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Fate or Chaos in Brooklyn: An Evening with GWAR, Cancer Bats & the FDNY

After the show, one fan stopped and passed judgment saying, “That’s the most metal thing ever.” He wasn’t referring to the pools of fake blood on the ground, the severed heads of Romney and Obama, or the vivisections of Christ and Hitler. Instead the fan was referring to the arrival of two FDNY fire trucks at the Music Hall of Williamsburg after a fire alarm sounded after GWAR’s set.


The firemen would eventually give the all clear and receive a round of applause from the blood-soaked slaves of GWAR left standing out in the cold. The Music Hall reopened and those who remained re-entered to find some warmth – either from one last drink or from their dry clothes left in coat check.

Walking away from the Music Hall, drenched in enough “blood” to make me look like the Red Hulk, thoughts rolled around my mind like so many heads on the stage…


The buildup to this show had started six years ago in Edmonton. We spent a night there drinking our way through Whyte Avenue and at some point I spotted a Cancer Bats flyer and pocketed it. The band had a cool name and the graphic was a redacted image of George Washington’s face on the dollar bill. This flyer stayed on my apartment’s wall for years until I lost track of it in a move. Then this past summer, while we were spending the night in a pizzeria in Moncton, there was autographed Cancer Bats merch on the wall. Not long after returning to the States I saw that the Toronto-based metal/hardcore band would be playing in New York as part of GWAR’s Fate or Chaos Tour. I had no choice but to go – after all, “fate” was finally putting us in the same city at the same time.

Setting up their gear in hoodies, the Cancer Bats looked like they could be from some kind of hipster/emo sub-strata of hardcore. That thought was shunted aside somewhere between bassist Jaye R. Schwarzer’s feedback drone and Liam Cormier’s howling scream that opened their set. Then Cormier leapt from the stage and into the photographer’s pit. He didn’t return.

Cormier spent their entire set in the pit, running back and forth, grabbing hands, leaning over the rail to sing in the faces of the crowd and climbing up to the straddle the distance between stage and rail. James Robinson of opening act Legacy of Disorder had also jumped into the pit at one point, but Cormier had him beat. Each frontman had done their job – riling up the crowd for the acts that would follow – but Cormier won many more of the fans over, and got the first circle pit of the night churning.

The Cancer Bats’ songs tended to blur together in a swelling heavy rhythm that was as relentless as Cormier’s frantic race to engage every person he could reach. Then again, not knowing the band’s catalogue well and watching Cormier made paying close attention to each song in the set difficult, except for one. Cormier introduced it as a way to relate to any (other) newbies in the Brooklyn crowd, but it’s a safe guess that their cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” snaps most crowds to attention with the force of a broken neck. Taking the best of the original version, making it four-times heavier and using the mid-point break to up the tension before the roaring release of the second half made for a damn ferocious song. Using the Kvelertak Scale of intensity, I would give them a 6, but that was only because the Music Hall was still two-thirds empty at that point – a packed house could have earned them an 8.


And then there was GWAR.

The lights came on for their set, a slave walked out, and before I knew what was happening I was covered in blood that was shooting out of Mitt Romney’s decapitated neck. Vision blurred and mind disorientated, I watched as GWAR bathed their audience in blood while the pre-set voiceover from God telling GWAR that they would be destroyed this very night rang through my head.

Then the show began in earnest.

Romney, Edna Granbo, Obama, Hitler, Jesus, a cyborg God… with each beheading, disemboweling and vivisection GWAR slayed on, fighting the heroes of heaven and other enemies until none were left to oppose them. Their swords and spears were used to embody their music in this war on all that is not metal. Imagine The Force from Star Wars as embodied by the light saber – the Jedi used this tool against evil just as GWAR used their music against good taste and metal pretenders. (Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson received as many disdainful asides as did the politicians who were debating that night.)

The more hated the foe, the louder and harder GWAR’s music became. Pustulus Maximus’ guitar shredded while Hitler was battled during “Krosstika.” At some point during “Whargoul,” while a decapitated Obama sprayed the crowd, all coherent thought was lost to the combined efforts of Pustulus, Balsac the Jaws of Death (guitar), Jizmak Da Gusha (drums) and Beefcake the Mighty (bass). All that remained was the sound of metal and the feeling of blood flying off the scalps of headbangers.


Lording over all of this was Oderus Urungus, leader as well as leader singer of GWAR. In the process of piloting the counter-attack against God he also won the audience over to GWAR’s side, turning his fans into his slaves. After being battered with blood and metal, there was no choice but to submit and join GWAR’s legion. Broadway shows may have more nuanced sets and song lyrics that don’t involve over-the-top levels of violence, but the spectacle of a GWAR performance makes you one with the show. As Oderus said before “Let Us Slay,” “We don’t ask for much, just your souls.”

If you believe the mythos that GWAR created the human race, then the act of joining the legion of their slaves confirms that we are all one with GWAR, chaos warriors blasting away through space to a heavy metal soundtrack.


Maybe that is why the FDNY were called to the Music Hall after the show, thanks perhaps to a chaos warrior setting off the fire alarm as an act of mayhem. If that is case, a simple fire alarm may only be the beginning. All those who stand for order and good taste should be afraid, for the Fate or Chaos tour has only begun, and all across North America are fans waiting for the chance to join GWAR’s ever-growing legion.

Text & photos: Dan Meade
October 18, 2012

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