Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gwar Album Review Spectacular


With the death of Dave Brockie last week, I was listening to a great deal of Gwar and I thought - maybe it's time to return to the blog with a Gwar tribute. So here it is, my thoughts on all 13 of Gwar's Albums from 1988 to 2013. I won't spend a lot of time talking about the Gwar mythos, I'm going to assume you are familiar with the story behind the band, or if so inclined, will look it up yourself. Let's talk music.


Gwar's debut is a low budget treasure trove of raw crossover classics. The lofi nature of this recording is really part of its charm. A great deal of time and energy clearly went into this release - this is a band trying to conquer the world, literally and figuratively. Hell-o has some undeniable nostalgia for me, so objectivity is difficult, but there are some classic songs here that still sound fresh when they show up in their live sets. "AEIOU," Americanized," and "Je M'appelle Cousteau" are some of the earliest Gwar tunes, and they're still essential in their catalog. Oderus is clearly an original and powerful singer mixing a sweet tenor singing voice with growls and screeches. His unique vocal cadence would define the band's sound, regardless of the music backing it. This album is more punk than metal, but it definitely has an edge. It also established, right out of the gate, that Gwar did not care who they offended, and maybe they were hoping to offend everyone. The goofy and less-then-subtle "I'm in Love with a Dead Dog" is a good example of this irreverence. Yes, this is lo-brow, childish humor, but it's also a great deal of fun. Old school Gwar fans cherish this album, new ones may find the production and punk style hard to get behind. 4 out of 5


Universally loved by their entire fan base, Scumdogs put Gwar on the map and earned them the recognition and commercial success they needed to take their production to the next level. The underground buzz of Hell-o led to a contract with Metal Blade records. Gwar show they can be heavy and irreverent and it works for them. Picking highlight tracks is almost futile, because there really isn't a bad track on here, but "King Queen," "Maggots," "Salaminizer," and the insanely catchy "Sick of You" are all outstanding. The barebones production and ridiculously cheap-sounding use of samples simply add to the appeal. Even the guest vocalist songs like "Slaughterama" and "Sexecutioner's Song" are good fun and not the needless filler they could have been. Though the nostalgia factor is huge with this album for me, thanks to the internet I have found that majority of Gwar's fans love this album equally as much. 5 out of 5. 


Gwar's new found success led to a much bigger budget and the ability to step up the production values of both their audio content and their stage show. Fueled by the frenzy mounting behind them, Gwar's third album feels quite ambitious and exciting right out of the gate. "Ham on the Bone," "Crack in the Egg," "Gor-Gor," and jazz-thrash-fusion "Have You Seen Me" all seem like the logical progression from the previous album. Not only that, but they a new spark behind them (and a beefy production) that seems to take it to the next level. The writing seems inspired, the band more accomplished, and the vision more focused. Then something happens, the album runs out of gas. Two goofy tracks follow, introducing story elements to the incoming stage show - the morality squad trying to censor Gwar. They're both misses. Then there's "Poor Ol' Tom," a painfully slow and aimless sounding chunk of filler. The joke glam song and the joke power ballad are both throwaway tracks as well. So, in essence, Gwar's 3rd album could've been an EP, and it would be worthy of a 5. As a 12 song LP however... Not so much. After track 4, you might as well go back to track 1 and start over. 2.5 out of 5. 


Gwar had built a fairly impressive following by the time this fourth album came in 1994. This Toilet Earth introduces another new villain, Skullhedface, who steals Gwar's mojo essentially. Musically speaking, this is along the lines of America Must Be Destroyed, with thankfully more consistency. Most of the songs are crossover thrash with a few anomalies, particularly Skullhedface's track which features full orchestration. The band also sounds downright poppy on a few tracks, particularly "Jack the World" which has a real upbeat chorus. There is the common genre-stretching tracks like "Slap U Around" and "Pepperoni," and the obligatory way-too-offensive song, "B.D.F." "Saddam a Go-Go" seemed a mainstay on their set lists for years to follow, and "Krak-Down" seems to have an unrealized potential as a hit. For the most part though, this feels like a more approachable and even a more commercially viable Gwar, something that would doom several albums to come. 3 out of 5. 


This album is the beginning of Gwar's awkward phase. Ragnarock shows the band rehashing some old ideas, bringing back Sexecutioner and Sleazy P. Martini for songs (though neither is as successful as the previous outing). Most of this is standard Gwar material, but it feels uninspired and smacks of contract obligation. "Meat Sandwich," "Dirty Filthy," and "Knjfe in Your Guts" are all decent tracks, but it is starting to feel like "Gwar-lite"- like they're losing their edge a bit. Most of the other tracks fall flat and the Oderus and Slymester Hymen duet is awful. Though far from their worst, there's little on here to bring me back to it. 2 out of 5.


Though I was a fan since Scumdogs, this tour was the first time I saw Gwar live. This album is massive - 18 tracks that seem to go on and on. Carnival sees the band really starting to venture from the metal genre again. "Letter from the Scallop Boat," "In Her Fear," "I Suck on My Thumb," "Gonna Kill U," and "Sex Cow" are all novelty / throwaway tracks that would've helped slim the album done a bit if they were tossed. Ditto for the Gwar Woman album closer which is bad lounge music with a poor singer. What's left is a reasonable amount of songs with some essential tracks. "Penguin Attack," "If I Could Be That," and "Back to Iraq" are all high-spirited Gwar staples. The return of Techno Destructo is also a nice surprise as the band modernizes the classic track from Hell-O on "The Private Pain of Techno Destructo." Carnival of Chaos is about half a decent album and half a waste of time. 2.5 out of 5. 


The darkest moment in the band's career is this colossal misstep which extends the novelty song tendencies of the previous release to the next level - essentially making this a LP worth of joke songs with little to no metal to be found. Even the punk elements have been turned into poppy nonsense, making song titles like "Baby Raper" and "Fish Fuck" seem all the more ridiculous and stupid. Even moments where Gwar tries to get heavy fall apart into boring uninspired drivel like "Escape From the Mooselodge" or "Jiggle the Handle." Where Carnival of Chaos had a handful of essential tunes, We Kill Everything is void of anything that would justify a recommendation. Only the instrumental manages to pass by without giving me the urge to skip it. This one would best be buried and never spoken of again. 0 out of 5


The opening moments of "Battle Lust" seems to issue an official apology for their last album as it bursts with the thrashy sounds of old school Gwar, with just the right amount of goofiness. "Apes of Wrath," "Bile Driver," and "Licksore" all have that heavy sound we've missed for the past 3 albums or so. "Immortal Corruptor" has a beautiful intro which sets up perhaps the strongest track on the album. The band sounds heavier than ever before. They don't have to say it, they realized they were going in a bad direction, and they corrected it. Like many Gwar albums, it has a few tracks which could've been cut to streamline the release and shorten the running time a bit, namely the last two tracks. Ultimately though, Violence Has Arrived is a triumphant comeback album and probably the strongest effort since This Toilet Earth. I'm glad they got whatever that was out of their system. 3.5 out of 5. 


Gwar's second commercial peak is probably this album. With a new found commitment to their crossover thrash sound from the early nineties, the band issued their most focused effort since Scumdogs. The War Party is a political party focused on solving the world's problems with one tool: war - a concept that provides plenty of opportunities to offend, and provides perfect material for their live shows. War Party shows Gwar honing their skills and showing a profound understanding of what their fan base wants and expects from them. Predictable, yes, derivative, definitely, but also very listenable and well executed. The addition of a new lead guitarist doesn't hurt either as Gwar officially has a shredder - check out that lead on "Bonesnapper." The title track, "Bring Back the Bomb," "Krosstika," and "The Reganator" are both rocking and dripping with political sarcasm - Gwar in their comfort zone. War Party served as a validation for the band regarding what works for them both artistically and commercially. It's the start of a very enjoyable phase in their career. 4 out of 5.


This album tells the story of Gwar journeying through hell to confront the devil. A promising concept to be sure, but this album's story seems to take precedence over the songwriting. The style is very much in line with War Party, but the songs feel more like a vehicle for storytelling than songs that stand on their own. That's not to say there are not decent tracks to be had here: "Tormenter" has some fine guitar shredding and a rousing, ominous chorus, "Destroyed" has some impressive riffing, and the final showdown with the devil on "The One That Will Not Be Named" is sufficiently epic and rather funny. The playing is top notch and things are plenty heavy, it just lacks the catchiness and memorable moments of the predecessor. 3 out of 5. 


Gwar's next album continues with their new found commitment to all things heavy. With a real shredder leading the axe attack, their riffs have a more progressive sounding edge to them. Lust in Space sees the Scumdogs finally getting a spaceship and getting off of earth (it only took them 11 albums). They maintain their balance of metal and punk with more through-composed tracks that focus on storytelling. Where Lust seems to succeed where Beyond Hell didn't, is that many of these songs are plenty catchy. "Let us Slay," "The Uberklaw," and "Metal Metal Land" have singalong choruses and solid hooks. "Lords & Masters" is nice bouncy tune with a nod to the golden age of Motörhead. The amusing "Where is Zog?" Tells of Oderus discovering his old master is a a washed-out drunk and has a rare voice appearance of Balsac at the end of it. Lust is another solid "3rd phase" Gwar album thats worth checking out. 3.5 out of 5. 


Gwar keeps rocking on this 2010 release, their 12th full length. This is as straight forward a metal record that the band has released since Scumdogs. Oderus is full on pissed here, with plenty of lyrics to spew forth. Many of the tunes seem "lyric heavy," meaning there are a shitload of words crammed in. It is very effective however, as it brings to mind the Gwar of old. They sound recharged and focused on this release with heavy-riff laiden numbers like "Zombies, March!" and "A Gathering of Ghouls," and witty tracks like "Tick Tits," "You Are My Meat," and laugh-out-loud worthy "The Litany of the Slain" (which nicely lists those killed on stage over the years). For a band pushing 30 years of existence, this album is surprisingly fresh sounding and has the highest replay value of all their recent outings. 4 out of 5


Gwar's final album has a much different feel than the previous few. Though still very much in the crossover thrash vein, there are times where the band is starting to sound downright progressive. Just check out the start-and-stop drumming on "Nothing Left Alive," or the staggered opening and dual guitar work of the title track / instrumental. Much like the excellent Bloody Pit of Horror, Battle Maximus sounds fresh and inspired. "Mr. Perfect" is a kick-ass mid paced rocker, "Torture" sounds like old school Gwar mixed with the new Carcass, and "They Swallowed the Sun" has a weird-as-hell yet incredibly catchy chorus. Vocally, Oderus is trying some new things, combining different vocal lines on top of each other on the prog-sounding "Triumph of the Pig Children." He almost doesn't sound like himself at times, but it's still pretty damn cool. It's a pity Oderus has passed, for his band was enjoying the most consistent high quality output of their career. Battle Maximus is a worthy final entry. 3.5 out of 5. 

No comments:

Post a Comment