W.A.S.P.

The Neon God, Pt. 1: The Rise

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W.A.S.P. mastermind Blackie Lawless has one of the most distinctive set of pipes in heavy metal. The primal scream that graced earlier recordings like Headless Children and Last Command has grown into a powerful, guttural wail on the first installment of his conceptual Neon God project. The storyline concerns an abused telepathic orphan who uses his powers to attract a legion of followers. Heavy metal's obsession with narrative albums about "dark messiahs" is as old as the leathery prophets themselves, resulting in ventures that often succeed despite their simplistic aims -- Queensr├┐che's Operation: Mindcrime, Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, etc. Neon God, Pt. 1 succeeds primarily through Lawless' passionate delivery, as the lyrics do little to convey the story -- the written version that appears in the liner notes, however, is surprisingly complex and involving. Musically, the group has changed little since its heydays, relying on standard three-chord motifs that occasionally veer off into a guitar solo, but it's this decidedly unpretentious approach to a pretentious subgenre of rock that makes the whole thing palatable. The quiet acoustic interludes are never too long, and flow seamlessly into anthemic rockers like "Sister Sadie" and "The Red Room of the Rising Sun" -- the latter is a rare, melodic, psychedelic moment for the band that includes a nod to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- but they fail to generate much emotion. It's only on the finale, the surging "Raging Sun," that the weight of the protagonist's cross is felt, and within a chorus reminiscent of the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me," the listener feels it as well.

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