It would be hard to say that the last couple of years haven’t been uncertain ones for GWAR. That isn’t to say there was any concern that the band wouldn’t continue after the untimely passing of guitarist Cory Smoot in 2011 (GWAR’s the kind of band which could carry on forever with different members indefinitely, in theory) but, given that the band was really riding on a creative high with the help of Smoot’s guitar work on War Party, Beyond Hell and Lust In Space, there was just the question of how the music might change with another new awe-man on board. All those questions fall away with the release of Battle Maximus – GWAR’s thirteenth studio album – as the band immediately proves that, while they’ve definitely changed, the results amount to a fantastic turn and new chapter for the band.
After a synth-saturated introduction issued by Oderus Urungus which pays a bit of tribute to Smoot in the sweetest way one might be able to expect of the character, listeners will be knocked clean off their feet as “Madness at the Core of Time” stampedes out and just tramples listeners. New guitarist Brent Purgason (as Postulus Maximus – the new character introduced after Flattus Maximus was retired following Smoot’s passing) sounds the charge here, with guitar chops (which sound borne of equal parts ‘shred metal’ and ‘Ace Frehley’) blazing proudly up front for all to see. Longtime fans of the band will be shocked (in a good way) at this early assault; while not exactly the most muscular permutation of GWAR’s sound, “Madness at the Core of Time” definitely makes a positive case for the band’s enduring vitality, and fans will be won over easily by it.
While the glammy guitar tone sounds good initially, it fades out completely after “Madness at the Core of Time” closes, and Purgason just gets shred-dier and shred-dier as the album progresses and songs like “Bloodbath,” “Nothing Left Alive” and “They Swallowed The Sun” rip through their respective run-times and leave listeners running to catch up. For their respective parts, the other band members (especially bassist Jamison “Beefcake The Mighty” Land) don’t just keep up with Purgason, they’re right there assaulting listeners with him at a running pace. Oderus spits bile better and sloppier than he has in a while throughout these songs, and Beefcake The Mighty (who has always tended to tread a little closer to the hardcore end of the metal spectrum anyway) really seems to have found a life-mate in Purgason; the connection between them is obvious. Throughout these thirteen songs, the duo matches each other for tempo at every turn, and the results are as frenetic as they are phenomenal.
While the band does come dangerously close to lightening up for the two minutes and forty-nine agonizing seconds it takes for GWAR to play out “Falling,” it is really the only grievous misstep on Battle Maximus. It is ultimately forgettable though; no disrespect to Smoot’s memory, but Battle Maximus is GWAR’s best album in years.
Battle Maximus will be released on Metal Blade on September 17, 2013
Bill Adams is editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com