Lust In Space
Who'd have imagined that metal’s multimedia maestros Gwar would make it to the quarter-century mark?
But then again, why wouldn't they? As one of the most bizarre and creative collectives to ever emerge from the underbelly of popular music, Gwar entertains like no other. In those twenty-five years, they’ve managed eleven studio albums and about twenty video releases (some under very limited distribution). They've toured incessantly, been nominated for two Grammys, been featured on Jerry Springer and in several films not of their own creation; they’ve spawned a reality-TV-contest-winning rip-off band, and they’ve just generally wreaked havoc. In the process, they've also carved a niche in metal all their own. Gwar is truly like nothing else (save perhaps Lordi), and nothing else (especially Lordi) is truly like Gwar. However, it’s also true that, at times in their career, Gwar’s schtick has outweighed their music. I lost track of them during the dark days between Carnival Of Chaos and War Party, bored by their clunky punk-metal that served more as character and plot development than as musical entertainment, and I’m only really now rejoining these scumdogs. While longtime fans will likely decry the continued absence of many major characters (Slymenstra, Sexecutioner), as well as the noticeable reduction in the maniacal glee of earlier records, Lust In Space is a solid entry in a catalog now firmly back on track after a mid-period stretch of mediocrity.
I won’t get too deeply into the album’s storyline, but like Beyond Hell, Lust is a concept piece detailing the band’s boredom with (and subsequent departure from) Earth to find fun elsewhere in the universe. Along the way, they have another run-in with their old nemesis Cardinal Syn, which begets a disappointing search for Oderus’ mentor General Zog. Musically, Lust In Space follows the post-Violence Has Arrived blueprint, which is to say that it’s metal, thrashier and more technical than earlier punk-metal efforts (We Kill Everything and prior). Although they’ve never been noted for particularly astounding musicianship, Gwar has always been surprisingly adept at their instruments, and here the band is tight and the performances impressive. Flattus and Balsac rip through a collection of quality riffs, and in some instances, the guitar parts are far and away the best part of an otherwise-pedestrian song ("The Uber-Klaw," or "Release The Flies," with its absolutely massive fuzzy riff). The most notable and noticeable part of Gwar’s musical component has always been the vocals, and Oderus remains one of the more underrated voices in metal. His gruff baritone is instantly recognizable as it swings from booming growl to Jello Biafra-like warble. (As is customary, he’s not the only vocalist, although he is the primary one. Bassist Beefcake the Mighty and lead guitarist Flattus Maximus take vocal turns on one song each, and both are certainly passable but both lack the theatrical charisma of Mr. Urungus.)
Where Lust In Space falters is that, like many Gwar albums before it, it contains some definite filler tracks. The title track is great, and "Let Us Slay" follows suit, but songs like "Damnation Under God," "The Uber Klaw" and "Make A Child Cry" get mired in a one-dimensional thrash groove. Each individual track has moments of grandeur (a riff, a melody line, a lyric), but not all are sweeping successes. Nonetheless, when Lust In Space hits properly, it rocks like Gwar should always rock. The album ends with "Parting Shot," one of the best tracks on hand and the band’s farewell to Earth. (Fear not, Gwar fans, they promise to come back and visit on tour.)
Lust is microcosmic of Gwar’s career overall: it starts and ends strong, but it slips a bit in the middle and sputters at times even in its stellar moments. Yet, it’s still fun as hell and worthy of a high-volume head-banging spin or three. Lust follows suit with Gwar’s post-We Kill Everything return to quality. It’s not the band’s best, but it's best tracks are arguably as good as anything since America Must Be Destroyed or This Toilet Earth. Dedicated fans will certainly be pleased, and newcomers to Gwar will find this to be an above-average entry into one of metal’s more interesting catalogs.
Also, you gotta love the Kiss-mocking album cover…