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The 90’s for GWAR was a fruitful time, where hardly a few months would go by without the band ejaculating out a new album or video for their hordes of Slave Pit fan club members. Quality and exposure were the major variables rather than timeliness and, with but one exception, it’s hard today to find a release that’s either easy to come by or completely worth tracking down in the first place. Ragnarok, I’m implying, is that exception, the one post-Scumdogs album that holds up the whole way through and is still in print.
If one had to bluntly sum up the Ragnarok party sound, one would have to call it groove metal. But they’d also have to admit that it’s got a hard rock sensibility to it and an experimental underbelly that keeps it interesting. The compositions seem to be a bit more focused than on other GWAR albums of the decade, less erratic and way, way less dependent on gimmickry. There’s weirdness to be sure: listen for the keyboards to show up every once in a while, as well the usual sampled bits and unpredictable vocals. And there’s still a bit of off-genre coloring, but it’s limited to fewer tunes (“Surf of Syn” for instance) and the tone is not one of parody so much as it’s one of assimilation. Indeed, “Think You Outta Know This” is not only delicious satire, it transcends its own cleverness and listens better than the funk-metal it’s derived from. What is funk-metal, you ask? You’ve never heard of it? Run! Run! Get the fuck out of this review and run screaming for the hills before the likes of Mordred and Faith No More overtake you! I like red hot chili peppers as much as the next guy, but let’s keep them in a burrito and out of my stereo, K? Simply put, GWAR’s interpretation of the style is superior, despite the fact that it was intended to mock it altogether. How’s that for impressive?
Diversions aside, Ragnarok’s got quite the chunky little riffset, not much in the way of virtuosity, but still quite heavy and chaotic. Very catchy too, insert mandatory VD joke here, as the band sharpens their hooks to a lethal point. It also happens to be the first GWAR album with “good” production values and all the songs benefit greatly from the fuller sound, bludgeoning bass and stereo perversion included. Most shockingly, Ragnarok differs from GWAR’s established lyrical mold rather radically. Up to this point, Oderus has been content to sing about his band’s legacy: the planets they’ve conquered, the beasts they’ve unleashed, the orifices they’ve violated, the semen they’ve…well you get the picture, not a gory detail expunged for the squeamish. Here though, the violence and shock-value sadism is not the emphasis; rather, what we have appears to be a legitimate attempt at social criticism. Get past the shock value approach of “The New Plague” and hear a tune that approaches its subject with sympathy, albeit in a rather roundabout way. Listen carefully to “Whargoul” and “Stalin’s Organ” and discover a critique of warfare’s impact, rather than its usual glorification, as touched upon in the later “Crush, Kill, Destroy.” Very unusual for a band of their reputation, and yet no less satisfying than the dirty, filthy stuff.
This of course, is the generic approximation of the album. But luckily, one does not have to bluntly sum up a GWAR album, as these scumdogs are all about the singles, baby! Even when their albums are filled to the brim with hokey throwaways, there’s always a handful of pure, indispensable classics on which to feast. MEAT! SANDWICH! Oh yes, these are the riffs we crave. CRUSH! KILL! DESTROY! Thrash! Thrash! Thrash! “Stalin’s Organ” is pretty awesome (almost a lost Type O Negative tune), “Dirty Filthy” has THE classic chorus of the album (and is just short enough not to be infuriating), and “Martyr Dumb” is delightfully obtuse mid-paced riff-pleasure at organized religion’s expense. Indeed, Ragnarok is one of the few GWAR albums where there are more killer tunes than fillers and that should be enough to seal the deal right there.
The X-Cops album is arguably better, but this is definitely one quality release. It also has one of the coolest GWAR logos on the cover, for those that buy albums for the logos instead of the songs. I mean, I know I do.
GWAR's discography is all but consistent; the band has been in a stylistic metamorphosis basically since the beginning of their career, periodically plateauing along one stylistic line or another before trekking further upwards towards some unclear endpoint. Which isn't to say that the quality of their music is inconsistent; I'd go out on a limb and say that GWAR is one of the most consistent bands pound for pound in the metal (or related styles) scene. Who can name an unquestionably bad GWAR album, really? I certainly can't. However, at their worst, they can be somewhat mediocre or musically scattered, and "Ragnarök" is a good example of that sort of thing in the greater context of the band's career. A transitional album even for a band that seems to be perpetually transitioning, "Ragnarök" finds GWAR really starting to move further away from their rather pure punk roots in a punk/heavy/thrash/hard rock polyglot style that's both creative and somewhat unsatisfying due to its lack of concentrated style. Like all GWAR albums, it absolutely has its killer, classic tracks, but from song to song, this is probably one of the more skippable releases in the band's discography.
Of course, it's impossible to discount this release entirely when it features tracks like "Meat Sandwich," "Knife In Yer Guts," or "Think You Oughta Know This," all of which are more or less GWAR classics, alongside a handful of other tracks which definitely fall into the band's second or third tier. The title track smashes pretty hard, as does the closing couplet of "Crush, Kill, Destroy" and "None But the Brave." That being said, the rest of the album sort of leaves me cold; nothing is overtly bad, but the rather discombobulated array of styles on display prevents the album from really gaining the momentum to carry through smoothly. Listening to this release is generally a matter of it droning in the background, with one's ears perking up periodically for a good track just for the album to recede into the background again after it's over.
The crucial flaw of this release is that it's probably the most overtly rock-influenced GWAR album in the band's career. This isn't an issue in and of itself, but GWAR's ability to really grind out some meaty, powerful riffs and be legitimately heavy has always been one of their most underappreciated qualities. When the band is breaking out the Mötorhead references and keeping the aggression fast and thick, "Ragnarök" tends to be a really fun album; but when things get sluggish or just uninspired, there's not much to say. While this album isn't as overtly loaded with gimmick tracks like "We Kill Everything" or monodimensional as their earliest work, "Ragnarök" still tends to falter a bit compared to the band's catalog, and their later work in particular.
While I wouldn't say this is an album to stay away from, it's certainly one more for the dedicated fans of the band than the casual listener. The punks should try some earlier material, the metalheads some of the bands last handful of albums, with the mid-career reserved for those who still listen to The Tubes on vinyl. Or at least sleep with a GWAR bedspread at night.
“It’s always one hell of a party, when Ragnarok rolls around.”
Infamous words such as these are often attributed to literary greats such as Twain, Poe, or Shakespeare. It is of rare occasion that such a cultured genius can forego the limited medium of written word and fuse their innate talent with harmony, heavy metal, jazz, and punk fused into an amalgam of destructive bliss. This genius is the ambiguous Oderus Urungus of the hellish Alien pirates GWAR who have come to champion our limited and pathetic human musicians.
“They come for MEAT…SANDWICH!”
Yes, us pitiful mortals have come to GWAR seeking a tasty meat sandwich to satiate our aural and needs that is just what these marauders have produced. Every single cut of this “Meat Sandwich”, Ragnarok, is stiff and full of spice. It is far from tender the sharp riffing hits us like a drumstick in the face. We are treated to delicious slabs of intense vocal work overlaid on droning guitars in which our gods and beliefs are laid waste. While it is quite obvious GWAR do not seek to dazzle with flurrying guitar solos and technical riffing, but rather to penetrate our minds with utterly fulfilling and simplistic riffs which dig into your brain and cannot be dislodged. The vocal work is on par with riffing in that you will find yourself unable to resist and can’t help but reach out an devour this Meat Sandwich.
“Why don’t you just admit it you’re a dirty rotten sonofabitch!”
Dirty is the perfect word to describe the experience of this album. Picture yourself at the tender age of 2 in your back yard rolling around in a large puddle of mud (much more fun than listening to puddle of mud), gleefully unaware of all problems in the world and embracing the dirty, filthy fun of now-this is Ragnarok. Nearly every piece of musical genius on this album is standout. Several songs possess infectious 80’s thrash style gang chorus’ in which the bystander walking by and faintly catching the incessant chanting of “Crush, Kill, Destroy” can’t help but scream along.
“Anarchy, chaos rule the street, it's a RagNaRok party town!”
It's already been stated the guitar-work is rather simplistic and the riffs could easily be mastered by anyone who’s picked up a guitar for more than a month. The drumming is in somewhat of the same vein although on the more punk-influenced pieces the speed and aggression begins to tear its way out of your speakers (Dirty Filthy, Martyr Dumb, Nudged, Fire in the Loins). There are several interesting fills which could almost convince someone these guys can play (well Jizmack at least), and indeed they can if one takes a listen to GWAR’s more recent albums. I’ll have to admit, the lyrics and downright twisted atmosphere are the selling point for these misfits. Anyone who hasn’t enrolled in the seminary should get a chuckle (if not collapse from laughing) at this hilarious outfit. Who doesn’t like getting stares from people who overhear you listening to “You’re just a person with AIDS!” pouring out at high volume from your speakers. The main genre I’m acquainted with is Black Metal, and even I have found a coveted spot in my CD collection for such a unique band. I would highly recommend this album to all fans of metal and punk in general and would urge you to check out GWAR live as their shows do overshadow their music, but with that being said one cannot discredit classics such as these. We may all have AIDS but we should all have this album.