Let’s just go ahead and address the elephant in the room: The Blood of Gods, GWAR’s fourteenth (!) full-length studio album, is also the band’s first since the death of much-beloved vocalist Dave “Oderus Urungus” Brockie in 2014. One could be forgiven for having a difficult time imagining GWAR without Oderus, who was as good of a frontman as any, but fans need not worry: The Blood of Gods is as good as anything GWAR have ever made.
Truth is, as successful as GWAR have been, the metal community takes them for granted. In our defense, it’s easy to forget that they’re talented musicians and songwriters when they’re spraying piss and blood in our faces. The band has been largely overshadowed by their larger-than-life personas and hilariously tasteless stage show; The Blood of Gods serves as a strong reminder that GWAR aren’t just KISS for the Howard Stern generation. If you put the band’s members in t-shirts and jeans instead of oversized armor and genitalia, it would not change the fact that this is a damn fine record.
Even without Oderus, Blood feels like a throwback. GWAR have always been a metal band first and foremost, but in the ’90s, their output was actually fairly diverse, incorporating a wide array of influences from across the spectrum of hard rock and punk. That has generally been less true of 21st century GWAR; albums like Lust in Space, Bloody Pit of Horror, and Battle Maximus are great, but the absence of songs in the more upbeat, punkier, dare I say ‘poppy’ style of “Saddam a Go-Go,” “The New Plague,” and “Fishfuck” was somewhat conspicuous.
Such is not the case with Blood, which may very well be the band’s most varied-sounding album since This Toilet Earth. Album opener “War on GWAR” is a seven-minute-plus prog opus that melds Sabbath with viking metal; “Viking Death Machine” is as rockin’ a retro jam as anything on the last Valient Thorr album; “El Presidente” is like a ska show tune, and “Swarm” is like a power metal song if power metal songs had cojones; Judas Priest haven’t written a Judas Priest song as good as “I’ll Be Your Monster” in some time; “Auroch” and “Crushed by the Cross” are thrash rippers as mosh-worthy as anything on the most recent albums by Metallica and Overkill; and, of course, tribute is paid to Oderus in the form of the anthemic “Fuck This Place” and a surprisingly-earnest-sounding power ballad, “Phantom Limb.” The multifariousness of the material goes a long way towards making The Blood of Gods such an enjoyable listen. Furthermore, every musician on the album sounds top-notch, with special MVP performances by lead guitarist Pustulus Maximus (né Brent Purgason), who provides a number of memorably tasty solos, and new frontman Blöthar (former ‘Beefcake the Mighty’ Michael Bishop). Oderus’ ghost may haunt The Blood of Gods, but it must be said, Blöthar has more range as a singer than his predecessor.
(Bohabs, please don’t hurt me or my family for pointing that out. It doesn’t mean I don’t love Oderus. I don’t love Blöthar more than I loved Oderus, just differently.)
This is not to say that the album is perfect. There are back-t0-back dead spots in the form of “The Sordid Soliloquy of Sawborg Destructo” and “Death to Dickie Duncan,” the former of which takes too long to get to the good part, the later of which is fine so long as you don’t compare it to the rest of the record. And the album’s closer, a cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” (possibly intended as a reference to the group’s cameo in Empire Records?), is guilty of the same crime as most covers — the band didn’t really do much to make it their own. Again, it is by no means bad, but I’m not sure why anyone would ever choose it over the original.
But these are fairly minor quibbles. The Blood of Gods does not suggest that GWAR are slowing down anytime soon; it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser which proves that the band can continue to be great despite their tragic loss. Oderus would be proud.