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Leave it up to GWAR, in any iteration, to riddle even the most serious of subject matters with comedic fodder in a way that isn’t reductive or dismissive, but effectively cheeky. We’ve known GWAR for decades now to be masters of the stage show first, maestros of metal second, and progenitors of prosthetics and costume third — none of which puts them high on the list of people you take seriously, since their whole schtick is sci-fi satire. Still, their 15th studio record The New Dark Ages reaches peak poignancy and relevance told through a totally ridiculous yet classically GWAR lens.
The New Dark Ages is a conceptual companion piece of sorts. It accompanies GWAR: In the Duoverse of Absurdity, a graphic novel providing visuals to, well, the absurdity of it all. Both tell the tale of Blöthar the Berserker and company battling alternately evil versions of themselves in a different realm. Seemingly, it’s a commentary on the duality of man as a whole — the wanting for better but maintaining the worst, consumption versus conservation, power versus peace — essentially, everything going on in a larger sense is playing out in a smaller sense within the plot of the story. On the album, in the graphics novel, and in several ways, in reality, we’ve entered the new Dark Ages.
But saying all of that is really just to say this — the record rips, in its own right.
It’s been five years since The Blood of Gods came out, the first album without beloved founding member Dave Brockie as Oderus Urungus, and the first to feature the Berserker (Michael Bishop) as leader of the intergalactic barbarians. What Blöthar started on Blood of Gloods, he’s continuing on New Dark Ages, transgressive storytelling dynamic in aesthetics and inherent with dramatics. His vocal range is expansive, and pays off during the many moments on the album when GWAR choose to really keep things categorically “simple” (or as simple as a band like GWAR could ever possibly get). The title track kicks things off with a steadying build of prototypically 80s-adjacent heavy metal as Blöthar describes facets of what the new dark ages are like — particularly, how lies have “become contagious” (how fitting, especially going into “Blood Libel,” a track about antisemitic blood ritual propaganda). While tracks like “Ratcatcher” and “Rise Again” are in a similar vein, it’s the thrashier ones where Bishop and the album really shine.
“Berserker Mode” is driven by pummeling drums and an intentionally sneering vocality from Bishop that seemed to unlock his final form. The guitar solo that starts before the three minute mark is Guitar Hero worthy for sure, before Bishop comes back with an Iron Maiden-esque type force. It, plus the more doomy sensibilities on “Venom of the Platypus” almost give the standout track a run for its money. “Mother F**king Liar” is an anthem — it’s pit and chant ready, transitioning through different tones with ease. Of all the songs on The New Dark Ages, this one is assuredly the crowd pleasing sing-a-long, because the one thing we all collectively hate is a mother f**king liar.
At a hefty 15 tracks — the last one being 11 minutes of cave dwelling ambience — The New Dark Ages not only reinforces GWAR’s capacity for entertaining and satirical folly, but it also solidifies Bishop’s faculty in a frontman role. It’s not a matter of comparing the eras or Oderus and Blöthar, but more a matter of appreciating the differences. It’s the same book, just told by a different narrator. Hopefully, there’ll be several more chapters to go.
Pick up GWAR’s new album The New Dark Ages via the band’s official merch store, and grab tickets to their current US tour via Ticketmaster. Stream the entire album below via the Apple Music and Spotify players, and don’t forget to check out the band’s line of “Bud of Gods” CBD products.