W.A.S.P., Unholy Terror (Metal-Is/BMG): You're probably going to be a little skeptical of what I'm about to tell you, but it's true: I will go into shock and die if anybody releases an album this year with a stronger opening number than "Let It Roar," which kicks off Unholy Terror, the new album from '80s metal survivors W.A.S.P. You heard me: W.A.S.P. If you remember them at all, it's probably because you recall Tipper Gore singling them out by name at the infamous PMRC hearings, citing their circular-saw-coming-through-a-codpiece 7-inch picture-disc "Animal (I F*ck Like A Beast)" as a sure sign that society was going to hell in a handbasket. And while it's true that a little notoriety sells a few records — in the short run, W.A.S.P. gained more from the PMRC's wrath than they lost — the other side of that coin is that it's hard to get yourself taken seriously if your first taste of public notice comes in on a wave of unmerited hysteria. W.A.S.P. made a few great metal albums in the 1980s, including a masterpiece called The Headless Children that featured the best cover of a Who song by anyone ever, a blistering rendition of "The Real Me" blazing with an incandescent rage hotter than Pete Townshend had ever imagined. Nobody noticed, though, outside of people who'd liked W.A.S.P. all along, and nobody listens to us anyway because they assume we're all being ironic or something. Whatever. Anyhow, Unholy Terror is one of the best rock albums you're going to hear this year, if you'll only go out of your way to hear it. Lead man Blackie Lawless is still pissed off about all that PMRC business, and he levels his semi-coherent aim mainly at flag-waving patriots and self-righteous Christians; true, most of his lyrics are fairly lame, but when he fuses a great hook with a sing-along line, as he does in "Loco-Motive Man," he puts his finger on the dark, frightening pulse that beats in the heart of all great rock 'n' roll. "I've gone to meet my maker," he howls in triple-tracked splendor, his band chugging away alongside him like Golden Earring grooving behind a case of Night Train and a whole lot of Kool-Aid. Its guitars are like self-contained hurricanes. Mercifully free of power ballads, "Unholy Terror" makes a person say "Wow!" on a whole bunch of different levels. — John Darnielle

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