Metal never really gets the credit it deserves. Behind the seemingly impenetrable wall of sound – that rush of gruff vocals, ear-shattering drumming, whiplash-inducing guitar work and pounding bass – rests something irresistible. The aural atmospheres seem to plug into a part of the brain that releases visceral, animal like urges that are then burnt up in the energy needed to head-bang, mosh, crowd-surf and morph one’s hands into the shape of devil horns whilst displaying it in the air. It can culminate into a moment of pure bliss for the right kind of person.
For that person, there is, always has been and, if history has anything to say, always will be GWAR. The band of alien conquerers from a distant planet (aka Richmond, VA) have been toiling away for a quarter of a century, and in that time they’ve made metal into an art. The quintet know the finer aspects of the genre and what is so appealing about metal across the board, and are able to translate that into one fluid creation.
Going to a GWAR show is something like vaudeville for metalheads: You’re going to get a performance that cuts to the chase, that heaps on the thrash metal licks, riffs and fist-pumping jams and that doesn’t hold back on the entertainment. And only those who appreciate the art of it all will understand it – everyone else can catch up.
Seeing GWAR perform is akin to a work of art, even to an outsider. The band’s career-spanning setlist provides the skeleton to a range of entertainment for the audience. An overarching story flows through the skeleton like blood. Though the story is as thinly veiled as the plot in a porn movie – something about the band going back into space and fighting lots of people – it pulls the entire show together, and allows GWAR to deliver the goods. The meat of the issue is what makes the GWAR experience for the fans. Between and during humorous songs about the domination of earth and hunting down Saddam Hussein are buckets of blood shot at the audience, loosely choreographed fights with gigantic robots and well-known public personalities and a whole lot of body dismemberment that would appear to be straight out of a Peter Jackson B-movie.
Clearly, GWAR isn’t for everyone. As the band came through Chicago’s House of Blues, they had the routine down pat, but certain parts left little to be desired. Sure, the urge to yell “too soon” when an effigy of Michael Jackson or Barack Obama was brought onstage was strong. Yes, singer Oderus Urungus’s stage banter was unhealthily filled with mentions of crack-cocaine to the point that he seemed as addicted to using crack as a joke-crutch as his character appeared to actually be addicted to the drug. And perhaps the constant flow of fake blood and bodily fluid was a little too profuse.
But, then again, isn’t that the point of GWAR? The band is as much a satire of two polar ends of metal – that of its dark qualities and the comedic novelty – as it is a celebration. Though it may seem like a tasteless endeavor, the fact that this band has lasted long enough to do a 25th year tour and still have the desire to perform as the darkest court jesters in music is something to admire. Even if some of the jokes fall flat, those that stick haven’t gone away, and the group’s serious focus on putting together such an act day in and day out, year in and year out is something to admire. And on Monday, they hit note for note, and spilt blood for blood, perfectly in time.
Now that’s art.