For nearly 25 years, a rumbling has come from the seedy heavy-metal underground. Covered in foam-rubber masks, claiming to be born on another planet and found while hibernating in Antarctica, GWAR has gone from a curious oddity of Richmond, Va.‘s metal scene to a metal institution.
But when asked about the band’s status to some as a heavy-metal “Weird Al” Yankovic, GWAR’s leader Dave Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus, says it ain’t so. According to Brockie, GWAR’s roots may be in parody, but over time it became an entity unto itself.
“The [last 24 years] have been weird. We started as a parody, a satire and even an attack on what we thought was stupid in metal. We wanted to be a band that made fun of the rock and roll archetype. What we didn’t realize was how good the parody could be or how funny the joke was,” Brockie says.
That joke—about the absurdity and theatricality of the umlaut-ridden heavy-metal scene—became both high art and lowbrow comedy in GWAR’s fake-blood-covered hands. The band’s musical output remains heavy metal, but lyrically the group tends to walk the line between horror-movie fantasies, bodily-fluid fixations and a mockery of pop culture that sometimes ends up skewering GWAR itself.
“The joke has so many levels to it, whether it’s about music or heavy metal, but we are also doing a pretty good job of playing this music,” Brockie asserts. “We’re totally parodying ourselves. We’re the first people to point the finger at ourselves. Self-deprecating humor is an essential part of the GWAR experience. Plus, the targets we go after is sometimes the only justice these people are going to get.”
The band’s live shows are notorious: Imagine a cross between a Gallagher concert and a professional-wrestling match. Yet the cultlike following of GWAR has become a rock ‘n’ roll success story that Brockie finds shocking.
“It really surprised us when we went from playing in front of 200 buddies of ours to playing in front of a thousand people to touring around the world,” he says. “It blew us away, and the parody aspects were always there. But we weren’t really focused on it.”
Live, the fire-breathing, monster-battling and sketch comedy all collide within the framework of the band’s pounding music. But as the blood flows (and sprays upon audience members) and the music plays, does Brockie ever worry that audiences attend the concerts not for the music but for the spectacle of grown men dressed as monsters while dousing the crowd in colored water?
“We’d look stupid just standing up there with no soundtrack, and if we were just playing the music without the costumes nobody would [care],” Brockie explains. “But put the two together at the same time, and it becomes an effective and powerful force.”
A force that still awes Brockie, 24 years into a career spent as a singing monster.
“I think it’s great that people know about us. They might not know about our music or our band, but they are going to recognize our picture,” he says. “It’s been such a slow and steady progression. We never hit it big, but we have managed to stay around. We’ve been underground gods, but at the same time GWAR is always spreading its hideous message around the world.”
After nearly a quarter-century of ear-melting sounds and clothes-ruining live performances, GWAR shows no signs of slowing down.
“GWAR is going to go on as long as we want it to,” Brockie declares. “GWAR has become a fixture in our society, right up there with the tooth fairy.”
[Jason Bugg is a Sylva-based writer.]
who: GWAR, with Kingdom of Sorrow and Toxic Holocaust
what: Heavy-metal theater. Expect to be doused with fake blood.
where: The Orange Peel
when: Monday, Oct. 6. 8 p.m. ($18.50 in advance, $22 at the door. www.theorangepeel.net)