Oh boy, it’s time to talk about GWAR again! While War Party wasn’t my cup of tea, it was still received positively by fans and critics alike. Personally, I believe it was a bit of a letdown, an anticlimactic continuation of the newly reborn GWAR we saw on Violence Has Arrived. What has this got to do with Beyond Hell? Well, to me Beyond Hell is the true follow up to Violence Has Arrived! It packed a lot of the punch that album did, sounded a whole of a hell lot meaner, cranked up the performances even further, and pushed the band into a sort of new mini era. This was the start of GWAR’s more focused sense of story telling and structural unity. Beyond Hell is a concept album to the bone, and I’d argue that ever since it released, each consecutive GWAR album was built around a central story that had more detailed lore and plots than seen before. But, to experience this advancement in storytelling, we must first go ‘BEYOND HELL’.
I’ll get the trashing on War Party out of the way and state that this album improved on every aspect that was lacking there and then some. The biggest improvement seen here is the production by a landslide. GWAR took it upon themselves to equip Devin Townsend to produce the album, as well as aiding in the engineering and mixing. Townsend, alongside Mike Derks and Cory Smoot did an excellent job producing a mean mix that assaults the listener with hellish delight. The larger-than-life sound is behemoth in scale and lends credence to the band’s goal of illustrating an album that traverses an immaculate underworld. The production too is a godsend, with the guitars crushing in such a manner that props up the albums’ wall of sound. The bass too is pleasantly plucked, with that warm, creamy GWAR tone that compliments the fiery blaze of the guitars. I also commend the clarity on Brockie’s vocals. The accentuation of his vocals carries exceedingly well and is at the forefront of the mix as it should be. It gives off the vibe that Oderus himself is leading us on a tour of Hell, slaughtering, maiming, and raping while we observe just a few feet away. This is GWAR in glorious high definition.
The performances as well are devilishly devious, malicious, and raise the bar for GWAR once again. More specifically, Cory Smoot and Dave Brockie nearly steal the show with their executions. This album is where Smoot cemented himself as the best lead guitarist GWAR would ever have and effortlessly serenades the listener with riff after riff of technical melodicism. The band once again incorporated heavy metal into their style of playing and Smoot absolutely demolished it. His extreme heavy/thrash metal riffs blow the plain thrash metal stuff he was playing previously out of the water. Look no further than tracks like ‘Go to Hell!’ or ‘Back in Crack’ to see the full prowess of his skill on display. Todd Evans also brought his bass playing up a notch here, redeeming himself as another sound GWAR bass player. Also, special mention to Devin Townsend’s guest backing vocals on ‘Tormentor’. He’s the perfect candidate for otherworldly vocals to back a track to. My only qualm is that I wish he got a full guest track to himself, or an actual vocal passage, like Brockie got on ‘Deconstruction’. It would’ve been a fun trade! Speaking of vocals, Brockie kills it here. He walks the perfect line between jovial Viking and bloodthirsty alien monster. He alternates between gruff grunts, higher pitched singing, evil expositions and belligerent belittlings.
Oh, and the songs? Yeah, they’re awesome too! The songwriting gives every member something to do and structures each track as its own stage play, culminating in an album that has a defined beginning, middle and end. The intro and the track ‘War Is All We Know’ do a great job at building up to an explosive first act, setting the tone and speed of the rest of the album. The ending tracks ‘Back in Crack’ and ‘School’s Out’ are perfect functions of what it means to close an album out. I usually don’t like it when an album ends on a cover track, but the band does a good job putting a spin on the Alice Cooper classic. There isn’t a single weak track on display here, but I’d be lying if I said I liked every single one. Tracks ‘Destroyed’ and ‘The One That Will Not Be Named’ are fine but are vastly overshadowed by the competition.
I’d be remiss to not discuss the lyrics here, as they tell one of the best GWAR stories ever told. The idea of GWAR going to hell and fighting the devil himself is a match made in heaven, and a genius idea for a concept album. I mentioned earlier that the songwriting lends itself to that of a 3-act story, and in doing so, GWAR created one of their most cinematic and imaginative albums yet. It is a crime that GWAR was pretty much done making feature length movies based on their albums, because to see a movie along the lines of Phallus in Wonderland but with Beyond Hell would’ve been a riot. I can only imagine the gallows humor GWAR would’ve supplied in Hell in between fighting the devil or battling pig cops. Maybe in another life… But as it stands, the scale and scope are perfect.
Beyond Hell is an album I neglected for far too long. The only area where it slacks is a sort of nitpick. In creating such a theatric and linear experience, it doesn’t have the memorability that tracks on earlier GWAR albums have. There is no ‘Salaminzer’, ‘Happy Death Day’, ‘Sick of You’, or ‘Immortal Corruptor’ here. Again, this was sort of a new era for GWAR, more focused on entertaining the crowd with stories than getting them involved with repeating lyrics. And neither way is better than the other, just different. The only question I have left is where could GWAR go after this to space themselves out? Ah, to hell with it.
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