The Blood of Gods puts Gwar at a crossroads. Actually, Gwar has been at a crossroads, if not in some people’s crosshairs, ever since the surviving members of the long-running band/art project/comedy troupe decided to carry on after Dave “Oderus Urungus” Brockie passed away a couple years ago. The reasons are obvious: Brockie was the original and long-time driving force, creative muse, spokesperson (spokes-thing?), recognizable face and voice of the band. He led them from obscurity to a curiosity amongst Richmond locals to popular Richmond mainstay to international recording and touring artists through to pop culture icons with his unfiltered mouth and ten-foot tall persona.
Who in their right mind ever thought a dude dressed up as a dumpster diving, demon warrior with exposed butt cheeks and a two-foot long cuttlefish cock hanging between his legs would become a regular contributing guest on the Fox News Channel? For many, and regardless of how things operated behind the scenes, Gwar and Brockie are synonymous, and the fact that the band is going full steam ahead with a new record and plans on coating a venue near you with various simulated bodily fluids is bound to be debated ad infinitum in metal circles.
What’s funny about the reaction, controversy and people digging their feet in the sand calling for either the continued existence or death of Gwar is this: who among us actually sits around listening to Gwar? With all the musical selections available at one’s fingertips, I can’t imagine scads of people out there actively choosing to listen to what essentially is a vehicle for the continuation of an admittedly amazing live show.
No offense to the band itself, which has proven its longevity, but when was the last time you actively listened to the band? The last time your humble narrator did so with any portion of ears poised was way back around the time of 1994’s This Toilet Earth which actually had its share of corking tracks in “Saddam-a-go-go,” “Jack the World,” “Sonderkommando” and “B.D.F.” There’s been passing exposure to Gwar’s recorded works since, but nothing in-depth whatsoever. At the same time, of what I have heard, nothing has really stuck. So, maybe I’m the not the nest choice to be reviewing this, the band’s latest and fourteenth (!?!?) album. On the other hand, I’ve paid witness to their live show on numerous occasions since, so maybe that does offer some amount of redemption in the eyes of those who would consider themselves fans of both music and spectacle.
The aforementioned crossroads appears to be front and centre and at the heart of The Blood of Gods’ lead-off track, “War on Gwar.” There’s a concept to the album that pertains to… well…let’s just nab a quote from the bio provided by Metal Blade: “Their new album, The Blood of Gods, is nothing less than a sacred text chronicling the rise of humanity against their makers, and the massive battle between Gwar and the forces of all that is uptight and wrong with the world. Along the way, the band challenges the sins of their great mistake, from politics, pollution, and organized religion, to fast food, and factory farming. Humans are shown as what they are; a parasitical disease that must be eradicated before they suck the planet dry.”
In spite of the above, however, it’s difficult to not read an addressing of the reaction to the continuation of Gwar into said track and others like “Viking Death Machine,” “I’ll Be Your Monster” and “Fuck This Place.” What’s most prominently on the table is how a different voice is taking over Oderus’ distinctive mantle. Fronting the band now is The Berserker Blothar (a.k.a. Mike Bishop, who’s on his third go-round with the band as he has played the Beefcake the Mighty/bass player role on two separate occasions), who brings a warmer howl to the vocal position; he’s less on the abrasive side and for whatever reasons reminds of the Stahl brothers’ early work in Wool.
Assumed subtexts aside, does the album rock? Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to appear on anyone’s year-end lists, but after the somewhat stilted and contemplative nature of the first track (though, the “911, what’s your emergency?” “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” made me grin), the aforementioned “Viking Death Machine” and “I’ll Be Your Monster” are both high octane pieces of work with the latter dancing on a tightrope between surf rock and MC5-ish garage punk and the former being a top-down-wind-running-through-your-hair rager. “Auroch” is far more straight ahead, darker, faster and pokes at a combination of thrash and grind while “Swarm” plays up the Antarctic shtick – where they rhyme “global warming” with “swarming” – with the kind of dirty grooves found in mid-period Blood Duster albums. However, there’s also an amount of guitar intricacy layered underneath the song’s knucklehead angle which isn’t all that surprising when it’s revealed that one-half of the guitar tandem includes Brett Purgason (as Pustulus Maximus), a former member of Cannabis Corpse, Antietam 1862 and Asphalt Graves.
Other songs to write home about are the pedaling, speedy thrasher “Crushed By the Cross,” the low-brow epic “Fuck This Place” and “El Presidente” which is a Metallica-like chugger with a horns and spidery chorus exploring the topic of duplicitous political leaders. The perfect song for politician likenesses to die expected multiple deaths in future live shows. The down side for each of these comes with extraneous parts/skits that play to the overall Gwar story/theme, but often freeze momentum for the listener in its tracks. It’s an issue that surfaces when a band – any band – is beholden more to a shtick than a sound. Additionally, there’s a lot of filler on The Blood of Gods; songs that are decent enough, but will never hold any long term sway.
In the end, The Blood of Gods is an entertaining collection. There are strong songs that are attractively heavy and catchy enough to keep the band’s fanbase and individuals with sick senses of humour, but less than extreme musical tastes, pleased. Blothar’s does an admirable job and should be welcomed by most of the scumdog faithful as soon as he decapitates a likeness of Kim Jong-un and starts spraying the front rows with Trump jizz. At the same time however, this isn’t going to be the album that breaks the band beyond their legion into any more mainstream profile than already exists. Also, and as sacrilegious as it may be to say, this record is indicative that Gwar ending with the death of Brockie is a symbolic notion. That’s no disrespect to the creator of this whole mess, but there’s still life in the routine yet, even if the only time I’ll probably ever hear any of these songs again will be if I experience them in a live setting.