Ode to GWAR, ode to heavy metal integrity
Standing in the photo pit last week between heavy metal icons GWAR and a sold-out roaring audience at The Orange Peel in Asheville was something to behold — more so a spectacle of unknown possibility and artistic merit.
Aside from the vocal thrashing of lead singer Blothar (aka: Michael Bishop) layered atop a foundation of razor-sharp guitars, drums and bass of endless melodic depths, the ensemble is a wild-n-out, must-see showcase of space oddity, hard rock and die-hard music freaks.
“There’s just stuff exploding [everywhere]. Our amps blowing up and drum set flying apart. We’ve got slaves working behind the scenes to make the show happen or they suffer the wrath of their lords and masters,” guitarist Pustulus Maximus (aka: Brent Purgason) told The Smoky Mountain News. “And when I see the smiles on those faces in the crowd, that’s the cue to change it up and do something disappointing — because the last thing I want to do is entertain anyone.”
Whether you take Pustulus’ words at face value or simply suspend belief and dive headfirst into the legend and lore of GWAR, what does remain is a well-oiled musical showcase of unrelenting sight and massive sound now entering its 38th year — on the road and in your face.
Throughout the insanely theatrical performance, the musicians perform numerous stage settings of death and destruction, of pillaging and conquering, usually ending in the audience getting sprayed in wave after wave of fake blood and real insults.
“I don’t think country [music] fans want to get blood sprayed on them as much as rock and heavy metal fans do. So, it kind of boils down to that,” Pustulus said. “[Next year] will be 10 years [for me in GWAR]. [By then], I will have made it as the longest running lead guitar player of the band. At that point, I could possibly quit [or] kill myself onstage and be done with it.”
Formed in Richmond, Virginia, by lead singer Oderus Urungus (aka: Dave Brockie) in 1984, GWAR has spent decades acquiring a reputation as one of the most vile and outrageous concerts one might ever come across, either on purpose or by accident. At the core of GWAR is a genuine ethos of tension and release, of finding yourself in the chaos that is everyday life, for good or ill.
But, back then (and even to this very day), GWAR were labeled social pariahs by parental groups and media outlets, something that only increased the band’s range and fanbase — across the country and around the world.
Although true to its own unique style, tone and stage presence, GWAR was forged from the heavy metal and punk influences of the 1970s and 1980s, which to Pustulus (a lifelong rock-n-roller) are the likes of Motorhead and AC/DC — two groups of artistic integrity and pure attitude in an often-diluted music industry.
“You’ve got to have integrity. It’s the only thing that once you sell it, you really don’t ever get it back. [For me], it’s just about the music and the art — nothing else,” Pustulus said. “GWAR gets accused of selling out and all kinds of other shit. But, if that was the case, then why do I have to go back to work at Burger King every time I come back from tour?”
With the untimely passing of Brockie in 2014, GWAR continued on. Bassist Beefcake the Mighty took over as lead vocalist and became Blothar. The lineup may have shifted, and so perhaps the sound, too. But, the mission and show never once lost a step.
“We didn’t want someone who was a carbon copy of Oderus Urungus. And that would have been impossible in order to fill anyways — his voice was so unique,” Pustulus said. “So, we did the next best thing and took the reincarnated soul of Beefcake the Mighty. It just seemed important to keep [the singing] in the family — someone who’s not only familiar to the band, but also familiar to the fans, and to the creative part of the original sound and art.”
At the dark heart of GWAR and its galactic quest to annihilate and capture its listeners remains a rebellious entity that has endured decades of trials and tribulations — where nowadays sold-out appearances are the norm and the visual quality of the live experience is second-to-none.
“When we started in the 1980s, kids were looking for something. There’s was a lot of rebelling going on — some of it was misguided, some of it productive,” Pustulus said. “Rebelling is why they got into [GWAR]. They were people who may not have felt like they fit in at home or may not have fit in at school. When you’re in this crowd, you’re generally accepted — we will give you a home, at least temporarily until we sell you into human trafficking.”