During a recent tour stop in Toronto I had a chance to sit down with the always quotable Dave Brockie, sometimes known as frontman Oderus Urungus of the costumed-metal band Gwar. The members of Gwar play a group of intergalactic alien warlords and produce a live stage spectacle where they vanquish their enemies and a gaggle of celebrities in front of an adoring crowd, who is rewarded by being sprayed with an excessive amount of stage blood and other faux-bodily fluids. People walking out of a Gwar show look like they’ve been reborn, and I mean that in the biological way.
The show itself is a tribute to live theatre and practical special effects. There are no pyro-cannons or lasers, just exquisite handmade costumes, props, and puppets that can change shape, move, and ultimately be destroyed onstage. Over the course of their career I’ve heard some criticize Gwar as being empty spectacle, but each tour has its own story which targets the status quo and destroys the idols of the day. From their early memorable appearance on Jerry Springer, to Oderus’ short tenure as an intergalactic correspondent for Fox News, Gwar has consistently managed to worm (or I suppose, maggot) their way into our consciousness for almost three decades. As long as the characters never age, and the world keeps pumping out politicians and celebrities for them to skewer, Gwar can always be current.
Most Gwar interviews are with Dave in character as Oderus, but I wanted to fill a few of the gaps I had in my mind about the band, as their story and their continued success makes Gwar one of the most unique performance entities in the world. Other than a few sound tweaks this is totally unedited. It’s one part music history lesson as Dave takes me through his early years in the DC punk scene, to his move to Richmond, Virginia and the formation of the band, and finally the various incarnations of Gwar that led to the unique catalogue of albums that form their 30-year career.
It’s also personal as well as Dave waxes on about his 50th year of existence and his newest flame, as well as some of his not-so-great encounters in the early years with Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye. Plus the story of how Gwar lost a gig with Rob Zombie over a post on Twitter.
For my money, thrash is the genre that most people associate with heavy metal. I have no scientific proof of this, and the genre’s overall popularity is certainly in some part due to Metallica’s commercial success since the 90s. But it was the thrash bands of the 80s who pulled the bands that influenced them into the classification of “heavy metal”.
American thrash is certainly the most talked about with “The Big 4” and their contemporaries like Exodus and Testament still pumping out grandiose albums to new young legions of fans. But outside of America the thrash scene with the most dominance is in Germany. Along with Sodom and Destruction, Kreator is regarded as one of the founding fathers of German thrash metal, a rougher and grittier version of its American cousin.
Kreator’s 1986 sophomore effort “Pleasure To Kill”, is regarded as essential listening for thrash fans. Much like other classic thrash acts Kreator is doing well in the age of modern metal with their last two albums being the highest charting of their career. I had a chance to sit down with band frontman Mille Petrozza during a recent tour stop in Toronto to talk about the German thrash sound and the relative meaning of success in heavy metal.
Ohio’s Skeletonwitch came to widespread attention in the metal scene in 2007 with their second album “Beyond The Permafrost”, a uniquely catchy affair that mixes thrash with the distinctive tone of black metal. With their following two albums the band continued to tighten that sound while mercilessly gigging with some of metal’s biggest names.
I spoke to guitarist Scott Hedrick outside Toronto’s Mod Club on their recent tour supporting The Black Dahlia Murder, about their new album “Serpents Unleashed” and how Skeletonwitch is working after five albums and ten years.
It’s a dismal rainy evening in Toronto and I take refuge along with a slightly disgruntled Jesse Matthewson, who’s trying to relax before playing an early set at Sneaky Dee’s after apparently getting in a spot of trouble during soundcheck.
Jesse and his brother Shane have been gigging with their band Ken Mode (stylized as “KEN mode”) for almost 15 years, but the band has been featured steadily in rock press across North America since early 2012 when their album “Venerable” won the inaugural prize for Best Hard Rock/Metal at the Junos. It took a few people by surprise that the award would be taken by an obscure noise-rock band from Winnipeg, and as such they’ve certainly been put under the microscope by opportunist writers and metal fans that were offended by their perceived encroachment into some sort of unmarked territory.
It’s no surprise then that many eyes are focussed on their new release entitled “Entrench” (their fifth). The album maintains the noise-rock tone that seems to be regarded as their signature, but it’s drenched in the sound of early 2000’s metalcore which makes much of it come across as rather hooky at times.
Sitting shotgun in the band’s overstuffed touring van while trying to ignore pedestrians taking ridiculous chances crossing through rainy-night traffic, I actually manage to have a pretty sincere chat with Jesse about the new record, the actual results of winning an award, and what it’s like to be classified as being on “the hipster side”.