The Neon God - Part 1: The Rise
6/9/2004 - Review by: Frank Hill
Not the heaviest WASP, but a pretty good, consistent effort.
There has been a few concept CDs in the mass metal market since Queensryche's "Operation: Mindcrime" which was so spectacular that it invites comparison to most that come after it. There has been some name dropping with this one, but it's only similar to Mindcrime by label not execution. Mindcrime has many elements of sociological commentary from the Reagan-era where The Neon God sticks with the events surrounding the central characters who aren't always developed beyond the broad strokes of their actions and the liner notes. In OM, you know the ending and the lead is recalling memories while TNG is traditional and forward-moving.
With the stereotypes of the abused kid, the bad nun and the drug use, you won't look at the writing as anything mindbending. It's on a comic book level and I'm not talking about Neil Gaiman or Frank Miller. Within its level, though, there are some nice touches of symbolism and allegory.
There are 10 pages of liner notes accompanying The Rise which is, of course, about the journey of a naive, directionless youth named Jesse Slane. It's a quest piece and I'll try and examine the story itself a bit and also comment on the music. Since, it is only the first of a multi-part story, I can't quite examine it as a whole.
From the outset of the short opener "Why Am I Here", it's stated that Jesse (Biblical name--father of King David) needs to know his purpose in life. Unlike most classic quests, though he isn't set on his journey with a specific stated reason that morphs into self-knowledge. The reasoning is there from the beginning.
His father dies when he is six and his mother, Mary (Biblical name--mother to Jesus), who is unable to cope, descends into drug and verbal abuse and eventually gives Jesse, age 8, to a state-run complex that was part orphanage and part mental hospital. That place is the "Chapel Perilous" or the dangerous enclosure where one outburst by Jesse sent him to be disciplined by Sister Sadie (Biblical name--wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac; Beatles reference to 'Sexy Sadie'?), an alcoholic, physically/sexually abusive head nun who would hang Jesse upside down as a symbolic inverted Jesus. Her tortures are spelled out in "Sister Sadie (And the Black Habits)". Nice bit of wordplay with the word "habits".
After a year of this he attempts suicide by jumping into the "wishing well", represented as a place of prophecy, and in a coma-state sees visions of what he would become. It isn't noted in the notes what he sees, but I'm assuming the song "The Rise" represents them. He is a leader to many, but is still unsure of himself as also noted in the short "Why Am I Nothing".
Asylum #9 (#9--Beatles reference?) is where he is sent next to recover. Once there he finally makes kinship with somebody--the drug-addled Spazmo and Billy. Fueled by drugs, they escape their past and wash away their pain in the holy, psychedelic "Red Room of the Rising Sun". Billy is the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland whose communion helps open Jesse's doors of perception.
With Sadie now dead, Jesse is to go back to the orphanage. Billy commits suicide by OD'ing and Jesse makes a break for the outside world. At age 14, he joins the discarded in the streets where he finds life is just as hellish as it had been.
On the streets, he meets Judah Magic (Judah--Greek form of Judas, betrayer of Jesus) a homeless man who has either the divine gift of ESP or the enhanced ability to read people. They form a student-mentor bond, as played out in the great single "X.T.C. Riders", and decide together to kill the world. Jesse's deal with Judah is symbolically a deal with the devil in which he's selling his soul for something offered much like Goethe's "Faust".
Jesse eventually supersedes his teacher's skills and by traveling together they attract multitudes of people into the cult of Jesse. In time, they gain enough of a following to move away from tents to arenas where the prophet Jesse preaches to the masses and Judah turns the tribe into big business. We are left at this point in the story with Jesse pondering whether he's a child of God or a pawn of the devil.
As far as the music goes, this isn't the perverted WASP that did "F*ck Like A Beast" and "Blind in Texas". Blackie plays most of the instruments, except for Frankie Banalli on drums, and sings all the parts with a little extra melodrama as it should be. I think a little heavier guitar crunch would've helped in some places and guest appearences would've been nice 'esp for the female parts.
Part 2 of "The Neon God" story will complete the story.
Bottom Line: Not the heaviest WASP, but a pretty good, consistent effort.
Best Songs: Wishing Well, Sister Sadie, XTC Riders, The Running Man
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