DFW Music News

GWAR Continue Expanding Their Universe With a New Album, Documentary and Comic

The Virginia band has a few new releases out so fans can dive into their universe.
The Virginia band has a few new releases out so fans can dive into their universe. Shawn Stanley
Blóthar the Berserker looked upon the Civil War soldiers crawling from their graves around Richmond, Virginia, where the band GWAR was founded in 1984. Their flesh, or what was left of it, hung in tatters from their bones. Their gray and blue uniforms, dirtied and bloodstained, were the only remnants of a cause that was never lost.

The South had risen again. So had the North. A wave of them, thousands strong, appeared on the battlefield, armed with iPhones, filters and social media accounts.

There was no Bruce Campbell on that lone hill overlooking the undead swarm. But Blothar wasn't alone. The Scumdogs of the Universe army stood beside him, stoked and ripped.

The battle, fueled by GWAR's latest album The New Dark Ages, unfolds in the pages of Z2 Comics’ new graphic novel GWAR: In The Duoverse of Absurdity.

“Two products have this piece of art that relate to one other,” says GWAR vocalist Mike Bishop, aka Blóthar the Berserker, of the dual release. “It’s difficult to invoke a mood with a comic book and that is the strength of music. You can almost think of it as poetry plus. It puts you in the emotional space, and that is what music does for the comic. They go together in that way. Not all the stories are related, and not everything in the comic is on the album.”

Released in late June, The New Dark Ages and The Duoverse of Absurdity offer another adventure, an Avengers kind of scenario, for Blóthar the Berserker, guitarist BälSäc the Jaws o' Death, bassist Beefcake the Mighty and drummer JiZMak da Gusha.

“The world looks a lot different now,” Bishop says. “We wrote about how people have lost trust, people have lost truth, can’t agree on simple facts, like people choosing their own realities. This idea of the multiverse is real, and it is here because people are plugged into whatever perception of the image of the world, that sort of sense of fractured existence.

“So some surprising things happen,” he adds. “It is not just a fight. GWAR is forever changed, and it is a good thing.”

Another surprising thing to happen: GWAR’s latest offering. This Is GWAR is a documentary that takes fans behind GWAR’s black magic and tells the inside story of the monster band with interviews from past and present members and artists such as Alex Winter, Bam Margera and Weird Al Yankovic. It also includes never-before-seen footage of GWAR frontman Dave Brockie, the legendary Oderus Urungus, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014.

The band will be playing in Dallas on Oct. 14. The long-awaited documentary has a limited theatrical run, but hits the Shudder streaming service on July 21.

“So, this has always been the most interesting part of GWAR to me,” Bishop says. “What we do on stage is fun and people love it and that is the product we put out. But what is more interesting is the fact that you have this unique combination of artists and musicians working today.”

Throughout their career, Bishop says, GWAR never wanted to be like Slayer and “play the same damn songs over and over again.” They tried it for a short time in the '90s with their early albums, earning accolades from critics and a Grammy Award nomination for Best Long Form Music Video.

GWAR became known for its live shows. The shock-rock band sprayed the audience with fake blood and ejaculated and pissed on them with fake bodily fluids. They've appeared onstage dressed as barbaric interplanetary warriors whose adventures we've heard unfold over 13 studio albums, numerous singles, videos and comics. It's a production that takes three months in advance to perfect, and it necessitates a team of dedicated artists, designers and technicians.

Bishop first joined the band in 1986 as the original Beefcake the Mighty. He played bass on four records before he struck out on his own in 1994, partly for a solo project. His hope was to do something similar to GWAR, tapping artists to create an art collective that used art and music.

He quickly realized that GWAR’s traveling horror show with kick-ass heavy metal was difficult to replicate.

“I had said to myself, ‘I’m just going to find a group of sculptors, painters and actors to work on a rock ‘n’ roll [project],'” Bishop says. “I was never able to find a cooperative of musicians and visual artists to accept the slave wages.”

After Brockie’s death in 2014, Bishop returned to the band as the lead singer. GWAR released 2017’s Blood of Gods and were preparing to record a follow up, The New Dark Ages, when COVID hit.

“In GWAR, my inspiration vocally is very much Oderus and a lot of what he did, and I have processed and used a different voice type and some similar techniques that I got from him,” Bishop says. “I always loved soul music — Solomon Burke, Eddie Floyd, love all of that stuff. I let that come into it a little bit, but it’s more on the metal side, like Ronnie James Dio.”

The pandemic, Bishop says, shaped how they worked because they weren’t around one another for a long time. They had already started writing music for The New Dark Ages and continued working on it in isolation by trading files and having Zoom meetings.

“But what we were able to do was write a graphic novel, which wouldn’t have happened, because the pandemic allowed us to create enough space for ourselves,” Bishop says. “I would say that the graphic novel and the lyrical content of the album are influenced by the graphic novel and not vice versa.”

Comics, Bishop says, have been central to GWAR from its beginnings in the early ’80s. The first time Bishop heard about founding members Brockie and Hunter Jackson, aka Techno Destructo, was in a free hipster newspaper that published their comics in the Richmond area. Founding member Chuck Varga, aka Sexecutioner, was also a comic artist, as was Don Drakulich, aka Sleazy P. Martini.

Z2 Comics seemed like a perfect partnership for the group's new material. The comic book company focuses on telling musicians’ stories in authorized graphic novel form. Rantz Hosley, Z2’s vice president of editorial, says that if they’re working with bands who have been in the comic space before, Z2 is always looking for a powerful and unique story and not interested in visiting the same “watering hole” again.

Hosley recalls Josh Bernstein, the senior vice president of Z2 Comics and former president of Hit Parader, telling him: “GWAR has put out comic books before and haven’t put out their Sgt. Pepper before. They’re a band that lends itself to narrative and over-the-top mayhem and that has never been gotten before.”

After 30 years in the business, Hosley says it’s rare for him “actually to be amused past the initial script.” Yet, after going through GWAR’s graphic novel several times, he still finds scenes that amuse him.

“It’s a fantastic graphic novel and has scenes to offend every single person in the story while at the same time laughing your ass off,” Hosley says.

Bishop says they thought it was cool to work with Z2 Comics and were down with working with the publisher's artists, but GWAR wanted guitarist Mike Derks, aka Balsac the Jaws of Death, to "drive” the narrative. Balsac wrote it with Matt Maguire, also known as Sawborg Destructo, who, Bishop says, knows about the vocabulary of comic books.

“Two of them made this story,” Bishop says. “We all discussed themes and things.”

Maguire has been working on comic books and with GWAR for 30 years now. For the past decade, he’d been tackling other comic projects when they decided to work with Z2 to develop GWAR’s latest graphic novel. He says that he and Derks had some ideas kicking around on different shows that they wanted to do and for different records. What didn’t work for either would often appear in the comic, especially if it was a funny gag.

Matt and Mikey Granger, also known as the filmmaking duo The Granger Bros, contributed to the story.

As they wrote the book, Maguire would draw out the pages with artist Bob Gorman, a longtime GWAR collaborator. They didn’t have time to draw a 90-page comic book, Maguire says. It would have been too much work. So they teamed up with artists Andy MacDonald and Shane Patrick White.

“They rock,” Maguire says. “They were fun to work with and real easy. I ran into one of them on this last trip, and he said he was ‘wondering why we were here because you guys did so much work.’”

Initially, they had three different story threads, two of which Matt Granger says they thought they could turn into shows. They began developing the story and theme for a new album, comic book and upcoming tour. The initial idea isn’t too far from reality.

“What if the internet was creating all those conspiracy theories and all those things in the internet truly exist and have fractured reality?” Maguire says. “What if you had an alternate GWAR? What would their alternate selves be like in a world where everything you read like flat Earth, hollow Earth, QAnon, Biggie and Tupac are still alive, and every conspiracy theory and every idea is real there?”

Bishop’s character Blóthar, whom Maguire compares to Marvel’s Incredible Hulk, arrives in the alternate universe and meets his darker self, who realizes that metal music appeals only to a select group of people  — while embracing country music allows them to rule the world.

'This idea of the multiverse is real, and it is here because people are plugged into whatever perception of the image of the world, that sort of sense of fractured existence.” – Mike Bishop

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“Alt-GWAR is very motivated,” Maguire says.

The new album has been two years in the making. To pass the pandemic time, the group worked on music, trading files and tapes back and forth. Bishop says that like most working musicians during COVID, they also did a lot of other stuff like video work to try to find a way to survive.

“We started developing the side of the business that doesn’t rely on live tours,” Bishop says. “It was out of necessity. I had a bad feeling that it wasn’t the end of all of this and we might see other interruptions and did not want to be dependent on live shows for our income for the [COVID] years.”

This side of the business includes partnering with Consequence of Sound to sell delta-8 products.

“There is no limit on how GWAR will prostitute,” Bishop says. “We’re selling rye whisky and we have a beer, ‘Blood Geyser.’”

They also have a new brand coming out, but Bishop is vague on the details.

Similar to previous albums, The New Dark Ages offers social and political commentary from the Scumdogs. “Mother Fucking Liar,” the third track on the album, is an anthem of sorts. The crowds sing along with it at shows, Bishop says.

The big idea behind “Rise Again,” Bishop says, is that the Confederate statues in Richmond come to life and summon up an undead army from both sides of the Civil War. Bishop mentions the bloody Civil War history of Richmond, the former capital of the Confederate States of America and site of the Battle of Richmond, one of the most complete Confederate victories — but not big enough to prevent defeat.

Richmond, Bishop points out, is also close to Cold Harbor, one of the bloodiest battles that led to a Union defeat and some 18,000 casualties. It was Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s last victory. Confederates burned Richmond before allowing the Union to capture their capital.

“It is pretty interesting,” Bishop says. “There is a mass grave underneath the pyramid in the same cemetery where Dave [Brockie] was buried.”

George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in 2020 inspired the revised idea for “Rise Again.” Bishop had originally written a similar version of the final track but was inspired to change the story after Floyd's death. The idea is that history continues to repeat itself, just as if the Confederate statues were coming to life. Bishop compares them to the white nationalist tiki torch wielders who made an appearance in Charlottesville in 2017.

“There were already enough tiki torch wielders in Charlottesville,” Bishop says. “It’s what inspired it in the first place.”

Other tracks on the new album are inspired by Blóthar and the Scumdogs’ journey in the Duoverse of Absurdity. “Berserker Mode,” a thrash-filled track, tackles Blóthar’s origin story about transformation from “a drug-jacked unpredictable liability on the battlefield,” Bishop told Revolver in an May 17 report. “But like me, it has a softer side, a tale of the struggle in becoming my authentic self … a sexy, multi-donged, vajazzzled, Viking cow beast known as The Beserker Blóthar!”

Revolver called the music video for “Berserker Mode” “delightfully gory and gooey." The magazine teamed up with GWAR to offer 500 exclusive white vinyl variants of The New Dark Ages.

“Venom of the Platypus” was also inspired by the graphic novel. Bishop says it was written from the interior monologue from one of the Scumdogs, who is trying to get satisfaction from sitting in front of the computer, whether from playing video games, scrolling social media or visiting PornHub. He compares the Platypus to Microsoft’s helpful little paperclip and calls him an avatar that helps them through the world.

“It is an interesting way to relate music and literature,” Bishop says.

The final three tracks on the album — “Temple Ascent,” “Starving Gods” and “Deus Ex Monstrum” — belong to the song grouping titled “Death Whistle Suite.” Reminiscent of Metallica's And Justice For All and Master of Puppets days, the tracks are one long song.

Bishop was listening to deer dance rhythms and Native American music, and contemplating Aztec culture and Aztec priests sacrificing humans atop their pyramids. He was searching to create “a sonic scene of a human sacrifice,” he says, calling what he and the other members created "metal, powerful and high energy."

“It’s for people smoking weed who want to have fun or while they’re consuming our delta-8,” he says.
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.