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 Gwar / Municipal Waste / The Red Chord

by Mark Hensch

Hundreds of rabid Scumdogs swarmed to Harpo's of Detroit for a loaded bill during the venue's annual Halloween bash. With a plethora of fans dressed in outlandish, freaky, or just skimpy costumes, the atmosphere at the bar was one of barely contained chaos, with tons of revelers indulging in all manners of hedonism. Festive yet dark, Harpo's decided to bring in the Hallow's Eve band to end all Hallow's Eve bands, Gwar. Rounding out the lineup were thrash revivalists Municipal Waste and abstract deathcore outfit The Red Chord. All three bands were excellent in their roles; Municipal Waste's brand of oldschool, dirty, and straightforward thrash metal fits Detroit's history of blue-collar grit, while the Red Chord has toured with Gwar on Sounds of the Underground and knows how to please that band's dedicated fanbase with surgical and sharp deathcore played at grinding speeds. Gwar themselves reigned supreme, their mix of comedy, excellent metal, and disgusting stage theatrics making for the perfect headlining act during Detroit's infamous Devil's Night weekend. 

Due to a potent mix of my poor navigational skills, bad luck, and multiple wrong turns, we arrived to Harpo's about an hour and a half late. This was probably the only low of the evening, as we unfortunately missed out on almost all of Municipal Waste's live set. For those of you unfamiliar with them, Municipal Waste are a Richmond, Virginia band hellbent on reviving the late 1980's thrash metal boom. As I watched the band bust out their last two songs (the barnstorming "Bangover" and another song that they didn't name) I felt a twinge of bittersweet joy; this is the closest a youngster like myself can get to the glory days of bands like Megadeth, Anthrax, and D.R.I. without actually living back then. With most of said bands having gotten old or even downright washed up (Anthrax anybody?) seeing a band fly the flag for brutal thrash from the genre's golden age is pretty sweet. Frontman Tony Foresta was a nuclear explosion, replete with fercious headbanging and lots of stage jumping. The bass/guitar shredding antics of Ryan Waste and Land Phil respectively provided what I'm guessing was a set of airtight mosh anthems for the bluejeans/spikes set. Shame I missed them, but I snagged their last album Hazardous Mutation on the way out. It's a certified thrash monster! 

Next to take the stage were Boston's merchants of technical death/grindcore, The Red Chord. I'm pretty familiar with these blokes as I caught them last winter with the Black Dahlia Murder during a show in my hometown. Sadly, that last go-round of ours had seen The Red Chord play without a full lineup; two of its members were out with a nasty case of the flu, and some of the Black Dahlia guys filled in. Now, a fully-revitalized band took the stage with something to prove. Backed by Harpo's razor-sharp acoustics and some of the largest amp stacks in all of Michigan, The Red Chord played a set of surgically-precise death metal so tight you could wear it as a straightjacket. Due to the nature of their music, the band's roughly 45 minute set seemed to be much more lengthy and fulfilling; the Chord did not hesitate to attack with their recent output on 2005's Clients all while paying tribute to their more hardcore roots with cuts from 2002's Fused Together in Revolving Doors. Frontman Guy Kozowyk was frothing-at-the-mouth in terms of his intensity, his grinding howls providing plenty of aural laceration. The rest of the band was even more impressive; the deep grooves being conjured were so incredibly low that the floor beneath my feet was shaking like a volcano about to erupt. Twin guitarists Mike "Gunface" McKenzie and Jonny Fay often twirled their axes like flailing maces, and at other times, they'd lead headbanging charges as the band went into passage after passage of vicious grind. Songs like "Blue Line Cretin," "Upper Decker," and "Lay the Tarp" produced absolutely bestial circle-pits, and the violent breakdowns were some of the night's most awe-inspiring moments. In one of the coolest moments of their set, the band closed with a ripping rendition of (I think) "Love on the Concrete" which saw Walls of Jericho frontwoman and Detroit native Candace Kucsulain appear onstage and growl along with Kozowyk. The two had no problem with making the song even more brutal than before, and seeing the two screaming face-to-face at each other over such a vicious tune was definitely a memorable moment. 

In a bad move, Harpo's kept all the Gwar fans waiting even longer by making them suffer through a droll costume contest. Most of the outfits were poor or not even outfits at all (see the people who had come in normal garb with a cheap mask over their faces) and many people voiced loud opposition to the event. Regardless, things were bound to end eventualy and once they did Gwar was free to conquer the venue. 

At long last the lights dimmed and a gun-toting soldier came out, declaring to us that a strange alien aircraft had been found. Unfortunately for him, it was the spacecraft of Gwar, and out they came wielding the weapons of war! Towering over everything, the monsters of Gwar emerged like the hideous giants they are and promptly decapitated the soldier puppet, setting the tone of their set quickly. What followed is a performance filled with flayed effigies, spewed bodily fluids, fire, offensive jokes, dismemberment, and shockingly powerful music. Due to their traditional comedic nature, campy theatrics, and outlandish costumes, Gwar have always been something of a joke band; seeing them here, I know why they were one of the most popular bands on the Sounds of the Underground festival this year. Gwar's new album, Beyond Hell, is the work of a much more serious band; the disc's slamming, blood-splattered groove/thrash sounds like the work of a brand new act in their prime rather than a band just over 20 years old. Nobody was spared in the ensuing onslaught; celebrities as diverse as Johhny Rotten, Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush, Pope Benedict, and a slew of random meat-puppets were turned into spraying blood turrents by the band and their equally savage group of "stage slaves." Even better was the fact that in the midst of all the melee, Gwar played some of the best punk-y thrash from both their more recent material and earlier works as well. Be it the new haymakers in "War is all We Know" and "Murderer's Muse" or classics like "Womb with a View," "Meat Sandwich," or "Saddam A-Go-Go," the band never had a dull moment to their credit either musically or visually. Capping things off with a dramatic fight between a cartoonish rendering of Satan and lead singer Oderus Urungus' pet T-Rex, the band left only to return for a wicked encore. Ending the evening on a high, Gwar serenaded the still-crazed crowd with "Bilehammer" and left everyone even more splattered in goop after bringing out a blood-cannon to blast the concert-goers with. It was a wild, boisterous, and deranged set, the perfect way to finish off a great evening. 



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