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No band should have to endure what GWAR has endured over the past two years. On November 3, 2011, the band found their guitarist Cory Smoot dead at a border checkpoint while on tour. A medical examiner later revealed that the cause of death was brought about by heart disease. While the death of any band member would be a massive blow or threaten any band’s stability, Smoot’s death hit GWAR especially hard. His production and mastery of the guitar breathed new life into the band immediately upon his debut in War Party
and continued to do so throughout his tenure. GWAR has carried on in Smoot’s honor, and with the release of Battle Maximus, they’ve successfully continued the man’s legacy.
Carrying the torch for lead guitarist is Cannabis Corpse’s Brent Purgason, playing the role of new character Pustulus Maximus. The addition of the Purgason is a welcome one. From War Party
to Bloody Pit of Horror
, GWAR had been getting heavier and heavier. Smoot was a big proponent of unrelenting brutality as seen in the creeping death influences as well as the nearly subsonic eight string guitars. With Pit, the band had gotten about as heavy as they could get before starting to shed some of the satirical aspects of their sound. While part of me wishes I could have seen what a full-on death metal album from GWAR would have looked like, I’m glad that Purgason seems to have pulled them back a little bit. Battle Maximus
doesn’t skimp on the punishing heaviness of the last few in songs like “Torture”, the new songwriting dynamic has pushed the band past pure heaviness while simultaneously reaching back into their thrashy past.
In some moments, Battle Maximus almost feels like there’s bits of progressive metal seeping in. I don’t mean in the fourteen minute Crack the Skye
sense, but more in the fact that some of these songs consist of innumerable sections. Take, for example, “Madness at the Core of Time”. The intro throws a squalling lead out before, the verses delve into chunky, stuttering riffs while lead Scumdog Oderus Urungus barks over the chaos. The chorus then effortlessly slides into a double-bass driven thrash while morphing into oddly timed guitar riffs. The song continues like this. On its face, this sounds like the recipe for disaster, but as with all progressive music, each piece fits and morphs into the next seamlessly. This approach is also utilized on “They Swallowed the Sun” and the instrumental “Battle Maximus”, but the band’s trademark blunt-force trauma and humor remains intact. “Bloodbath” immediately takes its place a shout-along setlist staple, “Raped at Birth” grinds the listener with its low-end assault, and “I, Bonesnapper” lets the band’s long-suffering stagehand take the fore.
A few niggling issues prevent Battle Maximus
from joining the band’s best work alongside Lust in Space
and America Must Be Destroyed
. The band’s attempt at a power ballad in “Falling” is misguided and nearly derails the entire album’s momentum up to that point. The production also hampers this album, especially on the vocals. Oderus’s barking yelp can be difficult to understand in the best of circumstances, but the vocal doubling here makes the man indecipherable at more than a few points. The rest of the album also feels just a tad flat on the production side, especially when put up against the crisp attack of the last few albums. However, the songs are impeccably written, arranged, and performed despite these issues, and the album as a whole functions as a surprisingly heartfelt tribute to their lost comrade while still managing to remind everyone that GWAR still has a few tricks up its sleeve, even in its third decade of existence.
2. Madness at the Core of Time
4. Nothing Left Alive
5. They Swallowed the Sun
7. Raped at Birth
8. I, Bonesnapper
9. Mr. Perfect
10. Battle Maximus
11. Triumph of the Pig Children
13. Fly Now