The merging of music and theatre is common but few took it to the extremes Gwar did. It all started in a deserted bottling plant in Richmond, VA where space was rented for various "artistic endeavors," including rehearsals by a Punk band named Death Piggy with singer/bassist Dave Brockie (the future Oderus Urungus).
In an adjacent area, Hunter Jackson (Techno Destructo) and Chuck Varga (Sexecutioner), had set up "The Slave Pit," as a production area for a film they planned to make called Scumdogs of the Universe. Jackson subsequently created props for Death Piggy to use on stage. But Death Piggy soon gave way to a more novel entity drawing heavily from science fiction/horror film inspired themes and costumes. This group's original name was Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh, which was, for obvious reasons, shortened to Gwar.
The storyline was as follows: The members of Gwar were aliens banished to Earth as punishment for eating "too many chili bean burritos and making a mess of things." So naturally they set out to wreak havoc amongst the infidel natives who were viewed as scum. For reasons not fully explained, their attire was heavily influenced by Roman soldiers and gladiators, with a touch of the Huns.
Even with a memorable, one of a kind concept, members came and went with regularity. There have been more than 25 Gwar members. However, a big chunk of the departures (including three female members - The Temptress - Heather Broome, '86; Amazina - Colette Miller, '86-87; and Gwar Woman - Lisa Harrelson, '87-88) came before or shortly after the '88 release of the group's Thrash Metal/Punk debut "Hell-O."
With producer Ivan Healy Purvis, Gwar issued sophomore set "Scumdogs Of The Universe" on Metal Blade Records. It was a modest success - at least enough to keep going. Once notable change was the costumes became more elaborate.
Speaking of which, Gwar was (temporarily) banned in North Carolina because Brockie, now Oderus Urungus, was wearing a rather obscene looking cod piece during a Charlotte show, which led to his arrest.
The incident inspired Gwar's third album, "America Must Be Destroyed," and the accompanying Grammy nominated Phallus in Wonderland, which contained music videos from the album. But before that happened, Oderus Urungus and Beefcake the Mighty (Michael Bishop) made an infamous yet comical appearance on Joan Rivers' talk show.
In her intro, Rivers described Gwar as "the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on LSD."
Claiming to be from a distance planet, "far beyond your anus," the pair managed to baffle Rivers until she exclaimed "I don't know what the Hell you're talking about."
She did get the last laugh. At the beginning of the interview Oderus Urungus said "let's give a hand to Joan." While the audience seemed reluctant to play along, he gave Rivers a severed bloody prop hand. At the end of the segment, Rivers said they can drop by any time and she dropped the hand to the floor. Maybe the audience laughter was more from relief than anything else. Still, there was more T.V.
From "This Toilet Earth," "Saddam A Go-Go" and "The Road Behind" videos were aired on Beavis and Butt-head. Despite some experimental tracks the set increased the band's exposure. But '95's "Ragnarok," with keyboards incorporated for the first time, proved to be a step back.
Two years later, "Carnival Of Chaos" dropped and was promoted, slightly, when band members appeared on The Jerry Springer Show to discuss "Shock Rock." Even in the Rivers interview a few years earlier the host wondered aloud whether the sex, violence and splattered stage blood had a negative impact on young people. In front of a mostly female audience the question took a sharper tone.
"We Kill Everything" came and went with little notice, and songs from this set were rarely played live.
Co-founder Jackson left in '00 to focus on personal projects.
Zach Blair was hired as Flattus Maximus and the original Beefcake the Mighty, Casey Orr, returned for the recording of the Thrash Metal set "Violence Has Arrived." It was Gwar's most successful album in years though it led to a break from Metal Blade.
Blair departed soon afterward landing as the guitarist for Rise Against.
'04's "War Party" kept the heavy sound and met with underground success (but not mainstream - it seemed that moment had passed).
"Beyond Hell," Gwar's tenth studio effort was a concept album/Rock opera, with Oderus Urungus handling all the lead vocals, just as he had on "Violence Has Arrived." The plot revolved around the band's journey to Hell to escape attacking armies of humanity. Interestingly, this '06 set contained a cover of Alice Cooper's "School's Out," which was released as a single.
Back on Metal Blade, Gwar issued '09's "Lust In Space."
Following "Bloody Pit Of Horror," the group's fortunes took a decidedly nasty turn. On 11/3/11, guitarist Cory Smoot, who had portrayed Flattus Maximus since '02, was found dead on the band's tour bus crossing the border into Manitoba, Canada. "A coronary artery thrombosis brought about by his pre-existing coronary artery disease," was listed as the cause of death. The following day, Brockie officially announced that the character of Flattus Maximus would be retired out of respect to Smoot.
"Battle Maximus" dropped in '13 but the next year Gwar received more publicity, though unwelcomed, than they had in years. Brockie was found dead at his home in Richmond, VA on March 23rd, '14. He was 50 years old.
As fans awaited Brockie's toxicology report, Gwar announced plans to proceed with their annual summer "Gwar-B-Q" event at Hadad's Lake in Richmond, VA. "As Dave and Oderus would have wanted," read a statement from the group's manager.
For the record Brockie died from a heroin overdose.
It was probably too much to expect any dignity. A little over a year after Brockie's death, his father sued the band for allegedly holding onto his son's musical equipment, artwork and ashes. He also sought $1 million in compensatory damages plus punitive damages for a supposed breach of contract and the unauthorized use of Brockie's image.
The group denied all charges in a statement.
1990 Scumdogs Of The Universe
1992 America Must Be Destroyed
1994 This Toilet Earth
1997 Carnival Of Chaos
1999 We Kill Everything
2001 Violence Has Arrived
2004 War Party
2006 Beyond Hell
2009 Lust In Space
2010 Bloody Pit Of Horror
2013 Battle Maximus