EUROPE HAS NO TASTE FOR THE SUBTLE NUANCES OF GWAR
As the opening date for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to the Alien mythos, approaches, we are reminded of that elegantly ominous scene in the original: after Yaphet Kotto has right-crossed Ash’s cyber-head off its twitching body, the crew members prop it up to interrogate it on its knowledge of the creature lurking in the spaceship’s shiny-dark, Giger-crafted bowels.
He describes the thing as the consummate predator, unencumbered by delusions of morality or mercy, unlikeable and un-killable, the perfect organism.
Repulsed by his chilly appreciation for the thing, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley sneers, “You admire it.”
“I admire its purity,” Ash laments, eyes cast away in confessional shame, milky cyber-goo gurgling from his mouth.
(And then they blowtorch the head.) We were recently granted audience with Oderous Urungus from GWAR’s Slave Pit headquarters in Richmond, Va. Urungus had not long before announced that the European leg of their latest assault had been whacked (out of fear, presumably). We asked if there was a sense of letdown in the Swarm.
“No, not at all,” boomed Urungus. “They’re not, y’know, quite so witted over there; they can’t handle anything remotely with a sense of humor. If they think for a moment you’re making fun of them, then you become immediately uncool. And they just don’t understand our Americanized sense of humor. I mean, it’s not like we wanted to slog around England and play in a bunch of shitty, tube-smeared rock ’n’ roll clubs. We’d much rather play in America, to a couple of thousand people and fuckin’ huge happy festivals and do things like travel all the time and make absolutely no money.
“They don’t appreciate GWAR in Europe, and quite simply, we’re not going to go back until they do.”
Take that, cheese eaters. Fronting the greatest rock theater in the universe, Urungus is faithfully attended to by longtime Richmond metal slacker and vocalist of uncommon distinction Dave Brockie, who assembled the outfit as an experimental shock-metal project back in 1984. While the band has undergone countless personnel changes, each member given a new character in the crack-munching, violence-mongering GWAR ethos, the core of the band — Brockie, guitarist Mike Derks (Balsac The Jaws Of Death) and drummer Brad Roberts (Jizmak Da Gusha) — has endured since about 1990. That year marked the release of the band’s roundly acclaimed masterstroke Scumdogs Of The Universe, eventually even copping Grammy nominations twice in the 1990s (losing one of them to, of all people, Annie Lennox.)
And if the gruesome visage of the alien-beast gang staggered audiences into stunned bewilderment, GWAR’s musical assault, keened from a potent blend of period death-metal and SST-era punk and framed by blasts of lyrical content poison-tipped to offend pretty much anybody fluent in the English language, left little doubt that ugly dogs could hunt, too.
If GWAR was birthed as satire, it lasted long enough to burst through the chest of novelty. And while metal relives another commercial resurgence as a sanctuary from industry poseurs and popflits, GWAR remains the unkillable beast, patiently swinging its spiked tail, awaiting the faithful and acolyte alike to goathorn in abject surrender.
While Brockie and Urungus share a common corpus, it’s a little mystifying at times which one to address and which one responds, until it becomes self-evident that they’re really kind of the same organism.
“Well, yeah, there’s really no other band that sounds like us,” Brockie says, “and a lot of that has to do with the vocals. But really, the thing is, we never tried to be a metal band, never tried to be a punk rock band. We always just tried to be a heavy band, and write what we felt we should write. It’s always been a very natural experience.”
Metal fans, to their undying credit, have an uncanny knack for sniffing out posturing phoniness and empty gestures. A pitiless trade, and a tough business, but Brockie is as much a fan as he is a performer, and he respects his audience.
“It was always easy for us,” Brockie says, “because we just never bullshit people. And it might sound strange coming from Oderus, but as long as the music is always honest, and reflects how we really feel, then it’s never going to be bullshit. It’s when you start makin’ shit up, that’s when you’re going to get called out.”
And for those who have followed the band’s career, the band’s latest offering, 2010’s Bloody Pit Of Horror, came as a resounding success, belying the usual bets against an outfit with such a lengthy history, playing in such a counter-intuitively discriminating arena. The band had toured hard and successfully behind its predecessor Lust In Space, and Urungus says Horror arrived more or less fully formed.
“We had just finished Lust In Space, and we wanted to get into the studio immediately, it was our big studio anniversary [25 years], so we wanted to put out two records in that two-year period, but we really didn’t have the material. Then Flattus [Maximus, guitarist Cory Smoot], goes, ‘Oh, well I kind of have this whole thing written already.’ So it was just a matter of arranging the lyrics and getting into the studio. It was an amazing experience.”
In November of last year, just as the band was getting ready to drive into Canada to continue their fall tour, Smoot was found dead on the band’s tour bus, the victim of coronary artery thrombosis stemming from pre-existing coronary artery disease.
With the blessing of Smoot’s family, the band decided to soldier on as a four-piece, staging a Smoot family benefit in Richmond and dedicating the rest of the tour to Smoot, with guitarist Balsac (Derks) picking up Smoot’s fleet guitar parts.
“He was a huge part of our music … but we are just continuing as a fourpiece. Balsac’s guitar is more than adequate to make a hideous noise, not one that will ever fill the fissure that will always remain in our hearts for Flattus’ sweetly hideous sounds, but we felt it was the best way to give a tribute to our fallen scumdog brother.”
Urungus had peasants to terrorize, so in parting we asked if GWAR, whose stage shows regularly test the limits of — ahem — common decency, were actually banned anywhere.
“No,” he says, pondering a bit. “They gave up trying to ban us, because when they tried we would just go there anyway. They found out that the best way to get GWAR not to play in their city is just to give us really bad directions.”
Yes, Ripley, we admire the thing.