By Bryan Rolli It’s a band’s worst nightmare: the death of its lead singer. That’s the predicament GWAR faced earlier this year. The band of interstellar space warriors (that’s Scumdogs to you!) were riding high on the September 2013 release of the red-hot Battle Maximus, touring relentlessly and leaving a path of destruction in their wake. But it all came to a screeching halt when singer Oderus Urungus overdosed on heroin in March.
GWAR faced a dilemma after 30 years together: Soldier on as a new incarnation a la AC/DC, with Brian Johnson replacing the late Bon Scott, or call it quits, like Nirvana did after Kurt Cobain offed himself in a drug-addled stupor?
After nearly six months of silence, the band blasted back into the public eye with two new members in tow, ready to pay tribute to their fallen leader on the GWAR Eternal Tour and serve planet Earth a brand new batch of balls-out (literally) heavy metal.
Having ruled out the possibility of guitarist Pustulus Maximus taking over lead vocals (“I’m usually pretty heavily intoxicated or heavily sedated by the time we play,” he admits), the band enlisted the vocal tag team of Blöthar, a stout, shape-shifting space Viking equipped with a deadly axe and gargantuan set of antler-esque wings; and Vulvatron, a sultry assassin from the year 69,000 whose talents include quantum mechanics and spewing blood from her genetically enhanced breasts.
A band of GWAR’s stature, however, is not immune to backlash. Purists are bound to despise the new lineup or long for the exact same-sounding group that burst onto the scene three decades ago. “Typically, people hate anything new that you do,” Pustulus says. “Once you get three or four albums out, everything is always gonna be, ‘It’s pretty good, but it’s not as good as their ’86 demo recorded in their mom’s basement.’ There’s always going to be the elitists and people that hold onto the old school mentality.”
That being said, GWAR understood the gravity of the situation. They had taken a blow that would have destroyed a lesser band, and there was no room for rash decisions. For perhaps the first time in their lives, the Scumdogs had to sit down and actually reason with one another.
“There was a lot of fighting, there was a lot of biting, there was a lot of yelling,” Pustulus says. “I don’t really have any tear ducts, so there was no crying on my part, but I did see some people cry. But yeah, we didn’t know what the hell we were gonna do.”
Months of contemplation led to the decision to continue, for themselves and their fans. “There’s a lot of people that we mean a lot to, and there’s a lot of people out there that mean a lot to us, so we’re not gonna f-cking throw it all away like a bunch of p-ssies like some people would f-cking think we should do,” Pustulus says.
Forgo another decade of debauchery and give up a steady paycheck? Not even an option. “I’ve had a lot of illegitimate children that I have to pay child support on, so there’s no way in hell I could stop touring right now,” he says.
For a band so obsessed with sex, drugs and other general depravity, the addition of a female Scumdog left some fans scratching their heads. But Pustulus insists that Vulvatron’s feminine perspective has hardly changed the group dynamic.
“It hasn’t really affected us much, other than now there’s much more boners to bump into,” he explains. “That’s really nothing new either. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of dick in this band. I’ve seen more dick in this band than I ever [did] scouring the Universe.”
Besides, Pustulus thinks it’s time to for GWAR to increase its ... sex appeal? “We’ve gotta bring the sexy back,” he says, perversely riffing on Justin Timberlake before launching back into space: “Boobs just raise everybody’s moral platform.”
Pustulus expects the band to evolve with the new lineup, but at the same time he would like to see them return to their roots, for selfish reasons. “When I was listening to GWAR in a cave, we only had cassette tapes, so I only know the songs that were on cassette tapes,” he says. “All the ones that they didn’t make tapes out of, I have no f-cking clue how to play them until they tell me to.”
His vision is crystal clear: “If you dug up all the dead Ramones and beat Cannibal Corpse with them, that’s what I want to sound like.”
Oderus was the last original Scumdog, and while the band does their best to preserve his legacy, Pustulus thinks the spirit of the group transcends any physical lineup changes. “GWAR is eternal. GWAR is bigger than anything. GWAR is bigger than any one of its members,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean that Oderus wasn’t one of the most important things in our lives, because he was.”
No surprise they christened their current, three-month, nationwide trek the GWAR Eternal Tour. Since being banished to Earth millions of years ago, the warriors have always expressed their rage and hatred of the human race through ritualistic onstage celebrity slaughter. The Scumdogs have their eyes on the political arena for their newest victim, and Pustulus won’t rest until he captures his top choice — 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “He was in my band in ’86, but he won’t really tell anybody about that,” he says. “We were called Rapehammer.”
The guitarist still harbors resentment toward his former band mate for his radical change of heart. “Mitt Romney played a mean bass guitar, but now he’s all Mormon and shit. He doesn’t believe in that stuff anymore,” Pustulus says. “He’ll lie through his teeth to prove he wasn’t in it, but he was, man. And I wanna get ahold of him, cause he’s changed. He needs to get his head cut off again.”
A balls-to-the-wall band if there ever was one, GWAR has a new lease on life. In honor of their departed brother, they have just three goals going forward: more drugs, more sex and a lot more killing.
“We’re gonna destroy all the things he hated, and we’re gonna f-ck all the things he loved as a tribute to Oderus Urungus,” Pustulus says. “And we hope that all our fans will pull together and achieve the same dream.”
He pauses briefly, his mind adrift in the cosmos.
“Aw f-ck, that sounded stupid. Everybody’s gonna get together and we’re gonna have a good f-cking time to celebrate his legacy of onslaught.”