Once upon a time, a high school freshman with dreams of one day becoming a world-famous music journalist boarded a school bus to find a handful of his classmates wearing white T-shirts covered in splashes of faded red ink. “What the hell happened to you guys?” the freshman inquired. “We saw GWAR last night,” one of the classmates replied. “Yeah,” another said, “GWAR Woman had her period all over us. It was awesome!” The freshman had never heard of GWAR, but he was immediately intrigued. The freshman’s classmates took no time enthusiastically filling their inquisitive friend’s head with stories of thrash metal musicians in monster costumes and a gigantic meat grinder that each of the boys had willingly let themselves be picked up and thrown into. That was just over thirty years ago. GWAR had either just released or was about to release their second studio album, Scumdogs of the Universe. Flash forward to 2022, GWAR is still at it, and their fifteenth studio album, The New Dark Ages, is about to be reviewed by that curious freshman from just over three decades ago.
For the uninitiated, GWAR come with their own mythos. Here’s a brief summation: Long ago, the future members of the band were a fighting force in outer space known as the Scumdogs of the Universe. Because each Scumdog obtained a “glaring reputation for being an intergalactic fuck-up,” they were cast out and charged with the lowly task of conquering Earth. As of the release of The New Dark Ages, the band find themselves lost in the Duoverse, which, according to GWAR’s press release is “like the multiverse, but shittier.” This time around, GWAR is partnered with a murderous woman named The Cutter. Along with The Cutter, GWAR are presently “fighting off living monuments and undead soldiers waging a New Civil War.”
The album’s title track opens The New Dark Ages with a bell tolling and tribal drums just before the band tear into the otherwise empty space with face-melting guitars and lead singer Blöthar the Berserker (Michael Bishop) shouting about flames, famine, and black death. Two thirds of the way in, a bridge arrives wherein GWAR switch into party mode, delivering a glam metal breakdown that has Blöthar singing, “So get your titties out and put ’em on the glass, clown britches down and shake your big fat ass.” “Blood Libel” offers some colorful imagery during the verses such as a 3 AM orgy followed by pizza, but the chorus it works up to is drab in comparison. For as limp as “Blood Libel” is, the song that follows, the record’s second single, “Berserker Mode”, more than makes up for its predecessor’s lameness. There’s some kick-ass drumming and lead guitar work here, and Blöthar sings his origin story, referring to himself as Oderus Urungus’ (Dave Brockie, GWAR’s lead singer from the band’s inception until Brockie’s death in 2014) usurper.
Lizzy Hale (lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Halestorm) guests on “The Cutter”. GWAR is in fine thrash metal form here as Blöthar and Hale sing about a woman who turned the blade away from her own wrist to slice up her enemies. Halfway into The New Dark Ages, the band shift gears a bit with the song “Rise Again” which utilizes an organ and a classic rock-esque lead guitar emoting throughout. Hey Steve guests on the bridge but you’d never know unless you read the liner notes. “Venom of the Platypus” is a fun moment that employs a retro synth and at one point has Blöthar asking ridiculous questions like, “How many ounces in a cup? Does rock cocaine get out blood stains? Tell me, where can I buy phlegm? What is my pronoun?” GWAR lean into eighties glam metal with “Ratcatcher”, a track that features a cowbell and a chorus reminiscent of something from an Alice Cooper album.
The New Dark Ages is concluded with the eleven-minute “Deus Ex Monstrum”. The song is the third part of a trilogy titled the “Death Whistle Suite”. The first quarter of “Deus Ex Monstrum” features eerie celestial ambience with echoey screams. This is followed by a glitched out, repeated dark guitar refrain. Now five minutes in, we’re forced to endure even more spacey atmospherics and more screaming before tribal drums roll in combined with more glitchy guitar … and more screaming, God help us all, then a painful minute and a half fade out into oblivion. Whew! If you remove the tedious “Deus Ex Monstrum” from its tracklist, The New Dark Ages is still clocking in at over fifty minutes of plenty of badass, extraterrestrial, savagely barbaric, no holds barred demon metal, so make of that what you will.