One Track Mind: GWAR, “The Road Behind” from America Must Be Destroyed (1992)

After hearing of the passing of Dave Brockie, known to GWAR fans as alien conqueror Oderus Urungus, I wanted to write something about Scumdogs of the Universe, my personal favorite record by the band. But in the days that followed, I kept coming back to this song.

“The Road Behind” seemed somehow fitting, and a perfect representation of what GWAR did best.
Brockie and his cohorts were as much performance artists as metal musicians, and, at least in the early going, they were very much about shock and the unexpected. Fans going to their shows could be guaranteed to leave covered in fake blood, and occasionally other bodily fluids — and some even began eschewing the metal uniform of dark colors in favor of white shirts that would display the stains like a badge of honor.

Given their penchant for shock and awe, what could possibly be more shocking and unexpected than GWAR doing a power ballad?

“The Road Behind” accomplished a few things for the band, including perhaps unintentionally, getting them a little more notoriety with its video. In true GWAR fashion, the song, despite its softer musical leanings, was a ridiculous, over-the-top celebration of the violent, debauched personas of the characters. It was also a bit of satirical genius, skewering the party and power ballad hard rock culture of the time period.

The video pointedly took shots at other bands, particularly Guns ‘n’ Roses, as it started with Oderus swaying and whistling to an acoustic guitar in a parody of the band’s “Patience” video.

But for all its ridiculous humor, once you’ve listened to “The Road Behind” a couple of times, it’s damned near impossible to get the chorus (which was not sung by Brockie, but by bassist Beefcake the Mighty, played by Michael Bishop at the time) out of your head.

That’s why to write GWAR off as a simple shock or comedy act would be unfair and just plain wrong. For all of their outlandish antics and lyrics, they were often writing songs as good or better than the contemporaries they poked fun at.

Though many may have viewed them that way, GWAR and Brockie were not just a comedic sideshow in the metal genre. In fact, they were a band that the often uber-serious metal scene needed. They held up a mirror — albeit an incredibly exaggerated, funhouse-style mirror — to the dark and evil imagery the genre tends to surround itself with and made metal fans laugh at themselves. And if you’ve hung around many metal fans, you know what a tough job that can be.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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