God What an Awful Racket!

Well, they're either the spawn of aliens from Uranus stranded in Antarctica or a bunch of Virginia Commonwealth University students performing abortions of performance art for the sake of entertainment. To explain: the lead singer is Canadian.

Billed as a "speed-metal-shock-troupe" with such influences as KISS, Alice Cooper, professional wrestling and chainsaw-bloodbath flicks GWAR is composed of "Odorus Urungus", "Balsac the Jaws of Death", "Flattus Maximus", "Jizmak the Gusha", "Slymenstra Hymen" and "Sexicutioner". I'm told these aren't the members' Christian names but, then again, I'm not sure they're big into the religious thing.

With songs like "Vlad the Impaler" and "Maggots Are Falling Like Rain" these boys have carved out their own little horrible world from live performances including (mock) pagan-rituals, decapitations, maimings, sacrifices and a Gallagher-esque "spraying" of the crowd with assorted (fake) blood and other bodily fluids. The members are always dressed in oversized death-monster masks complete with full-body costumes. The videos, an attempt to recreate the essence of a live show, got most of their play during late night episodes of Beavis and Butthead on Mtv. (Yes, children, Mtv used to show videos at night - I know it sounds weird)

Sort of a triple-X Spinal Tap, these college boys (musicians, dancers and art students) are just taking a friendly poke at the Darth Sidious nature of heavy-death-metal. A few cities have failed to laugh along--the band was banned from playing in North Carolina for a year, fined for "disseminating obscenity" and kindly cancelled in Merry Old England by frightened barristers. In 1993 police in Athens, Georgia shut down a GWAR show, resulting in a lawsuit by the ACLU. Athens settled out of court and GWAR, in typical good-natured form, donated the winnings to charity.

To view GWAR in your own home, since Mtv has stopped showing videos (even stupid ones) in favor of re-runs of 1992's season of Real World, click on over to Amazon.com and order their home-video "Phallus In Wonderland"--it was nominated for a Grammy in 1993. Seriously.

One of the more persistent rumours about the meaning of GWAR is that it comes from the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. In that book, GWAR is an acronym for Gay Women Against Rape, the name of a protest organization whose posters can be seen around New York in many frames. The posters, distributed by a butch lesbian called Joey, advertize a benefit concert at a venue called the Pink Triangle, and the initial letters of each word are enlarged and highlighted, drawing attention to the acronym. In a later scene, the poster is shown torn, so that only the letters WAR can be seen.

The band have given this explanation in certain interviews, and in their movie Phallus in Wonderland there is a scene in which protesters hold up a Gay Women Against Rape sign, so they are definitely aware of the connection. On the other hand, they seem to delight in giving contradictory explanations, so I'm not going to try to claim that this is the 'true' derivation of their name.

eponymous wondered whether GWAR predated Watchmen, however the chronology seems to fit, as Watchmen was first published in 1986 and GWAR released their first album in 1988.
A few additional notes on the band:

GWAR's line-up is constantly changing. The original drummer (Nippleus Erecticus) left after their first album and guitarist Flattus Maximus melted into a puddle of krak (sic) residue (read: was on hiatus) for two albums in the early 1990s. In addition, the human personae underneath the headgear have changed with disturbing regularity.

GWAR has been immortalized in a semi-regular series of self-published comic books called Slave Pit Funnies.

Hell-O (1988)
Scumdogs of the Universe (1990)
America Must Be Destroyed (1991)
The Road Behind (1994, EP)
This Toilet Earth (1994)
Ragnarok (1995)
Carnival of Chaos (1997)
We Kill Everything (1999)
Slaves Going Single* (2000)
Violence Has Arrived (2001)
You're All Worthless and Weak* (2002, Live)
*: Only available to the band's fan club, the Total Slavery Club

Live From Antarctica (1990)
The Next Mutation (1991)
Tour De Scum (1991)
Phallus in Wonderland (1992)
Skulhedface (1994)
The Return of Techno Desctructo (1996)
Rendezvous with Ragnarok (1997)
Dawn of the Day of the Night of the Penguins (1998)
A Surprising Burst of Chocolatey Fudge (1998)
TVD (Television Documentary) (2001)

For more info on the band, visit their official Web site (http://www.gwar.net), or their Usenet group (news://alt.music.gwar) or their IRC channel (#gwar on gwar.irc.net)

I reviewed a GWAR album (Ragnarok) for my college newspaper in 1995. While many of the messages in GWAR songs are awfully repetive (blah blah blah...drown in blood...blah blah blah...death throes...blah blah blah...torrent of death's ghastly tide), there are the occasional nuggets. My personal favorite is the death metal/surf instrumental intro to Surf of Syn.

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