They’re creepy and they’re kooky—they’re altogether ooky.
They’re GWAR, and they’re back—despite losing singer / co-founder Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie) to drug addiction in 2014.
The theatrical metal mavens from Richmond, Va. have been bringing their singular brand of gore-drenched rock to the masses for more than 30 years now, dressing the part of ugly, exiled aliens who use music to bemoan their fates as cosmic castaways and assert their authority as Earth’s rightful overlords.
If you’ve been following GWAR mythology, you’re already aware of the group’s centuries-old banishment to Antarctica and training as politically-savvy (but socially and hygienically uncouth) entertainers by a Machiavellian music executive (Sleazy P. Martini). From 1988 debut album Hell-O and follow-ups Scumdogs of the Universe, America Must Be Destroyed, and This Toilet Earth the latex-clad ensemble has churned out hard-hitting guitar studio anthems and acted out their mayhem onstage with homemade costumes, props and set pieces.
Those masked menaces in Slipknot, Lordi, Mushroomhead have nothing on GWAR, whose human doppelgangers have been perfecting their Kiss-meets-Alice Cooper shock-rock for three decades. Burly bassist Beefcake the Mighty is a grotesque gladiator. Drummer Jizmak is a slobbering canine creature from Hades. Longtime rhythm guitarist Balsac the Jaws of Death has distended legs and a giant bear trap for a head.
Replacing the fallen Urungus on GWAR’s 14th album The Blood of Gods (due Oct. 20) is antlered Viking-thing Blothar, who assumed vocal duties (and udder-spewing) in 2015.
AXS spoke with cheeky lead guitarist Pustulus Maximus (who replaced late cousin Flattus Maximus in 2012) about GWAR’s determination to salaciously soldier into the future under (un)fresh leadership. The blue-faced fret board wiz was optimistic about the not-so-sudden shifting of gears, and enthusiastic about the band’s upcoming North American tour, which kicks off in Cleveland Oct. 21 (after a hometown gig in Richmond).
AXS: Hello, Pustulus! Are you currently in Antarctica, or at your “Slave Pit” headquarters in Richmond?
PUSTULUS MAXIMUS: We keep our slaves in Richmond. That’s where everybody keeps their slaves! This is the capital of the Confederacy, apparently. But we reside in Antarctica most of the time.
AXS: What was it like having Blothar signing on the new album? How did he fare his first time out behind the mic?
PM: Well, it’s the first time that the members of GWAR have heard and understood the lyrics before they’re laid down on tape, which was amazing. The outcome was magnificent. We had a great time recording it; we weren’t fighting tooth–and-tail. But we were blacked out the entire time.
AXS: The new song “El Presidente” plays like a deserving dig on the new commander-in-chief, who is throwing paper towels to reporters in Puerto Rico as we speak.
PM: I’m not sure if anyone has told him that this is America. But 45 is doing a pretty bang-up job f**king sh*t up left and right. “El Presidente” speaks to what’s going on right now, but it’s also a testament to what humankind has always done during important cultural times and pivotal elections. They tend to vote against their own interests in mass ways. I think one of the greatest accomplishments of government was to get poor people to look down on other poor people. You’ve got the lower middle class, who think they’re rich because they have access to iPhones and NASCAR. And the difference in wages is probably just a couple thousand dollars a year. And yet they look down on other people who have nothing but health coverage.
AXS: GWAR has always incorporated past presidents into the live show. Will 45 make an appearance on the new tour?
PM: Absolutely. He’s got to get onstage to get more attention for himself. He might even come out with his whole family on this tour. You never know!
AXS: Is “Phantom Limb” a band salute to Oderus, in the way a missing appendage might still be “remembered” by the rest of the body? Gone, but leaving that lingering sensation?
PM: Pretty much. But “Phantom Limb” is as much about us as a band as it is about Oderus Urungus. It really is a lot more to do with what we had to do to continue to be a band. Some people suggested we should feel guilty for doing what we’ve always done. Nobody ever posed the question, “What do you do with your life when somebody leaves this world?” What are you supposed to do? That’s kind of unfair to the members of the band, especially the ones who’ve dedicated their entire lives to this thing. We could’ve easily gotten jobs at Burger King and done way better for ourselves. But we chose the path of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll—for your enjoyment, quite frankly. It’s offensive when people think we shouldn’t do it anymore. F*ck it. Is it wrong to carry on when it’s all we’ve ever had?
AXS: “Crushed by the Cross” is another scathing indictment of organized religion, which GWAR are renowned for doing. Not anti-spiritual, but anti-institution.
PM: GWAR has been vehemently anti-religion in the past. But this one definitely speaks to what’s been going on in the world today. You put enough faith into it, it’s really going to crush your life and take everything with you. You lose your rights, your independent thoughts and feelings. You base it all on these outdated books, like the Bible. I wrote that thing thousands of years ago! It was supposed to be like a comic book, but all the picture pages got lost. But if you look at the Bible, it’s full of rape and incest and wizardry. It’s great stuff!
AXS: The record ends with a great cover of AC/DC’s “You Want Blood, You Got It.” I recall hearing your terrific cover of “Carry On, Wayward Son” by Kansas a couple years back.
PM: Honestly, the cover song thing isn’t something we’ve perpetuated for any specific reason other than this show we were on, the internet show "AV Undercover"—which is hosted by a subsidiary of The Onion, The AV Club. They brought us on for four or five years or so, and for those who don’t know, they pick about a dozen bands and a dozen songs, and the songs are chosen at random. You pick one from the list, and that list gets shorter as the bands are added. So when we did the Kansas song, it was the last one on the list. Because ordinarily we think bands named after geographical locations are lame. But the AC/DC thing really fit, because it’s got blood in the title. That’s fitting for GWAR. And the greatest band other than GWAR to ever walk the earth was AC/DC in my opinion. So it was fitting that the gods of rock became entwined like that. Because AC/DC were always simply playing old GWAR songs that we just hadn’t gotten around to recording yet.
AXS: Were there any new challenges for you as a guitarist on this album?
PM: Well, they finally gave me some free reign! The whole album was a collaborative effort, but I feel like my playing style got to shine through a little more on this one than it did on the last. There wasn’t a challenge other than having to have carpal tunnel surgery after doing the record. I’d been coping with that for years. Obama gave me three f*cking surgeries so I could continue my career as a rock musician! So thanks, Obama! So it was good. Plug a Les Paul guitar into a Marshall. That’s the rock sound. That’s what we did, and we made a good god*mn record out of it!
PM: I wish that could be true, but there’s no afterlife. There’s just like blank void of black empty nothingness once you leave this mortal coil. But if there is one thing I can say about Tom Petty, he was a great musician and band leader. I tend to think that that’s a sure-fire sign that bullying could be a positive thing. Tom Petty was bullied, and he was emotionally abused by his father. So that’s the way I treat my children—or at least the ones I’ll actually raise because of court orders. But if you bullied more of your peers and younger children, you’d have better artists in the world! If everyone were to raise their children properly, then what’s to become of all the Charles Bukowskis of the world?
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