This sludge-metal performance art troupe made its mark by staging cartoonish Grand Guignol spectacles that split the difference between The Muppet Show and Survival Research Laboratories, adding a soundtrack that recalls (as if it matters) a Venom bootleg tape looped through the gears of a garbage disposal. The Gwar legend — something to do with pestilent aliens who’ve made their home beneath the Antarctic ice cap — was born of a project the members cooked up at art school in Virginia. It sure would be interesting to see those transcripts…
Despite some occasionally funny lyrics (and legitimately knee-slapping liner notes), Hell-O may well go down in history as the only listening experience more painful than those bootleg Sam Kinison sex tapes. Utterly tuneless “singing” by frontman Oderus Urungus and aimless guitar flailing — it sounds as if the musicians were wearing their papier — mâché gear in the studio — combine to make the disc an utter mess. But the dull-as-dishwater Scumdogs of the Universe actually makes one pine for such incompetence, since all it really has to offer is thrash-by-numbers playing over which Oderus belches childish paeans to all that’s profane.
There’s not much to be said for The Road Behind, either: the time-filling EP matches three tedious studio tracks (“highlighted” by the goofily ostentatious “Overture in N Minor”) with three live tracks. Of the concert pieces, “Captain Crunch” might earn a few laughs from those prone to spending Saturday mornings in front of the TV and behind the bong. America Must Be Destroyed, a concept album of sorts, finds Oderus proclaiming revolution in the streets with all the slapstick conviction of Gallagher in Last Poets’ drag. Unlike previous Gwar releases, it actually holds up for one complete listen, but until CD rental shops come into vogue, you’d be advised to keep your distance.
Somehow, the band convinced a smattering of session musicians to lend a hand in the cinemascoping of Gwar on the epic This Toilet Earth. Not that trombones alone can save flatulent outbursts like “Pocket Pool” and “Penis I See” (dedicated to the three-foot phallus that often, er, pops up onstage at Gwar shows). Again, brief flashes of lowbrow wit surface (in the goofy “Saddam a Go-Go”), but the notion of parodying pomp-rock (see “The Insidious Soliloquy of Skullface”) is far too much like carrying coals to Newcastle. Gwar was nominated a Grammy in 1995.
Beefcake the Mighty (also known as Mike Bishop) abandoned the Gwarship in order to pursue a career in music with Kepone, an old-fashioned power trio with just enough post-Birthday Party accessorizing to hold the interest of skronk-mongers hither and yon. Guitarist Tim Harriss juggles funk riffs and D. Boon-styled scrabbling with admirable dexterity on Ugly Dance standouts like “Loud” and “Leadbreath,” but whinging vocals and clever arrangements (like those on “Dickie Boys”) often drag the band down to the level of Primus. Good marks for form, but very little in the way of function. Skin follows much the same pattern, although Bishop and new drummer Ed Trask (ex-Holy Rollers) forego some of the thrust-and-parry nonsense in favor of heads-down, no-nonsense boogie, à la Killdozer. It’s a start.