When KISS unmasked in
the early 80’s, their reputation as the ugliest and most-hellish band was challenged only by W.A.S.P. Using the theatrics
of KISS and the shock-rock tactics of Alice Cooper, W.A.S.P. was challenged by the PMRC and loved by teenagers. Their single,
Animal (F*** Like A Beast) was on the PMRC’s ‘Filthy Fifteen,’ however, that didn’t slow them down
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
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. ~ Ed Rivadavia, All Music Guide
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