|3.9 (1 votes):|
Where to begin with this one. I think it’s safe to say that after the untimely death of lead vocalist, Dave Brockie, GWAR didn’t have to continue. They could’ve called it quits and I believe that most fans would have reacted positively. Over 30 years of delivering punk rock/metal tunes and spraying assortments of fluids is impressive, and the passing the band’s front man would’ve been a good excuse to wrap things up. Give up on GWAR though? Hell no! Instead, the band decided to carry on, find a new (and old) vocalist, and keep the dream alive! Brockie himself said GWAR was a band that could continue, “for thousands of years”, under the veil of latex suits and sociopolitical commentary, two things certain in life. But dreaming is one thing, doing is another, so how did GWAR’s attempt to march on in a post Brockie world turn out? Pretty good so far!
The Blood of Gods is a monumental GWAR album by default. Naturally, it is the first one to feature an entirely new lead vocalist: Blothar the Berserker a.k.a. GWAR alum Mike Bishop. Bishop previously played bass on the first 4 GWAR albums before departing the project. Equipping Bishop to perform lead vocals was probably the smartest thing the band could’ve done, and slightly ingenious if you think about it. Bishop had already sung tracks on previous GWAR albums and proven himself quite versatile. But could he carry a whole album, let alone a whole GWAR album? I am quite pleased to report that Bishop’s performance on the album is remarkable! His gruff and tough warrior persona brings a new-old life to the band, more time weathered and weary. He delivers an articulate message of aggression through his restrained performance, keeping a mostly straight face throughout the album. He also has his share of trademark GWAR silliness, seen on tracks ‘Death to Dickie Duncan’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Monster’. He’s not so much a “replacement” for Brockie, as he is just another solid character in the band’s lore. However, none of this is to say he isn’t without his detractions, especially when comparing him to Brockie. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s certainly hard to ignore knowing that Bishop is now the lead vocalist for the foreseeable future. Bishop seems apprehensive about being too silly or throwing out an unexpected variation in his performance. He’s consistent to a fault considering the band he’s in. You always know what notes he’s going to hit and doesn’t pull any punches. I’d say he sings a bit too safe, but I can see where he’s coming from. This is his introductory album and pulling something too wacky might’ve scared long-term fans off.
Let’s not forget that Bishop is not the only one proving his worth on the album! If there’s one thing I can safely say, it’s that the other members continue the trend of advancing their technical skills. I remember the first single, ‘Fuck This Place’, dropping while I was at work and stopping to listen. The opening riff was as majestic as it was memorable, while the rest of the song perfectly encapsulated the band’s motto going forward. I’d say if you were on the fence about this album, listen to that song and see if it tips you over. Brent Purgason at this point has cemented himself as the lead guitarist and has so taken on a heavily creative role in the band. See, The Blood of Gods is noticeably less metal this time around on certain songs. Purgason has exclaimed his enjoyment of the punkier side of GWAR and it shows. Tracks like ‘Death to Dickie Duncan’ and ‘Viking Death Machine’ are distinctly bouncy and punky. This is kept in healthy balance compared to the mostly heavy/thrash metal songs on display. Guest vocalists Matt Maguire and MC Chris do an awesome job at animating their new additions to GWAR’s ever expanding list of villains.
Let me also sing the praise of how this album honors Dave Brockie. The tracks ‘Fuck This Place’ and ‘Phantom Limb’ are two sides of the same coin. GWAR isn’t stupid and they knew fan reaction to this album and the band’s future in general would be polarizing. The message of ‘Fuck This Place’ is directed more towards the potentially ireful fans and is intended to be an unabashed mission statement of Bishop’s role as vocalist. He’s here to carry on the legacy of Oderus, declaring his shared misanthropic hatred of Earth. It’s meant to share commonality with the deceased member and appeal to those who may be unswayed. It’s also a (bit on the nose) satire of those who would write off Bishop regardless, with the song quipping that, “#BlotharRuinedGWAR”. It’s aggressive and it works as an intro the this “new” era of GWAR. The track ‘Phantom Limb’ is much more somber, and Bishop goes to excellent lengths to mourn the loss of his fallen brother. This song is much more emotional on a deeper level and ponders the morality of continuing the band’s exploits without Brockie. This is all of course under the veneer of the band’s alien personas but is unmistakably the real-life pain and struggle of anyone who had a connection to David Murray Brockie. It’s a powerhouse, not for the faint of heart, and dare I say the highlight of the album. It unifies the feelings of not only the bandmates but the fans as well. It consolidates not just the death of Brockie, but anyone who has ever felt a tragic loss and rouses feelings of regret and uncertainty. Absolutely stunning.
Those two songs are almost enough to make me forget the faults of the album. Almost. There are a few songs I have a bone to pick with. First off, straight face thrashers like ‘Auroch’ and ‘Swarm’ are almost wholly disposable. Bishop can carry a song that’s composed in an interesting way, but straight face thrash is instantly a bore. Speaking of which, the track ‘Crushed by The Cross’ is abysmal by GWAR standards. It’s plain and simple Slayer worship with no interesting spin on it. Even if you’re a fan of Slayer, I doubt you wanted to hear GWAR play a Slayer song. It doesn’t even feel like a take on the band, so… Points for imitation? Nah. Also, if you’re going to write a song as heavenly as ‘Phantom Limb’, please do NOT follow it and end the album on a cover of AC/DC. Ending an album on a cover is tricky business in my opinion, and it’s done entirely wrong here. It’s tonally jarring as much as it is musically jarring. I associate AC/DC with GWAR less than I do with fucking Slayer. It’s also out of place because GWAR doesn’t do covers often, and when they do, they’re regulated to singles or special editions. The worst offense of it all? It’s AC/DC. No offense but I am not a fan. I may be rambling on here or making a bigger deal than need be, but I cannot overstate how much it undercuts the weight of ‘Phantom Limb’. I know ending on a somber note isn’t usually in GWAR fashion, but at least come up with something better, or hey, DO end on a somber note this time around.
So, how does The Blood of Gods do at continuing the journey of GWAR? I think that the album did as a good a job as it possibly could have. There are undoubtedly a few hiccups here and there, and the album treads water a few times. For example, the love rock anthem of ‘I’ll Be Your Monster’ feels like a retread of ‘Bloody Mary’ from ‘Violence Has Arrived’, except done flatter. On the flipside, the album has a distinct and modern sound to it, ever impressive performances, and honest to God, songs that are works of art. At worst, the album can be described as hit or miss. At best, it’s a loving tribute to a member that will not be soon forgotten. There’s a metric ton of heart, and that’s what matters in any work of art in the end.
P.S. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of the cover GWAR did of Jim Carroll’s ‘People Who Died’ and thinking how much better that would’ve been to close out the album. Talk about a missed opportunity.
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