No one in their right mind would ever accuse GWAR of being sentimentalists. Spend a mere two minutes in conversation with Oderus Urungus, expect to be served a litany of obscenity, contempt for Mother Earth and offers of sodomy. That's the character Dave Brockie pushes to the nth along with his gruesome bandmates. If you've never seen GWAR live, that's your misfortune, but breaking them down past their colossal latex and sanguinary Grand Guinol theatrics, well, goddamn if they aren't actual sentimentalists after all. To a degree, anyway.
"Battle Maximus", GWAR's thirteenth studio album, is appropriately titled in memory of Cory Smoot, aka Flattus Maximus, who passed away in November of 2011 from coronary artery thrombosis. It also serves to introduce Smoot's cousin Brent Purgason (from CANNABIS CORPSE), who assumes the new role of guitarist Pustulus Maximus as the band marches on in their continued reign of carnage.
For certain, Smoot had a certain flair that elevated GWAR's mucky sound after joining the group in 2002. Smoot was able to metal-up and finesse that which couldn't be finessed. If anything, GWAR's best-known albums "Scumdogs of the Universe", "America Must Be Destroyed" and "This Toilet Earth" were prime examples of chunk-blown splatterpunk. In recent years with Smoot's influence, GWAR turned into quite the prolific pack of metalheads as well as gorehounds. While not exactly masterworks, everything they've done since 2004's "War Party" has gained strength in cohesion and well, funny to say, GWAR's lately been just as much about the music as the image.
With Pustulus Maximus now holding court, GWAR sounds even heavier on "Battle Maximus", as if to homage Smoot while moving forward with a few extra inches of shitkicking terror in the shanks of their monster boots.
Purgason issues a statement right out the gate of "Battle Maximus" on the album's intro with an articulate guitar weave amidst a swirling synth that serves as the pulpit from which Oderus spills the album's opening narration. GWAR then wastes no time pouncing on the moment with a choppy though banging thrasher, "Madness at the Core of Time". What's more notable than the speed is hearing Pustulus Maximus take charge with wailing Ace Frehley-esque fret wrangles, along with Oderus' scat-screams that are so metrical you forget this band is at-heart slapstick.
The next track, "Bloodbath", comes with a somewhat complicated mix of industrial and proto metal, but the song's concentration is squashed by a scruffy brew of mosh and punk lines. Oderus' chuffing mantra of "dead bodies on the side of the road" erases any trace of seriousness led by the opening bars. In fact, "Bloodbath" feels like the old days with a new polish, and that should make veteran GWAR freaks super-happy. Ditto for the crunk-minded "They Swallowed the Sun", "Torture" and "I, Bonesnapper", the latter song finding Oderus hilariously rapping the lyrics and doing a stout job, at that. In fact, "Battle Maximus" as a whole may be Dave Brockie's finest vocal performance ever.
The double hammer from longtime crusher Brad Roberts as Jizmak Da Gusha on "Nothing Left Alive" nearly gives the impression the song is going to stay in that grinding mode. Yet GWAR goes berserk with at least twenty signature changes that gives Pustulus along with Balsac the Jaws of Death (Mike Derks) and Beefcake the Mighty (Jamison Land) mondo opportunity to riff the snot out of the song. Beefcake's nattering bass chops keeps "Nothing Left Alive" grounded despite its scattershot plodding, and stand by for Pustulus' wicked solo in the midst of the song's roving. Beefcake is all over the thrash 'n bash lunacy of "Mr. Perfect", where Oderus again woofs, raps and hucksters with such startling precision you almost forget to laugh at the whole thing.
As they've been doing of late, GWAR kicks the thrusters all over "Battle Maximus" even while countering their thrash blasts with doom and crunk. "Raped at Birth" is blazing quick in increments while Oderus chatters on the unsettling topic of child abuse, undermining it all with his inimitably disturbing goofery. It's sick to chuckle along when he yaps about his mother hitting him in the head with a pan, but for all of the comedic effects on the top, there is the dark proposition beneath that evil stuff like this does happen in so-called civilized society. Oderus claims we're all raped at birth later in the song while Pustulus tosses in a somber guitar solo that forces GWAR's vicarious minions from their listening stations to fall silent for just a moment and ponder the reality behind the farce.
The kickass title track erupts with an instrumental round robin of thrash, mosh and crunk modes, and Brent Purgason does a magnificent job blaring static and shredding the filament off of his strings. "Battle Maximus" is as loud and proud as anything in heavy metal history and it feels like a destined live staple in GWAR's future gigs. Purgason then peels the paint in nanoseconds with a blistering solo at the beginning and throughout the hopping "Triumph of the Pig Children". Hail, Pustulus!
The primary draw to GWAR is the sinewy allure of watching celebrities and politicians eviscerated onstage and dousing one's self in the spray of fake blood cannons. People want to come out of a GWAR show looking like they'd been there, and in their own way, GWAR is the nutty embodiment of mankind's inherent bloodlust. Some have argued that a GWAR album is just the excuse to bring their gore carnival to the masses. Yes, that's very much true, but GWAR has turned into quite a proficient beast in the studio over the past handful of albums. "Battle Maximus" isn't so much a killer rebound following the death of Cory Smoot, it's just killer, period.