November 28, 2022

The Untold Truth Of Gwar

The band GWAR’s music is often described as heavy metal, punk, or shock-rock -– but their live shows defy categorization. They perform in monstrous and lewd latex and foam costumes, spewing gallons of fake bodily fluids all over their adoring fans.

The large rotating cast of performers portray terrifying extraterrestrial warriors who have shaped the history of humanity, were banished from their elite fighting force to conquer the Earth, and for some reason play in a band. As described by Kerrang, the band’s performances are a combination of concert and experimental theater -– and they’re always full of gore.

GWAR has been shocking the general public since the mid-80s. They have had international hits, been interviewed on talk shows (including one notorious Jerry Springer appearance,) and been nominated for GRAMMYs -– but they somehow manage to remain a mostly underground act. The band has been around for decades thanks to a dedicated group of hardcore fans who can’t get enough of GWAR’s outrageous performances -– and they’re only getting more extreme.

The band is famous for costumes and props

GWAR is immediately recognizable — there’s no other band that arrives on stage in monstrous latex costumes, complete with 2-foot genitals that spray the crowd with gore.

GWAR’s very first costumes weren’t created for musicians to wear onstage. As stated by Kerrang, the band’s co-founder Hunter Jackson originally designed the costumes for an indie sci-fi movie. GWAR now employs their own designers, fabricators, and special-effects artists to make custom costumes, props, and prosthetics for the band, but their B-Movie aesthetic remains. The armored aliens who make up the band are inspired by fantasy creatures and weapons like those featured in the Dungeons & Dragons “Monster Manual,” wrestling, and comic books -– particularly the art of Jack Kirby.

Characters in the GWAR mythos can be identified onstage from their unique designs. The most famous is certainly a character called Oderus Urungus -– the alter-ego of the band’s other co-founder Dave Brockie. As described in Decibel Magazine (via Deadspin), Oderus Urungus was the band’s original frontman. Oderus has an alien head, spikes, and armor, as detailed by Brockie in a GWAR video, but he’s certainly best known for wearing an enormous fake penis codpiece called “The Cuttlefish of Cthulhu” and frequently using it to spray the waiting audience with blood and gore.

The band’s gruesome looks are beloved by their fans, but they can be challenging for the performers. The band would sometimes get severely overheated wearing rubber suits under stage lights, resorting to setting up giant fans, stuffing ice in their masks, and having an oxygen tank on standby.

GWAR has complex lore

Not everyone can agree on what exactly GWAR is. Some describe it as shock-rock, thrash, or metal, while others see it more as experimental theater or performance art. According to the band, GWAR is an elite team of extraterrestrials assigned to taking over the Earth as a punishment.

According to the band’s complex lore, the creatures known today as the band GWAR were once part of a team of outer space warriors known as the Scumdogs of the Universe. When they made mistakes and failed to impress their leader (known only as the Master), they were sent away to conquer a useless and unimportant planet called Earth. According to GWAR lore, centuries ago these aliens mated with the apes that lived on the planet, accidentally creating human beings. Each member of the band has a fictional backstory and an impressive title -– like bassist Beefcake the Mighty, guitarist Pustulus Maximus, or current frontman Blöthar the Berserker.

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The lives of these aliens haven’t calmed down since arriving on Earth. As described by Kerrang, their albums (and films and comics) tell the stories of the band members’ science fiction adventures. For instance, their 2022 concept album “The New Dark Ages” is about the band fighting versions of themselves from an alternate universe –- one in which GWAR is a country band (via Louder).

GWAR’s live shows get messy

GWAR fans know that if they stand anywhere near the stage at one of the band’s live shows they will definitely get sprayed -– the only question is with what.

The band is always armed with props and costume pieces that are rigged to gush liquids designed to look like every bodily fluid imaginable, including gallons and gallons of blood. During their concerts, characters’ limbs are torn off and heads go flying onstage, sending gallons of fake blood gushing all over the stage and the audience. Bob Gorman, one of the band’s art directors and performers, told Kerrang that in one show he was decapitated onstage and particularly loved directing the massive spray of fake blood at a single audience member and getting them completely soaked. 

The band goes out of its way to drench their audience with these mysterious substances, but Mike Bishop (Blöthar The Berserker) is quoted in Louder as stating that the number one complaint they get from fans is that they don’t make enough of a mess.

The band has die-hard fans

It takes a dedicated fan to want to be blasted in the face with a shower of fake blood –- but GWAR’s fans have always been hardcore. As detailed by Bob Gorman to Alternative Press, throughout GWAR’s decades-long career, they have enjoyed bursts of mainstream attention from shoutouts on Beavis and Butthead, bizarre appearances on talk shows, and GRAMMY nominations, the band has always been an underground cult phenomenon powered by fans.

In the early days of the band, GWAR’s excited fans would often rush the stage causing mayhem. In an interview with Decibel Magazine (via Deadspin), founder Dave Brockie described fans causing chaos, stealing props, and trying to knock over performers. The band matched their energy, and for years instead of preventing fans from getting up onstage they would simply fight them. Rather than hiring security to remove them, the entire band would regularly punch fans.

Since the band has gotten more popular, and there are more fans in the audience, the band has had to put up barricades. Gorman told Kerrang that this hasn’t stopped the fans from throwing the most bizarre items they can find at the band during their concerts -– including chicken embryos, dead fish, and a stuffed armadillo.

The band courts controversy

If the band’s enormous fake genitals spewing strange liquids out over the crowds isn’t enough to shock viewers, the lyrics of their songs might be. Their catchy songs regularly include references to violence and murder. Famously, their song “Have You Seen Me” advocates kidnapping and eating children and is sometimes sung by a line of dancing milk cartons, as Bob Gorman explained to Alt Press. In that same interview, Brad Roberts (better known as “Jizmak Da Gusha,” GWAR’s drummer) explained that in the mythos of the band, creating humans was a dangerous mistake that should be reversed as soon as possible. In reality, the band is trying to reflect American culture in an outrageous, cartoonish way.

GWAR has never hesitated to include public figures in their shows (or at least reasonable facsimiles of them). During one live performance in 2016, GWAR brought out grotesque versions of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to fight onstage, resulting in a flood of blood and viscera.

The band has been shocking people since 1984, as per AllMusic, but in an interview with Den of Geek, Gorman stated that it’s getting harder — even GWAR struggles to come up with anything weirder than the reality people are actually living in -– but they won’t stop trying.

GWAR is having fun

The band might work hard to be shocking, but what they really want to do is make their fans laugh.

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In an interview with The Pit, current GWAR frontman Mike Bishop (better known as Blöthar the Berserker) discussed how he and his predecessor Dave Brockie (Oderus Urungus) attempted to balance communicating something genuine with goofy over-the-top songs. Bishop explained that the element of silly, light-hearted fun wrapped around a social critique has always been fundamental to what GWAR is, saying, “Being funny has always been really the primary goal; our medium is music and humor, and within that, as artists, we try to do stuff that’s meaningful.”

Not only does the band work to put on a show that’s fun for their fans, they also want to create something that makes themselves and each other laugh. Bishop described GWAR as a communal effort, where the members of the band would hang out together, pitching each other increasingly absurd ideas, and then figuring out how to make them a reality.

Before GWAR, there was Death Piggy

As detailed at Decibel, Hunter Jackson (now known onstage as Techno Destructo) and Chuck Varga (part of GWAR’s art team and sometimes seen onstage as Sexecutioner) met in the early ’80s. The two had both recently graduated from art school and began working together creating costumes and selling them at conventions. Jackson and Varga were hoping to make a film called “Scumdogs of the Universe.” Soon, they met Dave Brockie (the future Oderus Urungus,) a punk musician with a band called Death Piggy.

As described by GWAR’s artist collective, the Slave Pit website, Death Piggy was a punk “silly-core” band from Richmond, Virginia, from 1983-1987. Death Piggy was already experimental, incorporating short theatrical skits and gross-out props in their performances. At one show, they featured a piñata reportedly full of cat feces, and, as per Den of Geek, at another they used a squeeze ketchup bottle full of cream to simulate ejaculation. Bob Gorman, who also serves as the band’s historian, said that this was the first of the “spew gags,” which would eventually become a staple for GWAR.

As noted by Decider, the planned “Slumdogs of the Universe” film never came together, but soon the costumes would be repurposed as the onstage attire for the successor to Death Piggy: GWAR. It started out as a joke, according to Decibel Magazine (via Deadspin), but by the early ’90s GWAR was touring and had a crew of artists working behind the scenes.

GWAR starts in The Slave Pit

Throughout the decades that GWAR has been recording and performing, their production has gotten more elaborate — and their art department has created more and more costumes, props, and sets for the band and their alien berserker alter-egos. Their studio is called the Slave Pit.

In 1988, Bob Gorman dropped out of art school in order to work at the Slave Pit. As stated at Atlas Obscura, at the time, the majority of GWAR’s costumes and props were pre-made pieces crudely cobbled together. Hunter Jackson and Gorman started working at a local prosthetics company in order to learn how to work with latex. Over time, the artists in the Slave Pit would learn special effects makeup for more realistic blood and wounds and start making their props from scratch out of polystyrene foam and rubber.

The Slave Pit has grown with the band. In 2010, Deadspin described it as “a gigantic cement bunker” that occupies a former gay club in Richmond, Virginia. There, the band’s special-effects artists and fabricators create the characters’ latex masks, repair massive foam prosthetics, and rig props to spew blood. The current iteration of the Slave Pit has all of the tools neccesary for creating everything the band could need, from hooves and masks with enormous horns to cartoonishly oversized weapons and armor. In addition to building new props, the Slave Pit has to do a lot of repairs. Everything that GWAR uses onstage takes a beating and gets soaked with fake blood.

Sometimes their act gets them in trouble

GWAR’s outrageous shows have gotten them a hardcore fanbase, but occasionally they also get themselves into trouble. As stated by Louder, the band sometimes has to deal with local press claiming the violence they depict onstage is real, and in the United Kingdom, government officials threatened to take away the licenses of any club that allowed GWAR to perform. Once, Oderus Ungerus was actually taken out of a gig in handcuffs.

On one infamous occasion, Dave Brockie (Oderus Ungerus) was actually arrested because of GWAR’s live show. As described by Michael Plumides, owner of the 4808 club in Charlotte, North Carolina, where GWAR was performing their fateful show in 1990, Oderus had pretended to sodomize another band member dressed as a Catholic priest with a crucifix. After the show, the local police arrived, with numerous patrol cars and a helicopter, to arrest him for obscenity.

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Hilariously, the officers also decided to take Oderus’ prosthetic genitalia, The Cuttlefish of Cthulhu. Because the prop was drenched in fake blood, the police took it away in a mop bucket. Reportedly, the detective in charge ordered his officers to “confiscate that fish, or penis, or whatever the hell it is.”

Brockie and Plumides were taken out of the club in handcuffs and briefly taken to jail. GWAR was banned from the entire state of North Carolina for a year, Plumides noted.

The band mourns their fallen members in unique ways

As Loudwire reports, in 2014, Dave Brockie (Oderus Ungerus) died unexpectedly of an accidental overdose in his home in Richmond, Virginia. According to Mike Bishop, who became GWAR’s frontman as Blöthar The Berserker, their co-founder’s death was a traumatic event that was difficult for GWAR to survive. In an interview with Loudersound, Bishop stated that their 2017 album, “The Blood of Gods,” was “a way for us to be able to say goodbye and pay tribute to this individual that made us what we were.”

Not long after Brockie’s death, the band performed a mashup of the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” that turns into a cover of Jim Caroll’s “People Who Died” for AV Club. The band changed the lyrics to honor some of their favorite musicians, including Sean Sumner, the drummer from Death Piggy, who died after allegedly being beaten by the Boston police department, according to “Keeping It Tight in the Old Dominion,” by Pete Crigler; GWAR’s guitarist Cory Smoot (Flattus Maximus) who died of a heart attack on the band’s tour bus in 2011 (via The Hollywood Reporter); and Brockie (Oderus).

Famously, the band paid tribute to Brockie’s character Oderus Ungerus at their annual event, the Gwar-B-Q, by holding a “Viking funeral.” Oderus’ costume was placed into a boat on the lake and set on fire with a bow and arrow. According to Bishop, “the wind took it and this fireball started coming dangerously close to the crowd. It was a 20-foot-high wall of flame.”

None of GWAR’s original lineup are still in the band

Since the band formed in 1984, there has been a rotating cast of performers as the various murderous aliens of GWAR. Today, none of the original lineup are still performing with the band. For most bands, all the original musicians moving on from the act would mean the band was over –- but not for GWAR. According to them, the performers change but the essential qualities that make GWAR unique always stay the same.

In an interview with Alternative Press, Bob Gorman compared the band to the long-running sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) because the cast changes from season to season but the show is still the same. Gorman explained, “The ethos from the guys that started this in a cold, abandoned building to now, it’s pretty much the same group. Nobody is left from then, but we do things the exact same way.”

A band member leaving doesn’t necessarily mean the character that they’re playing has to be retired. For instance, the character Sexecutioner was originally played by Mike Delaney and was later portrayed by Chuck Varga. Many performers have left and returned to the band throughout the years, too. As noted by the Guardian, Mike Bishop left the band in 1993, and now he is back as the band’s frontman Blöthar the Berserker.