music (2006-48)

The Siege Continues

After two decades, Gwar continues to seek world domination

by Mike Gibson

Oderus Urungus (née Dave Brockie) of Gwar has only just raised himself from the ranks of the dead and hungover on this grim November afternoon, exhausted from another long night of slaughter and rapine. No sooner has he arisen than he finds himself plunging down a stairwell, and no sooner has he recovered from the fall than he finds himself coughing up the first half-swallowed bites of his breakfast. It seems that even murderous mutant space pirates can have bad days.

“But aside from plummeting down staircases and choking on beef jerky, things are going great,” Urungus/Brockie says, hacking and sputtering into a cell phone from somewhere in central Texas. “This is one of the hugest tours we’ve ever done, and we’re discovering a whole generation of Gwar freaks who are dominating this planet. Yes, it’s not just some unholy rumor, but indeed a reality. And now people are seeing it with their own two beady eyes.”

Pity the poor human race, for it is true. The 21-year-old shock-rock outfit known as Gwar, which once stormed into the national consciousness via video segments on MTV’s Beavis and Butthead in the 1990s, has caught a second wind coming off its ultra-heavy 2004 release War Party , the band’s most successful album in ages. Now it has taken to the road again in support of their August release of the follow-up Beyond Hell , boasting a live act that promises to be more disgusting—laden with more deviant sexuality and twisted pagan ritual and unmitigated gore—than any in Gwar history. 

Just where Gwar came from remains a matter of some speculation. Says Urungus: “There are two versions. One is that we are outcast space pirates from beyond Uranus who were banished to earth to pay penance for crimes too horrible to admit. The other is we’re just a bunch of pimply-faced art school students from Richmond, Va. who came up with the stupidest idea in entertainment history and then proceeded to try to make a billion dollars off it, failing miserably in the process. Each story is a lie.

What’s certain is that Gwar has built a reputation for having perhaps the most sensational stage show in rock, a freakishly fun live act featuring outlandishly costumed band members with names like Balsac the Jaws of Death and Beefcake the Mighty and Jizmak Da Gusha, loads of ludicrous prosthetics and fake blood by the bucketful.

And unlike so many costumed joke-rock outfits—see the late and unlamented Green Jelly—Gwar is capable of crafting majestic metal epics that hold up even without theatrical embellishment: Witness the band’s sublimely ridiculous 1992 pseudo-hit anthem “The Road Behind.”

Urungus says the band has sought to return to its heavy-rock origins on recent albums, after several years of experimenting with different genres—jazz and country and Broadway-style kitsch—and over-extended comedic concepts that diluted the full-throttle Metal mayhem that bought it a measure of success in the first place.

“For a while we sort of went off into experimental punk-rock comedy land, and we kind of got sick of playing that stuff because it sucks,” says Urungus with characteristic frankness. “We pretty much hated that shit and wanted to get on to something else, so we went back to Metal three records ago.”

Every tour presents another chapter in the band’s long and bloody exile on planet Earth, and Urungus says the theme of this year’s act is Gwar’s descent into Hell. The storyline has it that, having been driven far underground by the planet’s combined armies, Gwar happens upon the gates of Hell, meeting with various demons, trolls and assorted hapless members of the population of the Damned, and eventually the very Master of the underworld himself.

“The audience will inevitably be as much a part of the show as the band is,” Urungus continues. “A lot of people get dressed up in weird Gwar attire, although I’m not sure they’re any stranger than the freaks who come out to see live rock and roll shows in general. The strangest thing we’ve seen is that we had a group of Norwegians throw dog vomit on us one time. That wasn’t very cool.”

But perhaps there is no better testament to Gwar’s influence and staying power than the recent victory of the five-piece Lordi in the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual battle-of-the-bands-style competition that includes contestants from all over Europe. With ghoulish but goofy rubber masks, heavily prosthetics-laden costumes and an anthemic Metal sound shockingly reminiscent of everyone’s favorite Scumdogs of the Universe, the Finnish act won the Eurovision by a greater margin than any band in contest history.

Urungus doesn’t begrudge the band some are calling “the European version of Gwar”; he says he wouldn’t mind sharing the bill with Lordi, should the opportunity present itself. “It would be fun,” he says.

“And besides,” he adds, “why would we have any fear of them? They are only human, after all, and we are Gwar, violent hedonistic pedophiles, bloodmad piglords from space… Well, maybe not pedophiles so much. We believe in violating everything .”

Who: Gwar w/ The Red Chord and Municipal Waste