GWAR Battles Armies of Undead Soldiers on “The New Dark Ages” (Interview)
The Scumdogs of the Universe have returned. GWAR, the mutants from Antarctica (by way of Richmond, Virginia), have achieved many accolades as well as tragedies during their 38-year reign. On their newest and 15th full-length album The New Dark Ages, post-Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie, R.I.P. 2014) GWAR sound stronger than ever. Even after surviving deaths within the band, its musical vision hasn’t derailed since forming in 1984, while the band’s fan base has remained steadfastly loyal.
On The New Dark Ages, GWAR have grown into more of a traditional metal band with some of its trademark punk and thrash metal elements present as well. They stretch out a little bit more musically on this album by introducing new elements to the band’s sound with almost poppy passages, keyboard segments and melodic vocal harmonies. However, the band’s usual tongue-in-cheek humor is as boisterous as ever. The album concept is tied to a companion graphic novel, GWAR In The Duoverse Of Absurdity, released by Z2 Comics.
Current vocalist Blothar (aka. Mike Bishop), previously known as bassist/backing vocalist Beefcake the Mighty from 1987 to 1993 and again from 1998 to 1999, then taking over lead vocals in 2014 after Oderus' death. Blothar has grown into Brockie's monster shoes rather nicely, while adding a different dynamic to the classic GWAR sound. During a recent Zoom chat, Blothar explained the band’s sound, the new album, his vocal style and more.
What's the concept for the new album The New Dark Ages?
It's not hard to see that there is just crisis after crisis going on as humanity grows long in the tooth. And we never really should have allowed it to get that far. GWAR should have snuffed everything out a long time ago, but we didn't. And so it really does look like there's a kind of return to the original, or just a going back in time, in a sense, to the attitudes and the anxieties that characterized the Medieval period. When there was a sort of crisis of faith, were men going to govern themselves or did that power come from God? All of these different anxieties, all of the ways that humanity really turns to conspiracy and what inspired it. A great example is the "Blood Libel." There's a sort of modern retelling of these stories that are actually very ancient and based in old anxieties that humans had about particular "out" groups, and that really is exactly what happened. When you look at something like Adrenochrome and the QAnon theories… they're not new. It's a species of belief that's been around for a long time. And so seeing that, we wanted to comment on it.
How do you think The New Dark Ages compares to previous musical styles, because there's a lot of diversity on this album. What were you going for musically?
Musically, we wanted to do something that was distinctly GWAR, and that was not typical. I think that it would have been very easy to make Blood of Gods 2 or to even make something like a record like Beyond Hell where you have one person writing a lot of very metal based songs and you sort of go with that. And there's an instant consistency in the sound, and it's interesting. There's fans that want that. There's fans who want GWAR to sound like it sounded when they first discovered the band and when they first started loving it. And for many people, that is the sound of GWAR; Cory Smoot, Flattus Maximus and Oderus Urungus. And if that is your idea of what GWAR is, then it's over for you. I don't know what else to say. That's not coming back, right? Those guys are gone and that sucks, but it's true. I am not that kind of writer. BalSac is not that kind of writer. Pustulus is not that kind of writer. It's very liberating to not have to sound a certain way for every record. And since we have that ability, why not use it? Why not stretch ourselves out a little bit, musically. One thing that GWAR has always fought is people listening to the band and saying, “They can't play their instruments” or just sort of dismissing the music. Because the music is never going to get beyond that show, right? It's not going to be better than the experience of watching it. And all bands who have a performance aspect face that. GWAR for some reason… it's lasted a little bit longer, that kind of dismissal. I'm not going to say that fuels the band, but it's definitely something that I feel like this record should shut some people up about it. But it probably won't.
The New Dark Ages is the first new album in five years. Did COVID have something to do with the delay or were you just touring off the last album?
COVID definitely had something to do with the delay, and the other thing that happened was that we had a lineup change, which is hardly unusual for GWAR. That's also maybe why things sound different is that I'm playing bass on the record. I think my living in Florida slows down things a little bit, but far and away the biggest impediment was not really being able to travel during the pandemic. And that's really what slowed things down. I think the record would have been done at least a year if not two years earlier than it was.
I've read that you compare this album to the band's early ’90s material. Of course, you were in the band as Beefcake playing bass. What were those early days like coming up with the band and what led to your departure in the first place?
The record does have a feel that I think could say it's ’90s-era GWAR. It’s not a strictly metal album, it does bring in all of these other musical influences. So in that way, I think it harkens back to the time before GWAR really found its feet. And GWAR needed to do that, the band needed to find their feet with a metal audience. It's a good thing that they did, and those records are great from that time period. We may wind up doing a record that has more of that feel to it, but just for this one, that's not what we were feeling. And it's not what was coming out when we were standing in the room together and making up riffs. I left GWAR because I had a lot of other musical interests, and I was exhausted and tired of it. And it had stopped mattering to me as much as it should have to keep doing it. And there's no reason to do something that you're not feeling 100 percent. So, I wanted to do something else, and I did. It has always been fun to be in GWAR until it's not. And then it gets hard. The experience of being in GWAR, especially after having done tours with bands that don't do the things that GWAR does on stage, you realize that this is an exceptionally difficult gig. It's really a hard band to be in. So, it has to be fun, it has to be something that you like doing, and that you look forward to doing for it to really feel right. In the ’90s, I think it was different because there were so many people that were involved in making the show. And now it's not really that way, there's fewer people involved in making the show. Back then, you could make a record like America Must Be Destroyed, where you had all of these voices on it and all of these characters. This time, it's a little different. These characters… GWAR has always been very lucky because there were so many people who could sing in the band. But we still wanted it to have that sort of ensemble feel that feels very important to GWAR. The idea that everybody has something to say and that all of those things come out is really sort of the spirit of the band.
Post-Oderus, with you stepping in pretty nicely, you have a different dynamic to your voice. On this album, it seems like you're really stepping out. Some of the songs sound almost dare I say, poppy, but very catchy, especially some of the choruses and vocal harmonies. What were you going for vocally?
There's two things; one is that… actually, there's way more than two things. There's a million things! (laughs). I have a different voice type than Oderus. I am basically a high tenor, and Oderus had the gift of a rich baritone. So I have to find different ways to use that voice to still create GWAR. Vocally, and as far as songwriting goes on the record… it's funny because people are actually very astute when they launch criticisms of the band. People have listened to “Mother Fucking Liar” and they say it's too simple; it’s so simplistic. And one thing that we are trying to do is, and I did this in the songs that I wrote for GWAR always, it’s just that I didn't write all the songs, and that is to keep it to one page of lyrics. Oderus would never do that. Oderus had a lot to say and he would expound with a lot of lyrics. There are a lot of lyrics on every GWAR song. Except maybe something like “Ham on the Bone,” but those are only very occasional that he would really write that way and he kind of stopped after America Must Be Destroyed, I think. Oderus kind of got away from that way of writing. All of the songs have a lot of words, and he didn't focus a lot on hooks. I can't do that, it's not what I do musically. I'm more interested in writing songs that are structurally sound and that have pre choruses and choruses in it. You use those kinds of things, then it's going to have what people would think is a pop music feel. But the truth of the matter is that, you listen to any Motörhead album, and Lemmy is one of the most traditional songwriters around, or he was. Just formally, those songs are shaped a certain way. On GWAR records… a lot of that is the vocals. It's the voice. Oderus didn't follow rules, and that was cool. I'm not saying that I'm following rules, but I definitely am more focused on creating songs that work as songs. That's a little more important to me. For Oderus, I think it was more about telling a story with every song.
I think “Mother Fucking Liar” is an awesome track that contains an early ’90s New York hardcore swagger. This one's going to go down like gangbusters in the live setting. But are you calling out a specific person or persons or group?
Not a particular person. There is a kind of loss of truth, though, that seems to me to be the major problem of our times is that people can't really discern what's true anymore. And the reason they can't is because there is just a constant stream of bullshit. Look at what Russia is doing, and even people can't agree. People can't agree on what is real anymore. And that is new. That is a new situation. And I think that's where you get the “new” in The New Dark Ages. It's going back to the ways of thinking in some senses, and the old problems and the old issues. But there's this new wrinkle and that wrinkle is the power of technology and communication that has facilitated this loss of truth. And that's what the song is about, but it's really not directed toward anyone in particular. That's part of the art of songwriting. We only bring half of the meaning to it. The rest of it is what you bring to it as a person who listens or experiences it.
Talk about the idea for the accompanying comic book. How did this come about?
We wanted to do something big with this release. During the pandemic, one of the things that GWAR did… the main thing we had to do was survive. So, we started getting better at marketing and merchandising, and we didn't really have a choice. It's a band that has a big studio with a bunch of stuff. Even just to store all the stuff that GWAR has costs a lot of money. So, we had to find a way to make our monthly nut. Sadly and unluckily, our former manager died right at the beginning of the pandemic. So we had to get a new manager. We were very fortunate because we found a management company… and people might be saying, “Well, yeah, it's Sleazy P Martini!” (laughs) And it certainly is! We found the real Sleazy P Martini. And that organization has been helping us a lot. And one of the things that they did was they knew we wanted to make comics so they stretched their legs into that area and found Z2. I don't know exactly how the connection was made, but that's how we got started. Our management company really secured that deal for us.
The Black Death Rage of World Tour is kicking off in mid-May and then I think in August you'll be headed to the UK.
We have a US tour, we leave in the middle of this month with Goatwhore, Nekrogoblikon and The Native Howl, which should be fun. Every band is interesting in its own way. I really can't wait to see The Native Howl. I’m very excited about that, and I’m curious what our fans will think of them. That goes until the middle of June, so it's really just about a month out on the road. Then after that, The New Dark Ages comes out in June, it'll come out while we're out. And then we go to Europe in July, we'll play Wacken and Bloodstock. That'll be a lot of fun. We also in July have a GWAR documentary that's going to be coming out, and that's really exciting. We have an announcement about that coming out. It's a powerful piece of work. I think people will get a lot out of seeing it.
The New Dark Ages releases June 3rd, 2022, via GWAR's own label Pit Records. Get it on double white vinyl.