One of the heavier bands to come out of the early-’80s L.A. metal scene, W.A.S.P. quickly rose to national infamy thanks to their shock rock image, lyrics, and live concerts.
Unfortunately, once the novelty and scandal began to wear off, the band found it difficult to expand, or even maintain, their audience by relying only on their music.
Leader Blackie Lawless (bass/vocals) was already a rock & roll veteran when he relocated to the West Coast and founded W.A.S.P. with guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper and drummer Tony Richards. The band soon established a reputation as a ferocious live act, thanks in large part to Lawless‘ habits of tying a semi-naked model to a torture rack and throwing raw meat into the audience. And with the release of their self-explanatory independent EP, Animal (F**k Like a Beast), W.A.S.P. became impossible to ignore.
They signed to Capitol Records, and with songs like “I Wanna Be Somebody” (an absolute anthem to blind ambition) and “L.O.V.E. Machine” leading the way, their self-titled 1984 debut was an instant success. W.A.S.P. took their horror show on the road, and their momentum continued to build with the following year’s The Last Command, which featured new drummer Steven Riley and the band’s biggest hit, “Blind in Texas.” Later that year, the band gained even more prominence as one of the biggest targets of Tipper Gore and the P.M.R.C. (Parents’ Music Resource Center), a group of Washington housewives leading a crusade against violent, sexist song lyrics. Though the incident (which included Senate hearings on the issue with guest speakers as disparate as Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider from Twisted Sister) would cause more publicity than actual results, it served to make W.A.S.P. a household name — for good and for worse.
Ironically, the band toned down their act for 1986’s Inside the Electric Circus, a lackluster, repetitive album which saw Lawless switch to guitar (replacing the departed Piper) and the hiring of bassist Johnny Rod. The blood and guts were largely gone (as were the good songs), and despite releasing a strong live album entitled Live…In the Raw the following year, the band’s popularity began to plummet. The all-time low arrived with the release of Penelope Spheeris’ heavy metal “rockumentary” The Decline of Western Civilization 2: The Metal Years. An expose about the L.A. metal scene, the film’s most dramatic and depressing sequence showed an inebriated Chris Holmes drinking himself into a stupor in full stage gear while lying on a float in his mom’s swimming pool. In a movie filled with debauchery and decadence, this scene was by far the scariest.
1989’s Headless Children (featuring ex-Quiet Riot sticksman Frankie Banali) was a return to form, but it couldn’t revert the band’s slump and W.A.S.P. disbanded soon after. Lawless eventually returned as a one-man show for 1993’s The Crimson Idol, an ambitious rock opera/concept album billed as Blackie Lawless & W.A.S.P. Resurrecting the band’s old shock rock antics, but alas, not fame and fortune, the album flopped, and the following year’s greatest-hits set, First Blood…Last Cuts, seemed like their last chapter.
But the resilient Lawless returned once again, luring guitarist Chris Holmes back into the fold and recruiting bassist Mike Duda and drummer Stet Howland for 1996’s Still Not Black Enough. This lineup has continued to tour and record for a number of independent labels, with their albums including 1997’s K.F.D., 1999’s Helldorado, and 2001’s Unholy Terror. The band released Dying for the World in 2002, an exceptional collection of unusually serious material inspired by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was followed in 2004 by the conceptual Neon God, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, with Dominator arriving in 2006. ~ Ed Rivadavia, All Music Guide