The recent issue of Metal Maniacs magazine describes GWAR as a "novelty act", and even goes so far as to place them side-by-side with noisemongers A.C. I can see how mistakes like that get made, but it's a mistake nonetheless.
Sure, they wear ungodly huge costumes, they claim to have been sent to Earth millions of years ago, they have a giant worm monster that eats virgin slaves on stage. Gosh, people just can't have fun without being mocked!
All kidding aside, GWAR have always had a considerable supply of chops to go with the freaked-out panache. If you took away the costumes, the fake blood (at least I assume it's fake), the dancing slave girls, the shackled and manacled horn section, and all the other trappings of the GWAR stage show, you'd still have music worth listening to. A Metal Blade publicity statement for this album says that the band "has combined such a chaotic collection of styles that it would turn Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart green with envy." While that might be going just a bit too far to put these boys in the same league as the mighty FZ, it's not as harebrained a comparison as it might seem at first. GWAR owes a great deal to Frank, and in many ways makes music that he himself might have made: it's silly in a learned and sophisticated way, and goes directly over the heads of most people. (Those same people who think Monty Python and Brak are just silly nonsense, you know.)
Carnival of Chaos starts out with "Penguin Attack", a typically ass-kicking tune that features GWAR's signature ability to get you dancing around like a fool while carelessly knocking things off of tables. This is fun music, with no aspiration to symphonic greatness. "Back to Iraq" is another great excuse to act like an idiot.
But songs like "Letter From the Scallop Boat" and "Let's Blame the Lightman" show that these are serious songwriters, even if the songs they choose to write are not always serious. If that wasn't enough to convince you, there's always the song "The Private Pain of Techno Destructo", which features an interlude taken from "The Barber of Seville."
And if all that wasn't enough to make you go out and buy the album today, there's "Sex Cow", a hillbilly country song complete with barnyard noises and "boing!" sounds that resolves itself into a rockabilly, Beach Boys-style groove before giving way to "Antarctican Drinking Song", a song that is every bit as fun as it sounds. And the climactic track, "Don't Need A Man", is a smooth, Angelo Badalamenti-style groove complete with walking bass line and snapping fingers. I can practically see Dennis Hopper putting the gas mask up to his face as I listen.
There are three kinds of people in this world: those who like GWAR, those who like GWAR but won't admit it, and those who have never heard GWAR. If you're in the third category, Carnival of Chaos is as good a place to begin as any, indeed their most diverse and adventurous album.
And if you're in the second category...get over yourself!