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To those that know me, to say that I love GWAR is an understatement. I have every one of their records and have been religiously seeing them since before the Ragnarok tour (38 times to be exact). So it goes without saying that I, as a fan, had a special relationship or attraction, if you will, to the way things were within the band. I was legitimately bummed when I heard of the passing of front man Dave Brockie in 2014. I didn’t know the man and I felt like I lost a distant friend or relative. Never again would I hear that lunatics voice or see his presence command the stage as I had so many times before. I was also certain that GWAR had died the moment he did. It wasn’t too long after his death that the band stated they would continue. Dave had famously said once in an interview that GWAR could go on “forever” and has infamously changed members under the masks countless amounts of times, and that could eventually include him.
In the summer of 2014, only a few months after Brockie’s death, the band made their first public performance and introduced their new frontman, Blothar The Berserker (returning member Mike Bishop, who previously played bass as Beefcake The Almighty). They gave the Oderus Urungus the Viking funeral he deserved and went on spraying blood over a couple thousand Bohabs. The band would to continue to tour for 3 years and occasionally would comment that new music was coming eventually, that this wasn’t just going to be a “touring of the classics” type of live act. GWAR was going to forge on without their fallen leader. So here we are. 3 ½ years since the death of the last surviving founding member and the maniacal architect to all that was GWAR, we finally have a new record entitled, The Blood Of Gods.
I’m not an idiot and I know what everyone really wants to know. What is the new guy like? How is it without Oderus singing? So I’ll address the elephant in the room first. I’d be lying if I said this isn’t weird to be listening to a GWAR record without Dave Brockie singing on it. As much as the rest of the band are very competent musicians and are responsible for writing the tunes that are the point of being a band, Dave Brockie’s voice was an element to be appreciated on its own. Not a traditional singer, he was a weirdo that went all over the place with his delivery. Barking, screaming, singing nasally, it was as insane as the lyrics he was singing. He also had, in my opinion, a criminally underrated clean vocal delivery. At times he could belt out parts (usually about killing and fucking something’s ass) that felt that he might have been wasting it in a band like GWAR that was never really destined to have arena level mainstream success. So when it came to filling the shoes of Brockie, Mike Bishop faced himself with quite the task at hand. For his credit, he made it very clear that he’s not Dave, never will be Dave, so there was no sense in trying to mimic Dave. There is one Oderus and Dave was it. If you ever listened to America Must Be Destroyed or Scumdogs Of The Universe, you have heard Bishop in his infancy as Beefcake. Since it’s been years since those records, his voice has matured as his age, and he’s got a bit gruffer than he did 25+ years ago. Now that he’s the frontman, he does vary his delivery throughout the record because he is performing as a character that is meant to be in control of the situation. While it doesn’t have the character that Brockie had, his voice isn’t bad and he does the job that is required of him. The other members of the band also aid in picking up some of the slack in the craziness that was Brockie’s voice and they, of variety of vocal styling, help to offer up some of that schizophrenia that Oderus was known for.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way; onto the music. As we are without Brockie, we are also still without Cory Smoot, who is credited for redefining GWAR starting with the War Party record. Unfortunately, we lost Cory and his influence on the band. The band’s first release without him, Battle Maximus, had a more uplifting, somewhat nod back to the early days feel but was still ultimately a thrash metal record with those signature GWAR parts. It also had the benefit of still having Oderus singing. Now that we’re an album removed and have the benefit of a returning member, it’s only natural for some regression in ways back to a sound and style that was done when Bishop was in the band. He stated in a recent interview that he wasn’t around for all the heavy records so he’s naturally not going to write that way. His last album with the band was We Kill Everything, which was a very punk heavy record akin almost to the earliest form of GWAR. While it’s the bands least favorite due to characters introduced and what not, I think it has some of GWAR’s most fun songs. The Blood Of Gods has a lot of that punk element returned, most notably in songs like Viking Death Machine and Swarm, which reminds me a lot of Nitro Burning Funny Bong and Penguin Attack (a song Bishop is not on). As a matter of fact, the album really reminds me of a hybrid of Carnival Of Chaos meets This Toilet Earth. It’s more of the raw punk/metal hybrid that is found on Chaos but with the more straightforward approach that This Toilet Earth has. Hearing the opening bass lick for Viking Death Machine, also has me wondering how much musical input Bishop had on this record. With there clearly being nods to the records he was on, I can’t help but think he assisted in writing the tunes as well. I’m not going to begin to discredit Jamison Land and his bass playing ability but Bishop was all over the writing credits for the albums he’s apart of. There is also the fact that Mike Derks has been in the band longer than anyone at this point so he knows a thing or two about writing a GWAR song. Regardless of who, in what collaboration, is writing these songs, they still sound very much like GWAR songs. Oh, I almost forgot, as an added bonus they have sprinkled in a bunch of 80’s cockrock riffs to add some new character to the record. If they aren’t going to follow Smoot’s lead and write pure thrash rippers, might as well go for some fist pumping thunder rock.
I’d also like to take a brief second to comment on the drumming of Brad Roberts (aka Jizmak Da Gusha). Roberts is in my top 10 favorite drummers ever and I think rarely gets the credit he deserves because there are still people out there that don’t take GWAR serious as musicians. He has an insane amount of creativity, a pure sense of groove, and can be tighter than the drum machine on any given night. He’s developed a style that I’m positive that if I heard him play for another band, I’d know it was him. Once again he shines on this record and really elevates each song to the next level, even when he’s just power pounding away to the simple beat of the AC/DC cover that closes out the record.
GWAR’s lyrics have always been about debauchery, drugs, killing humans, and serving “The Master”. Brockie had developed an encyclopedia worth of GWAR mythology down to bios about each of the band members. These themes would consistently appear throughout the entire GWAR catalog. Returning cast of characters, mentions of previously slain foes, or even mentioning events that may have taken place on previous records or within previous tours live show. In losing Brockie, the driving force behind the story of GWAR, I thought we were going to lose or at least a change in direction from the previous lore, but I’m glad to report that Bishop is keeping Brockie’s vision on course. Obviously, with Oderus being slain and Blothar taking over leading GWAR, there is clearly going to be differences in how the characters deal with things but ultimately, the idea of this Berserker who’s been waiting to take over GWAR for thousands of years falls right in line with everything before. Blothar is on a rampage and the band is still doing drugs, killing people, and hating the current president (a theme that goes all the way back to Regan). The band obviously addresses the real life loss of their fallen friend in the last original song on the album entitled, Phantom Limb. It’s reminiscent of the GWAR classic, The Road Behind, but probably has the most serious lyrics ever written by GWAR. While it’s a bit out of the norm for GWAR to get personal about their actual human lives, it was a touching tribute to the deceased. Luckily, the band doesn’t end the album on a downer and livens things back up with a cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You Got It)”, which is about as fitting as a song for GWAR to cover as you can get. To me, after the downer that Phantom Limb is, this cover choice was basically saying that the party will continue.
So I have had a lot to say about this record as anyone would when a band loses someone as charismatic as Dave Brockie/Oderus Urungus. My overall feeling is that the record is fine in terms of GWARs catalog. It would be hard to say that it isn’t weird not hearing Oderus’ voice but Blothar is a decent replacement that is aware that he should not try to mimic the former singer. The music is a step back from what they were doing over the last couple albums but pure GWAR diehards will probably appreciate the return to something similar to the hybrid style of the 90’s. While I legitimately like this record, it’s falling pretty low on the totem pole for me but that’s ultimately a testament to how much I respect and love GWARs entire catalog. I think I would say that even if Oderus was on this record though. It’s definitely worth checking out and I think any GWAR fan that truly thinks the band died with Dave and wants to avoid this, are just doing them a disservice. This is just the next chapter of the tale of GWAR. GWAR LIVES, GWAR RULES!
GWAR - The Blood Of Gods
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