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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.