Battle Maximus. It saddens me to know that I’ve arrived at this album after reviewing all of GWAR’s prior discography. Not to be over-sentimental, but after putting pen to paper and expressing glee and contempt for every GWAR album, this feels like a final goodbye. Of course, this isn’t the last GWAR album in the literal sense, but to many fans it appeared that way. The reason for this? Well, my fellow bohabs, this is the final GWAR album to feature vocalist David Murray Brockie before his untimely death in 2014. Because of this as well as posthumous events, Battle Maximus is the end of GWAR’s second chapter, their renaissance, 15 years of metal majesty. It can be perceived as especially tragic considering that the album was intended to honor the memory of Cory Smoot, who had passed away two years prior. For now, let’s celebrate Battle Maximus and honor these two titans of alien absurdity.
For the most part, Battle Maximus is business as usual: raping, pillaging, and expanding the universe of GWAR with new characters and exploits. Whereas ‘Bloody Pit of Horror’ felt like the B-Side to ‘Lust in Space’, this album feels like a true sequel, and dare I say, evolution of the band. This album sounds like it was recorded on another planet compared to the others, which I find quite thematically appropriate. If you were to honor your fallen alien brethren, you’d obviously travel to their home planet, right? Sonically, the album is breathtaking. All the instruments are in your face and ready to kick your ass. The production has a devilish level of polish to it and captures the modernity of the year it was crafted in. It’s clean but not sterile, with just enough meat and plaque in between its grinning incisors. This is an album you’d want to sound as sharp as it is for a variety of reasons. Not only does the production do a fantastic job of sounding good period, but it also accommodates the operatic direction of honoring Smoot. GWAR at this point was no stranger to creating cinematic experiences that could accompany an actual movie, literally in the case of ‘America Must Be Destroyed’, or conceptually with ‘Beyond Hell’. ‘Battle Maxmimus’ is another such case. This album has epic blood in it, and wraps around you entirely, stretching on a million miles wide with all the planets GWAR has conquered in between. When it thrashes, it ought to shake your whole fucking neighborhood! Guitar tones may not be the heaviest they’ve ever been, but they don’t need to! The album commands an energy so lively and kinetic that you’d swear it’s alive. Humans did not make this, aliens with endurance, strength and power beyond the gods did.
Performances are once again, just top shelf stuff. In the wake of Smoot’s passing, the band equipped Brent Purgason to take over lead guitars and take on the persona of GWAR’s new character, ‘Pustulus Maximus’. Purgason immediately tackles the challenge of taking Smoot’s place with a melodic fury that feels right at home. One of my biggest issues with ‘Bloody Pit of Horror’ was that it lacked melodicism, and Battle Maximus makes up for it in spades. The technicality also seemed to get a large boost as well! Listen to the track ‘Madness at the Core of Time’ and compare it to tracks off ‘Hell-O’ to get a sense of how far this band has truly progressed. Another fun marvel is the instrumental eponymous track, which happens to feature past GWAR members, Todd Evans and Zach Blair playing members of the Maximus clan. Neat! It is such a welcome sight to behold as well as a respectful tribute to one of GWAR’s greatest guitarists. Another wonderful tribute is the final track, ‘Fly Now’. The track doesn’t feign melancholic sorrow or weeping sadness, instead expressing stoic solidarity and unmoving respect for the band’s fallen comrade. The song is a tribute to Cory Smoot, from the point of view of Oderus to Flattus Maximus. The song operates under the veil of GWAR’s canon, but one can clearly see through this as Brockie’s eulogy to Smoot, and the pain and passion that the band must have gone through. This to me, is David Brockie singing, not Oderus. As far as performances go, this is one of Brockie’s finest. I won’t cry clairvoyance and assume something overly presumptuous like, “Brockie knew this would be his last album,” but I will say that if there was ever a performance to go out on, this would be it. He sounds grizzled, he sounds furious, he sounds as lively as ever. He’s all the things a grieving warrior should sound like.
And… that’s about it. I could detail some more songs that are especially entertaining (‘Mr. Perfect’ and ‘Bloodbath’ come to mind), express annoyance over the more so-so tracks that prevent this album from being perfect (‘I, Bonesnapper’), or sing praise of the mythical and medieval sounding Intro track, but beyond that there’s not much else to discuss. Battle Maximus is about 52 minutes long and the last time we would ever hear Brockie take the mic on an album. It’s not that GWAR would never be the same, it’s that GWAR COULD never be the same. This is the last time, at least for many, that GWAR would ever be GWAR. And as I bemoan the loss of a wonderful vocalist and equally talented guitarist, I reflect on the 30 years’ worth of material the band provided beforehand and think of how good we the fans got it. Imagine if GWAR had gone wrong in the 90s and split up after any of their great albums, only ever put out ‘Hell-O’, or never existed at all! The fact is, while Brockie’s life was cut short, GWAR because of his contributions, deserves and continues to be celebrated. Hell, GWAR is so God damn good, I still feel like Brockie is alive and well, far away from the worry and pain of ordinary life.
Rest in peace, Dave Brockie, you’ve certainly earned it.
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