The Crimson Idol
Released: n/a, Capitol Records
Reviewer: Night of the Realm
For some strange reason, W.A.S.P. did not hold a place in my collection until very recently, following my first experience with them when I caught their concert on a whim back in 2001. As soon as the band took the stage, I was floored, and I was instantly hooked.
From the band’s s/t debut in 1984 and throughout the rest of 1980s (which included four other W.A.S.P. albums), W.A.S.P. made a name for themselves not only as one of metal’s wildest acts, but also noted for their consistency. Few bands have the songwriting talent necessary to write classic tune after classic tune as W.A.S.P. has done, not only in the 80s, but also throughout their career.
THE CRIMSON IDOL is no exception to the level of quality one would expect from W.A.S.P. up to this point, though a few differences stand out that make this album the finest moment of W.A.S.P.’s career. First, guitarist Chris Holmes departed from the band for this album, leaving it basically as a Blackie Lawless solo project with Frank Banali and Bob Kulick standing behind Metal’s most notorious frontman. Second, Blackie has made this a concept album with an angry, scarred, tracic tale to tell. Finally, any moments of 80s cheesiness are gone from this record. THE CRIMSON IDOL is a dark, brooding album both lyrically and musically.
The story behind THE CRIMSON IDOL is the tale of Jonathan Steel, a young man whose role is to be the black sheep of his zealous Christian family. Leaving home at a young age, Jonathan heads to the city, where he meets up with (Chainsaw) Charlie, who is president of a gigantic corporate music label (The Chainsaw) and presides over the local “morgue” (The music industry, “where music comes to die”). From there, the concept details Jonathan’s taste of success, followed by its consequences. The lyrics on the album are brilliant, poignant, and introspective. I won’t give any more details, but it’s obvious that Blackie means the story to be autobiographical to a point. For instance, the name of Jonathan’s father is William, the same as Blackie’s father.
Musically, THE CRIMSON IDOL has everything one would desire in a metal album. The riffs are crisp, heavy, and catchy on nearly every song, and the solos are plentiful enough to suit any taste. One of my favourite aspects of W.A.S.P. is their incredible sense of melody. This isn’t melody for melody’s sake; W.A.S.P.’s melodies are deliberate and purposeful. In addition, Blackie Lawless’ voice is among the most unique in metal. His voice has a broken, jagged edge to it, though with a definite melodious backbone, and he belts out lines with as much energy as any singer in metal. Frank Banali’s performance on the skins is impeccable; his work on the throne drives the band with that much more force. These guys may not have written the book on how to play metal of the highest caliber, but they certainly have perfected the art.
Every song on the album is a gem, and the sequencing is very creative, often mixing softer acoustic parts before leading into a balls-out rocker. This arrangement strengthens the album’s concept of Jonathan’s physical and emotional roller coaster. A couple standout tunes on this album are, “Arena of Pleasure,” which trades numerous solos and riffs throughout, and “The Great Misconceptions of Me,” the album’s powerful epic closer. After an acoustic intro passage, the song is off running on one of the best gallops in metal. The synths creep in here to punctuate the rhythm, creating some absolutely beautiful moments.
Also on the album is the best track W.A.S.P. has ever done, “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue”). Complete with chainsaw sound effects, the rhythm is absolutely wild, and the chorus is catchy as hell. Just when you think it can’t get any better, the middle part kicks in with these great lines, “I’m the president of showbiz, my name is Charlie/I’m a cocksucking asshole, that’s what they call me/Here from my Hollywood tower I rule/I’m a lying motherfucker, the chainsaw’s my tool.” I challenge you to resist singing along while cruising down the freeway at 90+ miles per hour. This song will rip your balls off!
Not only is THE CRIMSON IDOL the finest album W.A.S.P. has ever put out, but it also ranks among my personal favourite concept albums albums of all time along with such greats as OPERATION:MINDCRIME, HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT I, and SCENES FROM A MEMORY. Buy this album or be forever branded a poseur!