I came up during a time where rock, metal, industrial, punk, techno, rap, electro, and even more were often smashed together into an also often admirably ugly thing; an alluring car wreck of sounds, tone, attitude, off-putting goatees, and spiked hair. Those were the days, and it certainly was a time. Because of this, I have a soft spot for new bands looking to offer a nü perspective on those things, not those that only seek to cash in on nostalgia, but practically make it into a lifestyle, to commit harder. I don’t think there’s many people on the modern metal circuit that embody that more than WARGASM.
A little over a year ago, I remember a friend of mine (shout out to Tatum) suggesting them to me. I peeped “Salma Hayek” and “Super Fiend” and I loved how well they blended all the messy elements of the late ’90s and early 2000s into one throbbing, dangerous tetanus infection of post-apocalyptic fervor. It wasn’t just edgy, but sharp – honed to precision and given a motor and wheels to blaze across the wastes of what remained of the world. If that sounds like a reference to Mad Max, well, it is, and the duo themselves are keen to make similar references if their music videos, fashion, and callout of ‘witness meeeeee!‘ in the middle of “Ride The Thunder” are anything to go by.
But that’s the kind of energy Sam Matlock (guitar, vocals) and Milkie Way (bass, vocals) channel with Venom, their first LP after a long stint of dropping banger single after banger single, with the odd EP to scoop those singles up in a neat collection. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m happy to say that this album sees a lot of their catchy, caustic potential realized. Pulsing electronic beats, humming bass, growling dog guitars, and the duo’s unique vocal duet make a great impression on those of us looking for something adrenal, because 5 Gum’s been out for too long for that to hit the same anymore.
As good as the singles are (and they are good), the deep cuts are what make Venom bite hard. The aforementioned “Ride The Thunder” kicks hugely with bass, putting Way’s seductive voice up front and center for much of the song. She really has a way with melody when she wants to. Often, she has a gently imposing, half-sung spoken word cadence which makes her impossible to miss in the chaos of these songs, but when she lightens her voice up and allows it to float across the industrial foundation, it’s downright pretty and I can’t help but draw comparisons to Poppy. Matlock’s voice is a great foil to her: deeper, more brooding, and usually screaming his parts, one of the best of which is at the end of this track where all of the instrumentation kicks in to blast it off with a suplex of an outro.
“Feral” straight-up could have ruled the rock airwaves in 2001. It smacks of nü metal with its rough edges, cleaner vocal melodies, and rapped vocals. It makes so much sense why they got Fred Durst on this album for its sole feature on “Bang Ya Head” which sees WARGASM pay more homage to that bygone-yet-inexplicably-returning sound. I was a big, big fan of Limp Bizkit when I was a kid so this reunion is sweeter than it otherwise would be, and he still has the energy needed to keep up with WARGASM who already tear across anywhere they wanna go like scrap rockets. I love how they glitched up Way’s voice after each hook.
Another great deep cut is “S.A.D.” which stands for ‘self-assured destruction’. It’s massively aggressive; the instrumentation is steel-reinforced sounding like something HEALTH would put together during their DEATH MAGIC days. The lyrics get rather dark which plays to Matlock’s vocal delivery very well while Way keeps it femme-fatale anthemic with a melodic pre-chorus (‘So I dress myself up in tragedy and thigh-high apathy/May god help my enemies‘) and assist on the chorus itself. I just know this song goes the fuck off live. Same with “Minigun” which sounds like something Mick Gordon contributed to (he didn’t, but the sound is uncanny). Nice staccato chords from the guitars like that of sustained minigun fire, and I like how the instrumentation drops out for Way to do her thing to great effect before Matlock blasts in for a searing hook.
WARGASM is a serious band, but not without their self-awareness and cheekiness. “Sombre Goodbye” is the closing track, but it’s really more of a fleshed-out outro with a bit of a joke at its core. What starts with a forlorn, defeated tone like you’re trapped inside of a dilapidated, dying mech (like the ones on the album cover, designed as if straight out of an early PS1 game) after a vicious battle with Matlock stewing in melancholy with the refrain of ‘I only loved her ’cause she looked like you‘ ends with Way audibly kicking in a door and telling him (and us) that nobody cares about sad songs. ‘WARGASM sounds like this!‘, she says before launching into a final assault – which is mostly a quick reprise of the title track’s great chorus – before ending, or looping to the intro like I’ve been doing the past week.
13 songs around 40 minutes total, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Not a weak song here – okay, “Sonic Dog Tag” didn’t hit like it perhaps should have, but it’s not bad. It’s vigorous and more than an elongated callback to years long past. It’s a sunbaked cyberpunk nightmare (or dream depending on how far gone you are) given nitrous and catapulted through your window; a post-apocalyptic X Games commercial jettisoned across the world, filling the sky with smoke and resonate bass as we all tremble. Actually, speaking of cyberpunk, I have no fucking idea how WARGASM weren’t approached to contribute music or anything to CD PROJEKT RED‘s ugly duckling glow-up Cyberpunk 2077 because their sonic aesthetic was practically made for something like that.
But fuck it, WARGASM belong right where they are, acting as a power fantasy of sorts for a broken world too wounded and piss-scared to tear anything down. Maybe that’s the wrong thing to take from Venom as it doesn’t exactly portray a better way out, but it does exact upon a very specific escapism that’s riotous and refreshingly unruly. It’s a rule-breaking, tumultuous dystopia that still manages to be wholly appealing and well worth vacationing in thanks to the allure of its sexy tendencies and enabling of our hedonistic ways. But here I am reading way too much into an album that’s just great fun – WARGASM are awesome, as hospitable of hosts as any band I could name from my nostalgic past, but likely better. May they rule long and hard.