The Headless Children by W.A.S.P. turns 30
In 1989, when the hair metal band tidal wave was quickly being reduced to sea foam, W.A.S.P., one of the leaders in trashy glam metal, released its fourth album, one that critics overwhelmingly claimed as their best work.
That 30-year-old release, The Headless Children, continues to be touted as W.A.S.P.’s tour de force. The Headless Children distanced the group from clichéd metal subject matter and shifted it into a social and political lyrical space and a more developed, complex musical one.
At the time of recording, W.A.S.P. was a supergroup of sorts. Leader Blackie Lawless was spearheading a team that included the formidable Chris Holmes on guitar—on what was to be his last W.A.S.P. album for a decade, Quiet Riot’s beast Frankie Banali on drums—which was the start of Banali working with W.A.S.P. for a number of albums to follow, Uriah Heep’s accomplished Ken Hensley on keyboards—who added a dimension to the sound that was only hinted at before, plus King Kobra’s multi-talented Johnny Rod on bass.
To adjust their image to match their new outlook, the band members stripped themselves of the make-up and toned down the hairspray, fake blood and spandex for a more serious, albeit still big hair and leather-clad version of themselves.
W.A.S.P.’s new socially conscious direction was also depicted in the cover art. The illustration features many political dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Ayatollah Khomeini, as well as a sea of Ku Klux Klan hoods and Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald.
A new W.A.S.P. feature on The Headless Children is a handful of lengthier songs allowing exploration with instrumentation. This matches the narrative nature of the reflective and observational lyrics. Cases in point, “The Heretic (The Lost Child),” “Thunderhead” and the title track. The latter has a particular weight to it, bolstered by Banali’s drumming, that conveys the gravity of its subject matter. It’s not a hard rock album with at least one power ballad. “Forever Free” is one such soaring number with devastating heartbreak lyrics. The Headless Children has the added bonus of the instrumental interlude, “Mephisto Waltz.” Even with all the high-brow new material, one of the standouts on The Headless Children—which fits seamlessly into the album—is W.A.S.P.’s menacing cover of The Who’s “The Real Me.”
While the original release stands strong in its 10 solid songs, the 1998 reissue of The Headless Children features six bonus tracks. All B-sides, these include a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath,” and live versions of “L.O.V.E. Machine” and “Blind in Texas” from their self-titled album and The Last Command (1985), respectively, both recorded at W.A.S.P.’s show at London, England’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1989.
If you’re in search of the bleeding edge of ’89 where hair metal ended and real metal began, suffer The Headless Children.
VIDEO: W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children (Full Remastered Album)