Sunday Old School: Gwar - Remembering Dave Brockie
Band Photo: Gwar (?)
Given the tragic news earlier this week that GWAR frontman, Dave Brockie, perhaps better known by his stage name, Oderus Urungus, has passed away at the age of only fifty, it seemed an appropriate and respectful time to look back on the legacy of his music and the band themselves, who arguably put on the most shocking heavy metal shows known to man. GWAR began life, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a joke by a band named Death Piggy, for whom Brockie was the lead singer and bassist. The group were intending to make a movie entitled, "Scumdogs of the Universe" and decided it would be a fun idea to wear the costumes on stage and be their own support act, dubbing themselves, Gwaaarrrgghhllgh and claiming to be from Antarctica, while sacrificing fake animals on stage. After a while, the members of Death Piggy noticed that people were more interested in seeing Gwaaarrrgghhllgh than their main act, with many leaving before Death Piggy took the stage and so the band was gradually erased in favour of concentrating on the now shortened moniker, GWAR. The original lineup of the band under the slightly new name consisted of Brockie on guitar, Chris Bopst on bass, Sean Summer on drums, vocalist Ben Eubanks and former Techno Destructo member Hunter Jackson, though it would go through several lineup changes very quickly, with Brockie eventually settling in as vocalist after another singer named Joe Annaruma recorded several demo tracks.
After going through more new members, the band eventually found themselves being signed to Shimmy Disc Records, for whom they released their debut album, "Hell-O." The album is something of a talking point amongst GWAR fans, being particularly divisive for an early record, with some fans enjoying the album and a significant amount who are not so keen on it. They began touring to promote the album, though guitarist Steve Douglas would soon leave, being replaced by mainstay, Michael Derks.
Following some more lineup changes, the group set about recording their second album, "Scumdogs on the Universe," a concept record which revolved around the theme of Gwar ruling the Earth and heavy use of dark humour. The album was a big success both critically and commercially and garnered the band a lot more fans and a deal with Metal Blade Records, who released the home video, "Live from Antarctica." The success of the album also led Gwar to appear in the movie, "Mystery Date" starring Ethan Hawke.
Unsurprisingly, controversy followed Gwar wherever they performed, even causing the group to be banned in North Carolina for a time due to Oderus’s "Cuttlefish of Cthulu" codpiece, an item for which he was arrested on obscenity charges. The band turned the incident into their advantage however, by turning the charge into a storyline for their next full length album, "America Must Be Destroyed." Once again, the lyrics were highly outlandish, featuring amongst other things, a dinosaur egg being shot up with crack cocaine. Gwar also made a movie to complement the album, entitled, grotesquely enough, "Phallus in Wonderland." The movie was nominated for a Grammy Award, but lost out to Annie Lennox.
Another album and movie were soon planned, and it looked as though both would gain considerably wider distribution when Warner Brothers expressed their interest in the band, offering to not only sign them, but also to help finance their next movie, "Skullhedface" and help distribute Metal Blade Records material. However, the exiting plans hit a snag when the company expressed their disapproval of the song, "B.D.F." and demanded the song be pulled, adding that if they did not drop the song from the album, "This Toilet Earth," then not only would the contract between the company and the band be nullified, but so would the partnership between Warner Brothers and Metal Blade. This caused some serious discussions within the band, but Metal Blade made it clear to them that they would have their support regardless of their decision and so Gwar decided not to drop the song, "B.D.F." from the album. The record itself performed moderately well and received some decent reviews, as well as earning the band a spotlight on the hit show, "Beavis and Butthead," who aired the videos for "Saddam A Go-Go" and "The Road Behind."
Their next album, "Ragnarok" was something of a commercial failure when compared to the previous three releases. As the title suggests, the concept behind this record was an end of the world scenario, focusing on an AIDS like plague, meteors and robots. Musically, the album was more in the vein of standard heavy metal than the previous thrash and punk sounding efforts and brought keyboards into the band’s sound. Another home video, "Rendezvous with Ragnarok" was released to help promote the album the same year, as well as a second mainstream movie appearance for the band, this time in the poorly received, "Empire Records."
It was to be another two years before Gwar released their next album, "Carnival of Chaos," a record which saw more experimenting than any Gwar record before or since, utilising such styles as jazz and country music, as well as heavy metal. It was just after the release of the album that members of the band made perhaps the most famous of the mainstream Gwar appearances, when they were featured on the Jerry Springer Show along with The Mentors and they were soon at work on their next album, "We Kill Everything," which was perhaps their most punk rock sounding album since their debut. It was not received particularly well, not least by the band themselves, who more or less disowned the album and rarely performed songs from the record live.
The disappointment of "We Kill Everything" led the band to change direction and revert back to their thrash metal sound for the 2001 album, "Violence Has Arrived." It received slightly better reviews but more importantly, it was an album that both the fans and the band were happy with. It spawned a number of popular songs, such as "Immortal Corruptor," for which a music video was made, and "Biledriver," which has often been used to close live shows. However, it marked their last release through Metal Blade Records and the group signed a deal with DRT Entertainment soon afterwards, with whom they released their most successful album in years, "War Party."
"War Party," as the title implies, took some inspiration from the war in Iraq, a news story which dominated both media and music in the 2000s, and the year’s presidential election were incorporated into the album’s lyrics, particularly in the title track, for which a music video was made. The album also featured the favourite, "Krosstika," which was often performed live shortly after the start of their shows. This new, topical approach seemed to pay off, with the album becoming their best selling in years and earning the group a slot on the first Sounds of the Underground tour, alongside such acts as Opeth and Madball, amongst many others in 2005. That same year, the band released a live album, "Live from Mt. Fuji," (which was actually recorded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)
More exposure soon followed, including the band appearing in the cartoon, "Codename: Kids Next Door" (which featured re-recorded versions of "Gor-Gor" and "The Private Pain of Techno Destructo") and the opening of an art exhibition named, "The Art of Gwar," before the band recorded and released a new album, "Beyond Hell," which continued in the thrash metal vein. It was also another concept album, this time revolving around the idea of the band’s journey to Hell and concluded with a cover of the Alice Cooper classic, "School’s Out," which was done at the urging of their record company. The album did well and after releasing another DVD, "Blood Bath and Beyond," the band made a special appearance at the 2006 Sounds of the Underground tour, before headlining the 2007 edition of the event.
In 2009, Gwar celebrated their twenty fifth anniversary by releasing a new album entitled, "Lust in Space," which received generally positive reviews and peaked at number 96 on the Billboard Album Charts. They promoted the album with an appearance at the Gathering of the Juggalos, before touring across North America with Lamb of God and Job for a Cowboy. A year later, they released another new album, "Bloody Pit of Horror," which also recent decent reviews. Tragedy struck while touring in support of the album however, when the band members found guitarist Cory Smoot, who had portrayed the character of Flattus Maximus for almost ten years, dead on the tour bus. The character was retired out of respect for Smoot.
He was replaced by Brent Purgason, who performed under the name Pustulus Maximus, who was first shown to the fans in late 2012, when a video showing Gwar performing the song, "Carry On My Wayward Son" was posted online. Shortly afterwards, they embarked on the "Fate or Chaos Tour," where they revealed that a new album, "Battle Maximus" would be released later that year. It finally hit the shelves in September 2013, the same week that a petition was launched to have the band perform at the half time show of Super Bowl 2015.
Sadly, it seems that the world will not see Gwar soak the University of Phoenix Stadium in blood, as six days ago, the heavy metal world was shook with the news that Dave Brockie had been found dead in his home. The cause of death remains unknown at present, but frankly that isn’t so important. What is important is that Brockie helped form and shape one of the most outrageous acts in the history of rock and metal. One whose live shows was the stuff of legend and made the likes of Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson look like child’s play. One who changed the face of rock and demanded respect from even those who weren’t fans of the band. One whose lyrics and storytelling perhaps didn’t always get the recognition it deserved, but nonetheless carved a place in the annals of rock history which can never be removed.
Gwar - "Sick Of You"
Gwar - "Gor-Gor"
Gwar - "Saddam A Go-Go"
Gwar - "Penguin Attack"
Gwar - "Immortal Corruptor"
Gwar - "War Party"
Gwar - "Zombies, March!"
Gwar - "Let Us Slay"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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