Crush! Kill! Destroy! Hot on the heels of 2004's critically and financially successful War Party, GWAR releases Beyond Hell, an album chock full of fierce howls, growls, and senseless slaughter. Their first concept album since 1997's bloated We Kill Everything, the band manages to retain their recent return to form while telling a new chapter of GWAR mythos. This time, GWAR has been attacked in their antarctic fortress by the Nazi pope. After defeating him, the band ventures into the bowels of hell aided by Jitler, the amalgamated form of Jesus and Hitler. Finding the devil, the band challenges him to a duel in true GWAR style. Produced by Devin Townsend of Strapping Young Lad, the songs and sound of Beyond Hell are bound to fill any slave’s heart with glee...before his spine is ripped from his throat.
While GWAR’s late `90s concept albums were filled with valiant but misdirected musical styles, including ventures into jazz, rap, and funk, the musical backing for this album is straight heavy metal, a cross between Violence Has Arrived and War Party. The music is kept lean, with rapid drums and thrash style guitars pushing the music forward. Oderus Urungus’s voice is the usual blend of broken glass and feline growls supplemented by the occasional lounge singer style crooning. Whereas War Party had short songs with memorable riffs, Beyond Hell is similar to Violence Has Arrived in that the songs are structured in a less standard manner. Songs break down in unexpected places to allow for storytelling, fluid melodies are forgone in favor of a wall of sound, and the vocals change style mid-song and even mid-line. While this makes for a more challenging album, worthy of repeat listens, it sacrifices the memorable riffs and classic, polished type songs found in War Party. The melody and riffs of "Bonesnapper" and "Bring Back the Bomb" recall themselves long after the album has completed, but remembering the guitar parts of "Eighth Lock" or "Back in Crack" is more difficult.
Lyrically, the new album sits right up there with GWAR’s early `90s efforts. Long-time fans will be pleased to hear the usual tales of battle and murder and necrophilia. New fans will (hopefully) recognize the humor and be able to discern just when a line is supposed to be funny. Interestingly, the political messages of War Party have been dropped almost entirely for commentary on the rock and roll lifestyle, as seen in GWAR re-killing a fan in "The Ultimate Bohab" and denouncing drug-addled rock stars in "Destroyed." And as always, GWAR’s punk roots show through in "I Love the Pigs," a “tribute” to dead policemen.
The album wraps up with a bonus track, a cover of Alice Cooper’s classic "School’s Out." With a song as well written as "School’s Out," it is almost impossible not to do it justice, no matter how it is played. This holds true as the band pays homage to the grandfather of their art, and delivers a smashing rendition complete with GWAR-iffied lyrics. A small gripe is the presentation of "School’s Out" as a bonus track. It almost feels as though the band is saying “You’ve heard the album, now here’s a single we have left over!” which negates the punch of the album’s ending (reminiscent of the two bonus tracks on Slayer’s Reign in Blood or the Judas Priest re-masters). Rather than including the song as a bonus track, perhaps it would have been better to position "School’s Out" as part of the album and use it as a grand finale to the adventure, rather than just an add-on. Nevertheless, this is a small point to ponder.
All in all, GWAR delivers another monster album, fit to be stacked next to their best. Devoid of filler and full of decapitations, impalings, and good plain fun, veterans will be more than happy to be covered in blood at the upcoming tour to these new tunes. Newbies will certainly marvel or at least be mortified by an album which defines what GWAR stands for. But, maybe a better introduction to the world of intergalactic barbarians and countless killings would be Scumdogs of the Universe, America Must Be Destroyed or even War Party. Listening to those albums first make Hell a great place to end up.