Reviewed: August 2022
Released: 2022, PIT Records
Reviewer: Simon Wiedeman
GWAR are an American heavy metal/thrash/hardcore punk/crossover thrash/shock rock/comedy rock band who formed in 1984. Interestingly, they have a frequently rotating line-up of band members known as ‘Slave Pit Inc.’, so you never really know what you’re going to get. Even though frontman and lead vocalist Dave Brockie died in 2014, the band continued without any on its original members. They are notable for their freakish, barbaric monster costumes that could come from a cheesy science fiction film. They use larger than life, sexual and scatological humour, and more serious satire, too. For that reason, they have attracted both positive and negative attention. They released their latest album ‘The New Dark Ages’ on 3rd June 2022, through PIT Records.
The album kicks off with ’New Dark Age’ and a spooky clean guitar part in the style of Iron Maiden’s ‘Sign of the Cross’. A groove metal style follows and whilst the genre is supposed to be fairly stripped down, there’s nothing wrong with catchiness, and I wouldn’t really say such ideas were too interesting. The same chord gets played a little too much. Whilst NDA does later have some cool passages with eerily peaceful hi hats, kick drums and bass playing, saying a song is ‘hit and miss’ will excite no one. Unless of course, their music collection is rubbish. A (relatively) chilled 70s hard rock guitar riff (think Judas Priest’s ‘Rocka Rolla’ album) follows with the typical GWAR growled vocals and to be fair the mix of styles does make sense. The way the song later speeds up adds even more interest, but again, the riffs don’t impress as much as they could.
‘Blood Libel’ is a big improvement in that it starts off with a brutal start-stop riff (think Helmet) that evolves beautifully throughout the entire song, but not in such a way it comes across as too intellectual and serious. The mid section of the song is simply wonderful. Hard to predict, original and crazy. When that stuff is over you get the intro riff, but played softer with a great warm, overdriven tone. And naturally, the song ends just as heavy as it began. Super satisfying. ‘Berserker Mode’ is more 80s sounding and sounds like Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’, with its fast and muted pedal tone riff, the former just isn’t as heavy (I know ‘Painkiller’ came out in 1990 but the song COULD have came out earlier). The song isn’t really anything special, in fact it is far simpler than JP and without the legendary solos, but the notes from the instruments and vocalist are often well chosen.
‘Unto the Breach’ sounds like a cross between Candlemass and Soundgarden with its power chords that are both doomy and bluesy. Like the doomers, the singer has a rather theatrical voice, there. (If you want the ‘cooler’ Soundgarden style singing, you will likely be disappointed). ‘Completely Fucked’ even starts with a high-pitched Korn-style riff that’s drenched in effects, if the variety of genres the group played earlier weren’t enough for you. Then it turns into an uptempo rocker with a retro punk attitude, which is both interesting and strangely logical. ‘The Cutter’ is more hardcore punk styled with a mix of furious tempos, more moderate ones and crushing slower parts that are great for moshing to. Things get a bit trippy when creepy female vocals enter over early Black Sabbath style guitars, but again… it works.
Dare I say following track ‘Rise Again’ adds another sound to the experience? The soft intro keys sound like something Deep Purple’s keyboardist would play. And then come in the doomy guitars. Weird. But cool. Over the keys when they come back, the vocalist is more expressive, almost think Iron Maiden’s Paul Di’Anno in the song ‘Remember Tomorrow’, but with more of a growl. Coincidentally, later in the track there are some Maiden style twin guitar harmonies before a 70s rock axe solo in the style of Ted Nugent. ‘The Beast Will Eat Itself’ is a little more crazed and seems to have mild Sikth influences. ‘Ratcatcher’ has such a strong change in vocal style it comes across as weird more than interesting. I guess GWAR fans will be used to it with the frequently changing members, but I for one thought the vocals were too soft sounding. Not in an especially feminine way or anything, think early Status Quo.
‘Starving Gods’ is doomy in more of a depressive way than an evil way, with a bass line that makes you want to hang yourself. Not to worry, the music cheers up in an instant and switches to more hard rock/grunge. I’m partially reminded of ‘Teethgrinder’ by Therapy? The album ends with an epic, 11 minuter. Well, I was expecting it to be epic. Actually, the first two and a half minutes are just a load of noises, I guess you could call them ‘ambient’. I’m not sure if they really added anything to the album, but hey. After the unnecessary intro, you get some dark and repetitive clean guitar arpeggios. On top of them, there are guitar melodies that seem to have been edited on computer or something like that, which is a nice effect, but maybe undeveloped. Then you get more noises, eventually some drums, a woman screaming, and some distorted guitars. Arty or boring? I guess that’s for you to decide.
To conclude… Wow. What a range of styles you get. The drums are thick and powerful and highly skilled without taking attention away from the rest of the band, and the guitars are genuinely stylish. The vocals weren’t anything to get excited about for me, but I guess the guy’s pretty good, too. Lasting 1 hour and 12 minutes, it’s a fairly long album and you certainly can’t say it’s cliched, but are the riffs and melodies anything special? Only rarely. There are certainly highlights, but personally I didn’t really get much out of the extended length. Having said that, I only thought one song on the album (Blood Libel) was truly strong and the rest were fairly equal, so deciding what to bin would be a hard task. A fairly average album.