned away because there is simply no more room. Melodramatic and cheesy sure, but even an unbeliever like myself finds the prospect of a man finding his paradise reduced to nothing more than an overcrowded field hospital a harrowing one.
Despite this, Blair almost steals the show on this song with 2 titanic guitar solos of extraordinary emotion – in particular, the 2nd, which closes the song as the other instruments come to a stuttering halt, is a jaw-dropping composition able to match up to anything ever offered by a previous W.A.S.P. lead player, giving even Bob Kulick's legendary effort on "The idol" a run for its money. The song is briefly reprised as the CDs penultimate track, before the closer, "Deal with the devil" blasts away the cobwebs as it rides in on an age-old Status Quo-esque riff, with Darrell Roberts giving a memorable guest appearances, lashing out a multitude of brash rock 'n' roll solos as the CD crashes to thundering climax.
'Dominator' represents W.A.S.P. back to where they were going with 'Unholy terror' and 'Dying for the world' after the 'Neon god' sidestep, and with Lawless apparently allowing the music to come naturally rather than trying to force a concept CD to match previous efforts, the results are on a different level. Representative of the reborn W.A.S.P. sound and at the same time standing proudly on its own as a timeless heavy metal offering, 'Dominator' is a tremendous piece of work. W.A.S.P. are an institution, and this effort stands proud as one of their best.
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