Murderdolls: 'Women and Children Last' - CD Review

The mutant love-child of Wednesday 13 and Joey Jordison, horror influenced glam-punk group Murderdolls might have seemed like a cool one-off project when they first hit the scene back in 2002, although one which quickly spawned an international cult following. The band made a bloody splash with their debut album – the irreverent, campy monster-mash Beyond the Valley of the Murderdolls – but it seemed a follow-up was not in the cards, and the band members went their separate ways. From that hiatus came a long creative period for both founders – Wednesday launched a series of interesting side projects, including a very successful self-titled solo act, while Joey returned to his position behind the main drumkit for a little group you might have heard of named Slipknot, as well as sitting in with tons of other high-profile bands, including a recent gig on Rob Zombie's touring team.

Out of this year's reunion of the two core members came an explosion of macabre musical mayhem that happened so quickly it seemed like it was already bubbling beneath the surface all these years. The sound has changed, but the attitude is still the same – sick, twisted, rude and loud. Those are all pluses in my book, of course. Now that I've had some quality time with this record, I can finally drop the knowledge on you folks... so read on and find out what came forth from this psycho family reunion!

Despite having only one other Murderdolls studio release for comparison – it's pretty clear that Women and Children Last (let's call it WACL from here) is a decidedly darker effort, with less ghoulish goofiness and more raving mad hostility. While the first album had a gritty, punkish approach to production and songwriting, the band's central duo take a more polished and down-to-business approach this time around. The influences the pair have absorbed over the intervening eight years are evident, including Wednesday's decidedly Alice Cooper-influenced vocal style and a tight, punchy guitar attack from Jordison that maintains a distinctly modern metal groove underneath it all.

It's clear that these two have refined and focused their musical chops over the years, and their experimentation with a variety of styles has resulted in a more diverse sound. But make no mistake: these cats have always put the focus on booze, blood, beasts and babes in their tunes, and adding a heavy dose of cynicism, rage, death and all-around nihilistic loathing just manages to shove their well-established brand of horror-heavy hedonism out of the R-rated realm and into the domain of the NC-17 – while hanging pretty tightly onto strong hooks, catchy riffs, snappy rhymes that will have you simultaneously gasping and rolling your eyes at their sheer outrageousness, and a “sing-along-from-hell” quality that made the first 'Dolls record so memorable.

Weighing in at fifteen short, sharp tracks on the standard edition (eighteen on the expanded), WACL packs a lot of heat in its fairly short running time, balancing elements of anthemic crowd-pleasing punk with Motley Crüe-style raunch-rock and more than a few stylistic nods to the prime movers of modern shock, namely Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie (it's no surprise that the 'Dolls will be joining those artists this Halloween to turn the Cooper-Zombie “Gruesome Twosome” into a threesome). While there are some brief atmospheric touches, like the eerie spoken-word intro The World According to Revenge, the bulk of the tracks are straight-ahead horror punk grafted to thrashy riffs, grit-filled lead guitar lines and coarse but melodically strong vocals from Wednesday. This kicks immediately into gear with Chapel of Blood – a snarling, threatening track that reminds you why the band's name begins with “Murder” – and digs in for the duration, with the tight, thrashy speed-riffs and harsh screams of Bored 'Til Death.

Nowhere is more of a callback to the kind of Halloween-party punk that was firmly established with Beyond the Valley, and the guys know how to call on that energy when needed – particularly in cuts like Pieces of You, complete with roof-raising handclaps and plenty of strategic pauses for punch in the chorus, and the lyrics to the latter are among their career best (as you can imagine, the title's not a metaphor, but an actual ode to dismemberment). Whatever You Got, I'm Against It is not actually a Groucho Marx cover (only an old fart like me would catch that reference anyhow), but another energy-packed anarchist anthem with a playfully sadistic streak.

Straddling the line between '80s-era hard rock and the Alice school are tunes like Summertime Suicide – which is more solidly melodic, with a groovy chorus hook and a great lead guitar. The Crüe sound comes through strongest in tunes like Death Valley Superstars, Rock N Roll Is All I Got and Nothing's Gonna Be Alright, but on Blood Stained Valentine the band goes as far as to enlist Crüe guitarist Mick Mars for axe duties. While that track is not nearly as catchy, Mars' solo work comes through most powerfully on Drug Me to Hell – which ironically is far less Crüe-like in tone, filled instead with crunchy, stacked modern-metal riffs and doubled vocals.

That more contemporary groove-metal sound comes through best on My Dark Place Alone – which is highly reminiscent of Rob Zombie's early work, complete with heavy drop-tuned riffs and caustic, snarling vocals, while Homicide Drive has a dark, shuffling beat and will definitely stick in your mind thanks to the use of “supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” in a lyric that would probably blow Mary Poppins back up into the clouds. After that, the standard edition album closes on an almost-as-memorable note with Hello, Goodbye, Die – basically an up-tempo pep rally for all you aspiring mass murderers out there.

The special edition of WACL includes three bonus cuts, further establishing that NC-17 status with Motherfucker See, Motherfucker Do (not quite as entertaining as its title implies, but it does exercise its naughty potential), mid-tempo murder-fest The Funeral Ball, and the exciting floor-stomper A Moment of Violence. The disc also comes with a DVD featuring excerpts from the band's first live reunion performance, which is skewed more toward tracks from their first album (including She Was a Teenage Zombie and Dead in Hollywood). For the serious fan the autographed, blood-spattered “First Aid Kit” Limited Edition may still be available through Roadrunner Records.

Overall, I'd actually consider WACL a superior effort to Beyond the Valley, and not just on the strength of its production quality alone. Both core members have refined their skills over the past eight years, and it shows... but the trade-off comes in a dose of bitter, hateful nihilism, no doubt born from  many years in the music biz. The result is a sharp thematic turn from the playfully sleazy monster-punk of their debut and into raw ultra-violence, pulled more from today's horrific headlines than from the pages of Famous Monsters. Nevertheless, it's a creative step forward for the band, and keeps them unique from the legions of ghoulish sound-alikes that have burst from the earth in their wake.