I can hardly believe the Scumdogs have been hitting their personal brand of splooge-drenched, foam latex-flinging free-for-all insanity for a quarter-century now… it’s weird, knowing that they’re even more outrageous than ever makes me feel both nostalgic and strangely invigorated. On the one hand, I remember seeing these guys throwing down demented punk-metal fusion numbers like “Vlad the Impaler” in a sleazy hole-in-the-wall club back in the mid-‘80s (and lemme tell ya, the pit-beatings I took back then make today’s mosh maniacs seem like rejects from an Eagles reunion); but I also feel re-animated, Herbert West-style, by the timeless power of loud, tasteless shock-rock… because, despite a few lineup changes over the years, GWAR still manage to market themselves pretty much the same way, and with even more demented energy than I remember from those early, goofy DIY splatter-shows.
But that’s enough romantic musing about a band whose frontman frequently sports a 24-inch latex… er, let’s just say “appendage” (with teeth, no less), and who tends to make roughly 73 references to cannibalistic alien butt-sex in the course of a single live set. Instead, let’s look at the band’s heavily-hyped return to their old label Metal Blade with their eleventh studio album Lust In Space. To borrow the famous tagline from cult film Pieces: it’s exactly what you think it is.
There’s something oddly comforting about the arrival of a new GWAR album – and not just the comfort of knowing it’s going to sound very much like the last GWAR album. I’m talking about that warm, scuzzy security that comes from the knowledge that these guys haven’t softened their approach one tiny bit in 25 years. Band leader Oderus Urungus (he of the aforementioned prosthetic thingie, otherwise known as the “Cuttlefish of Cthulhu”) is forever looking for new ways to offend, but like any good comic performer, sharpens his satirical skills with each new attack, adjusting his gunsights as current events offer him new targets… plus the added benefit that the band continues to grow tighter and more powerful musically, while sticking closely to the gritty sound that they first displayed on their early masterwork Scumdogs of the Universe, expertly tuned into a highly efficient machine with 2001’s Violence Has Arrived, and quite nearly perfected with the help of Strapping Young Lad’s Devin Townsend for their previous album Beyond Hell... to which this latest project bears a striking resemblance.
Alas, the band known for spraying their audiences with neon green goop manages to receive their own share of bitterly-flung filth from heavy metal devotees who look down on them as nothing more than a novelty act that plays around with the standards of the genre, the metal equivalent of circus clowns. That’s unfortunate, because there’s often some impressive style and technique going on underneath the latex appliances and arterial spray… and Lust In Space, while not much of a departure from its predecessor, makes an excellent case for that. I mean, when you get right down to it, it’s more about what well-known public figures will be duly molested, disemboweled and decapitated in effigy in their next tour, but those same subjects get sonically skewered on the CD as well.
Lust In Space could be considered a loose concept album, but honestly nearly every GWAR album is tied together with a vague concept expounding on the band’s well-known mythological backstory as a bunch of outer-space mutants exiled on Earth eons ago who emerged from their long Antarctic slumber to dominate puny humans with their newly-acquired musical skills. In this chapter of the saga, the band is actually planning on leaving our planet behind, but it doesn’t quite work out according to plan… or something like that. (If you want the band’s history chronicled in their own unique way, check out the bonus track “GWARnography” bundled with the digital download of the album.)
It’s easy to forget the lineup changes that have cycled through GWAR’s 25-year history, as some of the key “characters” have changed regularly – including lead guitarist Flattus Maximus and bassist Beefcake the Mighty – with Oderus (aka Dave Brockie) being the only original player left. Significant this time out is the return of Casey Orr in the role of Beefcake, mainly because he’s one of the few band members outside of Oderus to take on vocal duties lately – and he’s pretty good at it, as he demonstrates again by taking the mic on “The Price of Peace,” which is the most uncharacteristic of the songs here, but also one of the most memorable. The current Flattus, as assayed by Corey Smoot, also takes on vocal duties for the equally impressive “Release the Flies.”
One thing that’s distinguished GWAR musically in recent years is their abandonment of anthemic ‘80s-style arena metal (which itself shoved aside their decidedly punk influences from the early era (which peaked with Hell-O and Scumdogs) in favor of a more modern sound, which manages to make them more accessible to today’s headbangers while still keeping a greasy grip on the typically obnoxious GWAR lyrical stylings. The opening/title track illustrates immediately how they’ve slipped neatly into a tight metalcore mode – including the requisite breakdowns and gravelly vocals – without compromising their signature sound. “Damnation Under God” is ultra-heavy and decidedly thrash-tastic, and “The Uberclaw” speeds along like it’s got a diesel tailpipe. That said, the band hasn’t entirely lost sight of their punk-centric roots, as the first single “Let Us Slay” clearly illustrates. The only real throwback to their anthemic mid-period sound is the rousing, hilariously uplifting “Metal Metal Land,” which is certain to have just about any metal crowd chanting the chorus joyously in response. “Where Is Zog?” is another massive standout, with some inventive percussion, earth-shaking riffs and possibly Oderus’s most aggressive vocals ever.
Throughout all eleven tracks, the arrangements are remarkably tight and focused, even intricate (that’s saying something for a band whose instruments work double-duty onstage as torture devices), and used to excellent effect on cuts like “Lords and Masters” and “Make a Child Cry.” But that’s incidental to what makes GWAR the deviant dudes that we all know and love: hilariously disgusting lyrics, immature sex jokes and a complete lack of anything resembling good taste.
Lust in Space, like its predecessor Beyond Hell, is obviously one of those GWAR releases that will rally the faithful, but unlike some of their earlier lackluster albums, this one won’t necessarily alienate the less devoted. The riffs are precise, heavy and memorable, the beats are punishing and the band’s technical prowess is at its highest level in their history. Taken on its metallic merits alone, this is definitely one of GWAR’s best projects in many years, and Oderus and his odiferous gang were to depart for the stars forever, this album would make a decent monument to mark their point of departure.