War Party is quite a difficult album to pin down in my opinion. I find this ironic considering GWAR is at their most consistent style of playing, with the whole album made up of pure and simple thrash metal. The best way I can describe this album is “plain”, GWAR with little to no spice or pizazz. Now, unlike the disastrous duo of late 90s GWAR albums which were too wacky to the point of irritation, GWAR playing standard thrash isn’t as detrimental as those albums were. For one, this is a great gateway album for people not used to GWAR’s musical shenanigans or for fans of classic sounding thrash. And the album isn’t without it’s worth, shredding out some decent tracks here and there. However, there is a glaring flaw that does work against the album, one that is rare in GWAR canon sad to say. Now that I think about it, this is the latter day This Toilet Earth of GWAR’s career. Weird.
What do I mean by “latter day Toilet-Earth”? Let me lay it out: it’s an album following what could be considered the high point of GWAR’s career (America Must be Destroyed or Violence has Arrived, take your pick), is a downgrade in almost every way, only has a handful of memorable and crowd-pleasing tracks with the rest being lost to irrelevancy, and worst of all, has a dreadful sounding production. Now, GWAR typically nails the production on the head to varying degrees of success. Hell, the best aspect of their worst albums are the production and sound! War Party is a very flat sounding album and doesn’t go out its way to pop out to the listener. It’s hard to qualify, but it’s the very definition of uninspired, early 2000s, grab-bag thrash in a sea of soundalikes with no distinguishing characteristics other than the fact it’s GWAR playing. At best, it’s… fine, but after being spoiled with the warm and welcoming Violence has Arrived, it’s a step down to hear something so unremarkable. A good way to describe it would be that it lacks character or gallant. Alien warlords hellbent on doing every drug imaginable and committing countless crimes against humanity deserve an elevated level of sound dammit. At its worst I’d fear to say it’s dated, like the vocal layering and effects on ‘Decay of Grandeur’, almost amateurish. People tend to say that GWAR is “no-nonsense” on this album, and I agree, with the sound reflecting this heavily. However, I’d argue that this denigrates this album to the likes of other thrash bands, and GWAR isn’t supposed to be or sound like any other band.
The songs in this situation aren’t much help either. I’m starting to think having two newcomers in the band at the same time might have been a contributing factor to this. Both Beefcake and Flattus characters were filled by new members Todd Evans and Cory Smoot respectively. Maybe they wanted to play something safe just in case? It certainly seems that way because the songs don’t go out of their way to innovate or amaze. Of course, there are some killer tracks here for all to be bombarded with. ‘Bring Back the Bomb’ is an excellent album opener and instant classic, drumming up worship for the horrors of bombs and cleverly incorporating raid alarms into the music is a nice touch. ‘Womb With a View’ is fun, dirty, and ever-so-slightly calls back to ‘King Queen’ with a particular vocal pattern. ‘The Bonus Plan’ is erratic, sporadic, puts the thrash in ‘thrash’ and has the new Beefcake on vocal duty. And ‘Krosstika’ is great as well, despite ripping off ‘Holy Wars’ by Megadeth pretty hard with the opening riff. The songwriting shines in certain situations but struggles to piece together whole songs that I wish to revisit. Out of the 11 tracks, I’d only bother going back to about 3. I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to listen to ‘Lost God’ or ‘Fistful of Teeth’ again, just because they’re so basic thrash that I find them uninteresting.
As for the performances, everyone does a bang-up job! Just as the sound is no-nonsense, so is the tone and mood of everyone. Brockie cracks a few jokes here and there in his lyrics, but is focused on being the war-loving, violent alien he portrays. The first track does a great job at signposting what to expect with the rest of the album. Brockie is ferocious and mean-spirited, the guitars are technical and calculated, the drums are precise and tactical, and the bass is… there. In all seriousness, Todd Evans does a good enough job on bass, but I yearn for the days of Bishop. Contrasting with this is Cory Smoot’s performance on lead guitar and he does a great job of proving his worth to the band. Though I’m not a fan of straight-faced thrash, it’s obvious he can play very well and fast. He adds a very tasteful amount of melodic thrash to GWARs formula. If only they had better material to work with.
War Party is an album that had potential to work very well, and in some areas, it does. The lyrical content is brilliant, and the performances and energy exude the GWAR way of violence. It’s frustrating though to pair it with derivative songwriting and a bland sound. It’s also very short, one of the shortest GWAR albums only beating ‘Bloody Pit of Horror’ by a minute of runtime. Speaking of which, I’d say it’s a tossup between this album and ‘Bloody Pit’ for worst latter day GWAR album. And I’d like to make it abundantly clear that this album isn’t bad, or anywhere near those other two albums we don’t talk about. I have a bit of negative bias towards thrash and hardly anything off the album does anything to neutralize it. Vote for the War Party or don’t, I’m sure they’ll kill us all anyway.
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