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Animal 900 Lb. Steam

By Vinnie Apicella, Contributor
Saturday, January 25, 2003 @ 10:51 AM

(Perris Records)

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Been a while since we last heard the name “Animal” bellowed about as the follow up project for W.A.S.P.’s Randy Piper in the wake of his less-than-ceremonial departure from said Shock-Rockers a decade and a half ago. If I recall it was somewhere around the late ‘80s that the idea for Animal first crawled to the surface, then for one reason or other, nothing ever became of it. And then Blackie Lawless and W.A.S.P. rolled right along, going from menacing to mellow to downright mean, with and without Holmes, and makeshift as ever from one to the next. But what of Piper? One consolation, at least for Randy, his leaving came at the right time as W.A.S.P. went on to create the weakest album of their prime and has never really rivaled the intensity of the two guitar attack, in spite of Lawless’ taking over.

Now here’s the irony of it all. Not only does he emerge from relative obscurity that even went so far as to include a rumor of his death a few years ago, but no, not only does Piper come back, he’s brought two old W.A.S.P. buddies with him for what is essentially the blood and guts core group of their early ‘80s heyday. Not that we couldn’t have obviously seen this coming when Holmes decided to bolt Blackie and the band after the Unholy Terror sessions; Chris, seemingly always with designs of looking just a little bit further over the edge than the Lawless lasso would allow – out of respect to Chris I withstood saying “leash” though for anyone who’s met him… Add to this, another return from the early grave, the long lost Tony Richards. THE Tony Richards, the man responsible for the extra bottom heavy boost that helped propel the self-titled “first” record as much as anything, and who’s stock could do nothing but quickly rise once the band got a hold of smirking Steve Riley, who in one fell swoop took not only a bite out of the band’s toughness, but an entire dimension off the studio songs that became noticeably weaker each and every album since with the marked exception of stand-in Banali’s work.

So instantaneously, through Animal, W.A.S.P. fans from the very beginning have what they’ve been waiting for, with the one notable exception, of course. As much as I’d love to say this record smashes and scatters the remains of today’s tough guy acts who know about nothing more than loose pants and a low E, even with tempered expectations considering the miracle that this happened, it’s not the predatory beast it could’ve been… and we’ll start right in on the production, which does nothing to exploit the aggression or intensity this grouping screams for. Now another way to look at it is it’s endearingly crude and brutal, similar to studio outtakes one might expect prior to the laying down of the famous first W.A.S.P. single and B-side. Then another way is of course, to raise your fist in the air and wonder how much ballsier this would sound with a little more treble, tracking, and fucking volume. This’ll blow your car speakers long before satisfactory output levels are reached! Okay, so inferior sound quality is not essential to the album’s success or failure, but damn, you simply need to get more out of the essential ingredients here that start and end with the Piper/Holmes trade off and Tony’s bombastic drumming that’s all but drowned out for six or seven of the nine tracks!

I intend no slight on the other two group performers in leaving them out thus far, it’s just that the press release hadn’t bothered to make a mention of them in the after gig photo or album credits. Come to think of it, if you saw what I had to go on here, you’d laugh like hell. The singer is vintage late ‘80s Hair Metal and club Rock with a higher croon than someone like… well like Lawless, and a bit throatier like an ex-Crue current rodent rocker named Corabi. The title track roars forth in an immediate groundbreaking swell of rhythmic propulsion that right away signals the start of something big, loud, and chorally nasty. Yes, you have to amp it up to about 8 to do any serious damage but the pistons are pumping at full bore for this anthemic ball kicking shout-out. “Pissed Off” follows the double-edged riffing format as the songs soon take a turn for a distinctly more doomy direction, big on the adjoining harmonic effects as might an earlier Hellion or Tormentor might’ve done – lest we forget just how “evil” that first record once was. And now that I think about it, the more I complain about this production, par for the course the further you go, it could be worse… but then again I’m not sure if Spencer Proffer’s still producing records!

“Dog Food’s” got a bass heavy groove to open an ominous intro but quickly turns pale when the verse rolls around, as the singer’s presence, as almost anyone else’s would, begin to thin my patience. “Never” and “Feeling Nowhere” actually come up big as inspired, if unlikely, ballads, that non-coincidentally feature the idea of a tortured soul on the way down for inspiration, and come away like the impassioned pleas of a dying man’s last wish as he breathes his last breath amidst a thick haze of gray. “Medicine Man” starts off promising, plodding its way into a thump and grind of a song that features first time vocal highlights by he who shall remain nameless for these proceedings, yet rest assured he lets them all hang out for this one while the guitars play hide and seek.

“Hunting Season” turns up the power to the point it began some eight songs ago, joining its opening counterpart in top level honors for both power and pain tolerance, closing with a flurry of onrushing drum fills and death screams. In between, there’s some ballsy, slightly bluesy, sudsy, even sappy stuff that’s a combination of the traditionally raw sounding early daze Metal with deadly serious overtones over bourbon-soaked song titles and played with punishing pre-determination, never far away from a menacing scowl.

What really keeps the album from being the balls-on killing machine it had the blueprint for being comes back to the production deficiency and non-existent mix that too often lends to inconsistency, poorly placed and imbalanced tracking, and about a 70% stumble through otherwise tenacious songs that’ll sadly be more remembered for sloppiness than shredability.

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