Unless you're a die-hard Bohab, there are things you may not realize about GWAR's late frontman Dave Brockie. When he wasn't busy rocking your face off as Oderus Urungus, Brockie had other pursuits and callings, including a love for history. His passion for World War II era history, particularly the Eastern Front, was immense and even influenced one of my favorite GWAR songs of all time, Whargoul. The character and story created in this track was intense and felt so much larger than what was being performed, like a side story connected to the Scumdogs and their invasion of earth. Whargoul would eventually take on its own life to become Brockie's only published novel.
Dave Brockie with the head of Oderus Urungus.
When I downloaded Whargoul to read I wasn't quite sure what to expect. A musician writing a novel can be a lot like a vegan cooking a steak. They may know how to prepare it but the chances of it being good seem slim. Published in 2010, the book is a first person narrative retelling that begins in the horror of the Battle of Stalingrad. The Nazis had launched an offensive against the Soviet city but had been stymied by heavy resistance and a brutal winter. On both sides of the battlefield soldiers were freezing, starving, and dying brutal and unimaginable deaths. This is where we find the titular Whargoul, experiencing the carnage first hand as he fights for one side and then the other. He describes the way soldiers would scrabble out from their defensive positions for even the tiniest morsel of food only to be gunned down in vivid detail.
From there, the story only becomes stranger and more difficult to read.
I say difficult not because of the style, although Brockie does tend to have a sometimes rambling and scattershot sense of what the reader needs to focus on. No, the difficulty is in the subject matter. The Whargoul is a creature not of this world who is experiencing the full range of human depravity and degeneracy firsthand. The story explores the most unfortunate and brutal aspects of the human condition both from the position of a man as well as something not at all human trying to understand it all. The depth of the exploration of violence and substance abuse in particular are written from a point of view of someone who has experienced these aspects first hand and is trying to cope with them in a way that would make sense to anyone, anything that would read it. In many ways I felt the story of Whargoul was that of a being wholly removed and looking in at humanity, trying to understand without having a proper frame of reference.
As a reader, you become the Whargoul as it experiences time and transition from one human experience to the next. From a starving soldier in the battlefield, a rapist monster running amok, a drug addicted wretch alone in the darkness, and so many lives that the character leads before his ultimate fate you are forced to open your mind to the harshness of what it can mean to be human. The violent, cannibalistic being that tells this tale could easily be a series of more mundane and easily identifiable people recounting their darkest moments but that wouldn’t do to truly drive home the point. This “monster” is struggling to find a greater meaning in itself while simultaneously experiencing and craving these most barbarous and loathsome aspects of mankind. It makes you stop to ask yourself what it means to be inhuman when humanity itself is capable of such wholesale carnage and horror.
Dave Brockie was a treasure. Through his music, his performance, and in the case of Whargoul, his words. The story itself is remarkable for the attention to detail, the accuracy, and the thought that was placed in it. The book is truly masterful horror worthy of recognition because of the way in which that horror is delivered. Despite the fact that our main character is an undying monster, it is what he does and what tacitly what people do that truly makes Whargoul terrifying.