Friday, November 3, 2017

Album Review: GWAR - "The Blood of Gods"

At first take, you see the updates in your inbox or on social media about a new GWAR album, and you shrug it off; the band produces albums like clockwork and cynics would suggest that they only release new material as an excuse to tour anyway, so the news hardly seems worth a second look.

And then you realize what it is you’re actually seeing, and you remember everything that’s happened.  “The Blood of Gods,” marks the first fresh (perhaps filthy?) studio material from the iconic band since the premature death of Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie,) and who knows not only what mysteries it contains but how it will be received?  Will fans and critics accept an album that no longer features the man who made the band what it is?

To answer that, you first have to examine the album itself.  Maybe this is a dated reference, but anybody remember the classic Steve Martin/Rick Moranis movie “My Blue Heaven”?  If you remember, much before the gimmick was taken by the sitcom “Frasier,” the movie breaks ups its chapters with full-screen messages hinting at what comes next.  There is one in particular, where Vincent Antonelli (Steve Martin,) tell us (forgive me if the quote is not exact) “As I am trained for nothing else, I re-embark on my old career.”

I told you that story to tell you this one; that’s sort of how “The Blood of Gods” feels.  There is no debating that over time, between the metal directional influence of Corey Smoot and Brockie’s own willingness to allow GWAR to evolve and change, GWAR became less a punk/thrash band and more in the true metal vein.  The band that both of those men left behind was not the band they had inherited or started.  In the absence of those governing forces, it’s easy to envision the band, reunited with former member Michael Bishop in the lead, having a meeting where somebody said “well, hell, what did we used to do?  Can we do that again?”

And so they did.  “The Blood of Gods” has much more in common with “This Toilet Earth” or even the hallowed “Scumdogs of the Universe,” than it does with “War Party” or “Lust in Space.”  We see a return here to much of the two-beat, thrash beginnings of the band, from simple drum beats and rapid-fire guitars, to a thematic return of making fun of people and declaring the Earth a giant piece of excrement.

Now, let’s be clear here – that’s certainly enjoyable in its own right, and there’s plenty to smirk at here, headlined by the blistering riff and repeated gang chorus of “Fuck This Place.”  In another universe, sans costumes and perhaps with slightly less profanity, this song would have felt right at home on any classic Minor Threat or Black Flag album. 

The thing that’s remained unchanged is that GWAR still has a predilection for the off-kilter oddity of a long form storytelling piece, and that’s how we get “The Sordid Soliloquy of Sawborg Destructo” right in the middle of the album.

The general tone here remains that of old school GWAR however, with their idiomatic synergy of the highly theatric with the musically accessible.  “Swarm” works because it treads that line, halfway between the acclaim of Thin Lizzy’s dual guitar innovation and the base comical profanity of the S.O.D.  Few bands have as much history doing both, and thus even in returning to an earlier era, GWAR can still teach a thing or two.

That’s why the album works, even if it is a departure from the band’s more recent efforts – because in going back to their roots, GWAR thus returns to a form of their art which had already worked for them in the past.  In answer the questions at the top of this article then, new fans may have to make an adjustment, but they should find enough familiarity to adapt without overwhelming difficulty.  Old fans and critics alike will feel that what is old can be new again.

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