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Gwar: Battle Maximus
American thrash metal band, Gwar, are back with their 13th studio album, Battle Maximus, marking the first official release since the untimely death of long serving guitarist, Cory Smoot (credited as Flattus Maximus).
For those unfamiliar with Gwar, the band has one of the more interesting back-stories, describing the members' as "intergalactic humanoids, landing on Earth to rule mankind." Heavily rooted in sci-fi and gory subjects – as well as politically-fuelled satirical elements – the band have undoubtedly mastered the science of transferring strong visual elements from stage into sound.
Gwar has always merged thrash metal music with raw, punk vocals, giving the band a unique sound that can't quite be pigeonholed into a specific genre. As is the case with most of Gwar's previous releases, Battle Maximus uses build its tracks to tell a bigger story. In the case of Battle Maximus, the band plays out an epic duel between the recently deceased Flattus Maximus and his successor, Pustulus Maximus, adding more chapters to the band's already extensive, fictional history.
Setting the mood for the entire album, the intro creates the launching pad for the riff-heavy track, 'Madness at the Core'. The addition of new guitarist, Pustulus Maximus, changes the band's direction slightly, and more death metal influences are incorporated into the album; this is especially apparent in 'They Swallowed the Sun', 'Torture', 'Mr. Perfect', and 'Triumph of the Pig Children'.
Drummer, Jizmak Da Gusha, produces some of his best work to date and dominates the tracks with obscene drum-breaks and a crushing array of blast beats. One of the most interesting songs on the album is 'I, Bonesnapper', which features Gwar's cave troll in his first ever vocal debut. The track cannot by any means be considered musically genius, but then again, Gwar have earned their infamy and popularity through shock-value and borderline pornographic stage antics, rather than technical mastery.
The album's title track is an instrumental that features four guest guitarists and still manages to be nothing more than mediocre at best.
Gwar has never been a band that takes itself too seriously, relying more on their powerful stage presence and interesting subject matter. However, Battle Maximus shows that the band have completely refined their sound and have grown further into their respective characters, which may seem kitschy, but manages to add a gravity and sincerity to songs that, in any other context, would seem plain ridiculous.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
Having released no new material for almost a decade, Metallica finally return to the scene with their latest album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. Written mostly by James Hatfield and Lars Ulrich, this is the first album that doesn’t include any song writing contributions from Kirk Hammett since he joined the band in 1983; when the album was being written, he lost his phone in a Copenhagen airport which included 250 riff ideas so he had to start from scratch.
The two disk album has 12 tracks in total with 6 on each that still retain the thrash metal vibe that Metallica has come to be known for. Following the same fast pace, the first song ,‘Hardwired’ starts with a steady drum and guitar riff that will get you head banging and tapping your feet in no time.
With strong songs like ‘Moth into Flame’ and ‘Halo on Fire’, the first disk has the familiar thrash tropes that make it what it is; it’s fast, it’s hard, it’s in your face and has an attitude, which is what makes Metallica so awesome.
However, the first disk is not without fault; the fifth song ‘Dream No More’ feels out of place musically as its rhythm and guitar work doesn’t feel cohesive with the rest of the songs on the disk, as if it was supposed to be on a different disk or in another album as it goes from fast then slow and conflicting itself.
The second disk, on the other hand, starts on a different note with songs like ’Am I Savage?’ and ‘Here Comes Revenge’ following a slower tone than the rest of the album, though ’Spit out the Bone’ might be the fastest song on the whole album and will surely make you feel like you need to catch your breath afterwards.
As a whole, the album sounds like one huge song, especially the first disk which feels fluid and, in a way, follows a rhythmic pattern; however, the second feels a bit tamed and toned down, as even though it has some fast-as-lighting guitar work, it still lacks some oomph to it. Still, it offers a level of satisfaction for diehard fans who have waited for eight years for new material.
All in all, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is a great addition to the band’s discography; the band members have given it their all, while not showing their age. We just hope it doesn’t take them another eight years till the next one