GWAR - Live in Santa Cruz (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Live in Santa Cruz (2012)

live show

How foolish was I to think that a little thing like death would slow down the inter-stellar marauders GWAR? Just over a year ago, GWAR suffered a dual tragedy when their guitarist, Flattus Maximus, stole their ship and returned to the stars while favored slave Cory Smoot tragically passed away from a genetic heart defect. But, while a normal band would take some time to regroup and contemplate their existence, GWAR charged forward without pause and decided to challenge God himself on their "Fate or Chaos" tour where they inquired as to whether the universe was controlled by a divine hand or was nothing greater than the result of trillions of atoms cascading off one another. At their Nov. 5 show in Santa Cruz, Calif. they answered the question.

The "Fate or Chaos" tour is the third of three GWAR tours of note in a row. Two tours ago happened to be the last tour featuring Flattus Maximus who would flee to the stars shortly thereafter as well as the last tour in which Cory Smoot, who re-energized the band in the early 2000s after five or so years of mediocre songwriting, would remain in GWAR's enslavement before passing away.

Then, after the departure of both members, GWAR, for only the second time in their 28-year history, toured as a four-piece and ended each show with a moving dedication to both Flattus and Smoot.

Having taken but moments to lick their wounds, GWAR has drawn new guitarist Pustulus Maximus into their fold. Because the band did seem affected by the departure of their members, it's hard to read the "Fate or Chaos" tour as anything other than an assault on the universe. It would seem that the band is trying to discern if Smoot's passing is the result of a plan or if they are just whims to electrons with no deeper meaning.

Although GWAR tours during election season usually feature some sort of presidential debate, with heavier topics on their mind, the band brought Mitt Romney on stage at the beginning of the show and unceremoniously tore him to shreds, being sure to spread blood on the audience.

The band then began their metaphysical dissection of the universe's structure and opened the show with "The Horror of Yig," an ode to a Chaos-entity in the nether regions of space who kills things for the sake of it and nothing more. Perhaps insulted by the paean to a pagan power, God himself appeared in an incorporeal form, manifesting only as light and His Holy Voice, and stated that he would kill GWAR for their very existence.

The concert then consisted of the band tearing through their set while killing agents of God, including priests. Interestingly, while Flattus Maximus and Smoot where a presence on the newer GWAR catalogue, instead of reverting back to their more classic formulation, GWAR continued pushing their discography forward, and played a set composed of mostly songs that were written while Smoot was in GWAR's servitude. In addition to playing most of their newest hits, including "War Party," "Hail Genocide," "Let Us Slay" and "War is All We Know," the band delved into some older semi-rarities, including "Saddam a Go Go" and "Wharghoul."

But, while the set-choice was daring in its usage of mostly newer songs, the band's sound was markedly different than with Flattus' tenure. Flattus Maximus' style seem to be pulled from the European metal technical style, existing as a highly ornate string of precise shredding, with some American style loose aggression pushing the intensity upwards. But, Pustulus Maximus' style seems to be entirely American. Seemingly tuned to a lower key than Flattus, Pusutlus' guitar is thick and heavy, resembling in sound and mass the powerful, gut wrenching stoner and doom guitar legends Sleep, Corrosion of Conformity and St. Vitus, but energized by the rest of the band to a much faster and more ferocious tempo. The result is a sound that Pustulus' sound is murkier than Flattus' sound, but also more massive.

Mid-way through the concert, in order to get back at God, to band did the most insulting thing they could think of and crucified Jesus…and then cut off all his limbs. Curiously, GWAR flunkie Bonensapper the cave troll was assigned the unenviable, and probably most heretical, duty of ramming the Holy Lance into Jesus' torso.

Later on, God resurrected Jesus as "Cyborg Jesus," who was no half machine and whole lot beefier. Again GWAR battled the robotic Christ and eventually bested him in a prolonged battle. Upset that GWAR was making a stronger argument for chaos ruling the universe over divine will, God himself challenged GWAR to a battle in His physical form. I'll not give away the twist ending, but suffice to say, I'd argue that every person in attendance was caught off guard by God's final form and the resulting climatic confrontation (particularly considering the fact that Santa Cruz residents, generally, are enveloped in a cloud of weed, meth and/or burning rubber and are caught off guard by things as simple as postage). At any rate, the question of the universe's mechanism was answered, though the band did not make it clear if the answer was fulfilling.

Their foes defeated, GWAR was treated to a congratulatory appearance by President Obama, who, of course, was mutilated by the band.

For their encore, the band played their now famous cover of Kansas' "Carry on My Wayward Son" with Oderus adding the new lyrics "Why don't you get off the couch and get a fucking job!" The show ended with their standard "Sick of You" which, while a crowd pleaser, perhaps is becoming a little overused. In addition, the band shoved fans into a huge meat grinder chopping them down into tiny strips of human meat.

Still, GWAR's new sound is a success. The latest formation is still loud and mean, but a bit more thick and nasty, than previous incarnations. The new sound fits the band well and harkens back to their earlier punk days. It would seem that in lieu of despair, the band has chosen to carry onward, celebrating their fallen comrades instead of mourning the loss, paying tribute instead of trying to forget, moving forward instead of stagnating. Such is the duty of a Scumdog.