GWAR + Voivod + Childrain
O2 Islington Academy
4th December 2019
Review By: Beandog
Photos By: Inty Malcolm
It’s been almost a decade since GWAR made an appearance on UK turf.
In that time the band have released three albums (The Bloody Pit Of Horror, Battle Maximus and The Blood Of Gods) and experienced a significant, career altering loss when their front-man and founder member, David Brockie (AKA Oderus Urungus) died of an overdose in 2014.
In the context of GWAR-lore, Oderus’ demise occurred when he had his immorality stolen and was dramatically impaled on his own sword! Whichever way it’s presented, the band have been through a great deal in recent years and it’s testament to Brockie’s vision and the hard work of all involved that GWAR have endured and are still very much an active concern. Their newest record – The Blood Of Gods – is their first without their charismatic leader, but notably, does not suffer from this loss at all. In fact, it is a triumphant release that continues the band’s debauched crusade, very much in the spirit of past offerings, while paying a sincere tribute to their fallen brother.
With the above all happening away on foreign shores, the UK fans have clearly been eager to get involved and pay their respects. Tonight’s show is a complete sell out and there is an air of eager anticipation in the room. Those familiar with the band’s performances will know exactly what to expect, but just in case some of tonight’s attendees are none the wiser, there are notices pinned up around the venue warning us that the band will be making frequent use of, “Spew – a combination of fake blood, pus and urine;” and this will be liberally sprayed into the audience.
A further clue to the impending mess is the plastic covering that has been applied to the on-stage monitors and/or any electrical equipment within gushing distance. One gentleman standing stage left, just behind the barrier is adorned in a full plastic rain mac – just in case!
Before any of this bleeding carnage begins, we have the first of two support acts this evening.
Childrain are a young band, hailing from the Basque Country in Spain. Built around two brothers – who take the lead guitar and vocal spots among the five musicians – they play a riff heavy brand of metal-core, embellished with plenty of melodic vocal harmonies. Their task is a difficult one. It is never easy to be the first band of the evening. The room is far from full. People are still arriving and settling in. Some are milling around at the bars or merch stand.
To their credit, the band have an obvious appreciation of the opportunity they’ve been given to perform on this tour. They have a brand new album to promote (The Silver Ghost) so despite the sparse crowd they give it their all. Guitarist Iker Bengoa clearly worships at the alter of Dimebag Darrell, and crucially he has the chops to justify wearing the legendary player’s signature guitar. As he squeals and sweeps his way through some dexterous guitar parts, his sibling demands the crowd “make some NOISE!” There still aren’t quite enough people in attendance to give back the roar the band are hoping for, but the crowd response is positive.
Clearly having a good time, the bond between the brothers appears to go beyond family ties. During a slow atmospheric intro, the singer asks if the crowd would like to see him dance with his brother. “Perhaps you would like to see us do a bit of incest!” he says, out of the blue. It’s clearly banter, and the other members of the band chuckle. Drummer Mikel Gómez is having a whale of a time, and he hammers out some powerful and intricate rhythms to propel the songs forward with maximum impact.
It’s a brief but impressive set. I find myself thinking I’ve heard a lot of good, heavy music coming from Spain over the past 18 months or so. I’ll add Childrain to my list of Spanish bands to keep my eye on.
By the time I’ve refilled my pint glass, the room is nicely full. I’ve no doubt this is because GWAR have brought some bona fide heavy metal legends with them as main support. Canadian veterans Voivod need very little introduction. They have been around the block as many times as tonight’s headliners. Bear in mind the inception of both bands occurred in the first half of the eighties and both went on to achieve worldwide recognition.
Of further interest, GWAR is actually a shortening of the band’s original moniker, Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh. Is it a coincidence that around the same time, Voivod put out an album called Rrröööaaarrr?... Probably. But it’s a fun association to make.
What IS significant is that despite establishing their status early in their careers, both bands are still producing quality new music. Voivod’s last album, The Wake easily made my end of year list for 2018. I play it often and I’ll give it a hearty recommendation here.
As if to prove their confidence in their own latter-day material, Voivod open the set with Post Society from the 2016 EP of the same name. It’s a dirty, idiosyncratic rumble that comes across like a sneering, prog Motörhead… and so begins the madness that is a Voivod show.
To describe Voivod’s sound is to conjure the idea of a band who take all the elements of heavy music and throw them inside a washing machine. As the riffs tumble together and appear at the window, it’s in brief flashes and momentary snatches of recognition. All the usual notes and ideas are there, but they appear in an unconventional order. Chords are inverted, there are dramatic rhythmic shifts and the phrasing is somehow off kilter, but it’s all delivered in the best possible way, and it works!
The chiming guitar intro of a classic track, Psychic Vacuum carries all of these themes into the next song and the four-piece deliver another barrage of alternating time signatures, robotic riffs and a sort of post-punk, new wave thrash that sounds a little bit like it’s being played backwards!
Voivod’s sound is completely unique. This, admittedly will be a turn off for some, but I give the band complete kudos for their approach and can respect the way they still manage to find ways of twisting compositions into something curiously ear-bending while still slamming the riffs home. Obsolete Beings demonstrates this perfectly, and gets a big cheer from the audience. Credit here should go to guitarist Daniel Mongrain, who on the newer material has really continued the stylistic legacy of previous guitar player Piggy D’Amour, who sadly died in 2005.
The biggest cheer of the set greets the news that Voivod are having a celebration on this tour. It’s been thirty years since they released their Nothingface album. With that being the case, it comes as no surprise to hear them dive into the spiky, metallic jazz punk of The Unknown Knows. It’s a highlight in the set and reminds me to go back and check an album I haven’t played in a very long time.
Denis (Snake) Bélanger plays the cordial host throughout – there is an upbeat, casual mood among the musicians. The singer promises us that we are in for a huge treat tonight, making reference to the rapidly approaching headline set. But between now and then, there is still time for a couple more raging thrash-outs, so they play on, bringing their performance to a heaving conclusion with another track from Post Society, paired up with a rapid fire rendition of their anthemic title track, Voivod, before bidding us all farewell.
As the equipment is changed over and people find their best view of the stage, it is clear to me that tonight’s gig is the fullest I’ve ever seen the O2 Academy. Bodies are squashed together in a way that Londoners have become bizarrely accustomed to via their experience on the London Underground. Limbs are pressed against torsos. Breathing space is reduced to tiny pockets of air and you can forget about trying to carry a round of drinks across the room, it just ain’t happening! (Incidentally, a two pint container of beer tonight is being sold as a Gwargantuan pint!)
If you were hoping to avoid a face full of “spew” tonight, then your ability to duck and cover has been dramatically diminished by the lack of space to move in. But, it’s too late to worry about that now, because here they come!…
Striding on to the small Islington stage, GWAR look utterly fantastic. Balsac stands stage right, easily seven feet tall with his Jaws Of Death snapping freely. Beefcake The Mighty takes his position at the opposite end of the stage; stocky and formidable in his chunky body armor and out-sized helmet. Then, leering from the rear, looking like a cross-breed experiment that went wrong, is the deformed dog-face of sticksman, Jizmak Da Gusha.
Any remaining space on the stage is filled by the impressive span of shoulder mounted antlers belonging to the horned ringleader, Blöthar the Berserker. He roars out a gruff introduction. The crowd respond at maximum volume and the madness begins.
Kicking off with The Salaminizer from the band’s defining album, Scumdogs Of The Universe, it doesn’t take long for the performance to reach the sort of stomach churning levels of splatter that the signs around the venue had warned us about.
During Krak Down, the band are confronted by a billy club wielding cop who attempts to stop the show. His efforts are thwarted by Blöthar, the policeman is sliced open and left to stagger and writhe while his torso gushes gallons of blood into the gleeful crowd. As if this wasn’t shocking enough, his eventual fate is to be sodomised with a lengthy pole and carried off like a human spit roast. All this and we are only on the second song!
I’ll Be Your Monster and Bring Back The Bomb prove that the band are dipping into a good mix of material from several albums whilst the carnage continues to unfold.
A willing stagehand in a rubberised Caitlyn Jenner outfit arrives to announce her pregnancy to the band. There appears to be some doubt as to which musician is the father. The band look momentarily sheepish before Bonesnapper arrives to deliver a grisly C-Section. Rough and unceremoniously, he pulls a remarkably well endowed fetus from Caitlyn’s bloody womb. It’s a messy operation and both Caitlyn and her newborn child spew a mixture of septic fluids into the audience.
It may or may not come as a surprise to know the crowd are tripping over themselves to receive the muck that is being piped out to them from the stage. Arms are held aloft, and faces are willingly sprayed with gore. People are literally lapping it up! Meanwhile Blöthar plays on the stage with the corpses of two dead children. It gets pretty dark.
Other characters are brought in to enhance the performance and add further dynamics. Bonesnapper returns to deliver a spirited rendition of his theme song from Battle Maximus, Pookie the dog is carried onstage and held aloft while he vomits blood for the duration of a song, and in a piece of pure pantomime, the villainous Sawborg Destructo turns up and attempt to murder his nemesis. He is beaten of course, but does manage a lead vocal on The Sordid Soliloquy of Sawborg Destructo.
The whole show is an absolutely twisted feast for the senses. In terms of pure effort to entertain, GWAR can deliver the sort of performance that will make every other gig you go to from this point seem like an anticlimax. There isn’t a moment in this evening’s set that hasn’t been augmented and enhanced to the point of MAXIMUM entertainment.
Maggots, Metal Metal Land and Ham On The Bone are all given an energetic outing, each song whipping the crowd into a suitable mosh that leads us to a final, jaw-dropping climactic Fuck This Place. A living effigy of Donald Trump is led onto the stage and made to perform sloppy fellatio on one of Blöthar’s phallic udders before he too is sliced up and disembowelled for one last cascade of blood.
A GWAR show is not for the fainthearted. It is depraved and full of dark humour. At times it can be disgusting to the point where laughter feels awkward. But as I described to a friend after the show – it’s a bit like watching South Park. Your jaw will hit the floor, you’ll often find yourself saying, “they can’t say/do that!” but you’ll be laughing along all the same. You could also consider it akin to a living, breathing horror film. Visceral and violent but all a complete fantasy with with a fantastic soundtrack.
And that brings me to a final, crucial point. If you stripped away all of the costumes and gore, all of the deranged set-pieces and necro-humour, GWAR are still a great band! They can play. They have the riffs and chops to deliver a set of great thrash metal and riotous punk; which is exactly what they did tonight, bringing things to an ultimate conclusion with GWAR Theme and Sick Of You.
As the house lights come on, and people turn towards the exit, it’s easy to see most faces are coated with a sticky residue that has no doubt worked it’s way into the fabric of their clothes too. I’d image a lot of us are going home to fire up the washing machine and have a hot shower, but judging by the smiles on peoples faces I say despite the need for a good scrub, we’d all do this again in a heartbeat.