Scandinavian defenders of the faith Sarcator burst onto the scene last year with two rapid-fire EPs, but it was Visions of Purgatory compilation of those two 2019 EPs, released courtesy of Redefining Darkness, that gave metalheads around the world the official heads up on these beyond-promising, straight-up-threatening young rippers. Now the Swedish quartet, whose age range is 16 – 21, return with an 11-track debut full-length that slashes, stabs, impales and burns like an extreme metal highlight reel.
“When it comes to debut albums it usually ends up as a result of all the bands that you’ve been influenced by. And it is the same with us!” Sarcator say. “Musically we are heavily influenced by the great thrash bands of Germany and the old school black thrash bands of South America! From our point of view, we are of course proud of what we have created in these 2 years of Sarcator and it will be awesome to spread it out so you all can hear it! As I mentioned with our musical influences it is going to be a fast thrashing debut, with a bit of our touch added to it! Expect some variation and new elements added to our sound in the future, because we are already at the rehearsal place creating new shit! Thanks to Decibel for this opportunity!”
Blood From the Soul are back from the dead, albeit in a different form. In 1993, Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury partnered with Sick of It All vocalist Lou Keller to record the cult classic record, To Spite the Gland That Breeds. Nearly 30 years later, Embury reawakened Blood From the Soul, this time joined by Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon, drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork, Megadeth) and bassist Jesper Liveröd (Nasum, Burst).
The result is new album DSM-5, a concept record that abandons the drum machine and hyper-industrial sounds of the past for something a bit more accessible and exploratory. Verbeuren may as well be a machine with the precision of his drumming, with Embury and Liveröd creating a spacious and melodic atmosphere for Bannon to express himself in.
On “Calcified Youth,” which Decibel is premiering below, Blood From the Soul get existential, pondering the relationship between humans and sentient machines. The science-fiction narrative adds a darker level to the industrial-tinged project, which also features one of Bannon’s most memorable recent vocal performances.
Watch the video below; DSM-5 is out November 13. You can pre-order here.
GWAR has become such a staple of the metal landscape that many listeners don’t realize there was a time they played for handfuls of people in their hometown. In the early years, GWAR was more an eccentric artist community in Richmond, VA than a band. At the time, young artists Hunter Jackson and Chuck Varga dreamed of making a film called Scumdogs of the Universe. But when they hooked up with a punk musician named Dave Brockie and his band Death Piggy everything changed. Working together they cobbled together the earliest formation of GWAR, a band that ultimately became a heavy metal juggernaut composed of interplanetary marauders who sacrificed public figures including Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Monica Lewinsky onstage and somehow earned the love of everyone from Fox News to the science fiction fan community.
That said, it was a long crawl to get there. Throughout the late ’80s, GWAR had a rotating lineup and needed to scrape to get parts and equipment for their now famous Slave Pit. They recorded their debut Hell-o! and toured relentlessly. By the decade’s end, things started to gel with a steady lineup and a crack team of artists. The band toured, wrote, improved and slowly introduced their perverse extraterrestrial madness to the world. Scumdogs of the Universe was the defining step. The album turned GWAR into a cultural commodity that insulted GG Allin on Jerry Springer, argued with the late Wally George on Hot Seat, appeared and was deified repeatedly on Beavis and Butthead and hung out with Joan Rivers.
Scumdogs also showed them evolving into mature if unconventional heavy metal songwriters. While Hell-o! was unpolished and inconsistent, Scumdogs was a complete effort that included well-structured songs, competent production and touches you just didn’t hear on many if any metal albums in the early ’90s (bassoons, anyone?) “The Salaminizer,” showcases Brockie’s lyrical panache with a section cribbed from N.W.A (This is your ass, and I’m in it/ My man Sexy will fuck you up in a minute/ With an axe, sword, mace, pike you’re limbless/ Then I’ll fuck your ass till it’s rimless). Band members who weren’t even musicians were weaved in seamlessly on tracks like “Slaughterama” and “Sexecutioner” and “Sick of You” is now a GWAR staple. Scumdogs is, in many ways, GWAR’s version of KISS Alive except that it took place in a studio. The record wasn’t meant to just be a listen but rather take fans to the world GWAR brought to life at their concerts. Scumdogs of the Universe is performance art as a record as well as raucous, fist-pumping revelry.
The Scumdogs period from 1988 to the album’s 1990 release was a time of startling growth and creativity for the band. It’s when they became serious about their music, spent more time in the studio to build an immersive show and utilized all of their artistic skills to build elaborate props and present ridiculously over-the-top shows. Despite going against if not outright mocking every trend the ’90s produced (anyone remember Len or Days of the New?) GWAR became one of the biggest underground bands of the ’90s and in 2020 is still going strong despite the untimely death of Brockie, known to most listeners as Oderus Urungus.
It’s time to tell the tale. Decibel corralled more than a dozen people who were there to remember the Scumdogs era. Sadly, Oderus is not here to help but his hijinks will live on forever in the following stories. We’re happy to present you the exhaustive oral history of GWAR’s roughly two-year Scumdogs era in conjunction with the 30th anniversary reissue, from the road to the studio to the New York showcase where they were discovered by Metal Blade to the album’s reception and enduring legacy. There’s a lesson in all of this: No matter how irreverent your art is there is an audience waiting, especially if you have cool costumes and drench your audiences in fake blood and semen. Onward to Scumdoggia!
PART ONE: A JUGGERNAUT TAKES SHAPE (1988-1990)
The two-year period before Scumdogs was all about work. The band toured relentlessly in an old bus, added artists to the Slave Pit and worked hard to realize their vision. At the same time they juggled everyday jobs and responsibilities in their Richmond, VA hometown while they pursued their dreams. That work on the road and in the art studio paved the way for Scumdogs.
Where was GWAR as a band in the period before Scumdogs and where did you want to go?
MICHAEL BISHOP (BEEFCAKE THE MIGHTY, BLOTHAR): Right before Scumdogs came out is when we realized this wasn’t going to just be an art school project that went hideously awry. Even though there was a big music school at VCU all of the good music was coming out of the art department. We made Hell-o! [in 1988] and toured on the punk rock circuit carved out by Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks. At the point GWAR transitioned we got into the sounds of bands like Celtic Frost and crazy German stuff. We were thinking about writing more metal music. We wrote a set that became Scumdogs.
MIKE DERKS (BALSAC THE JAWS OF DEATH): I joined right after Hell-o! came out. I figured I’d join this band, get a trip to California, and it ended up being the rest of my life. The first GWAR show I went to was after they kicked the first guitarist out. They were only playing shows like every six months or so. It was chaotic and weird. I sat on the side of the stage and was like “this could be fun.” It wasn’t what I saw myself doing with my life, but I could see the potential for something cool. When I joined they had thrown a band together to make an album. The first guitarist had some personal issues and I was already jamming with Bishop so he asked me to join. When Brad Roberts joined on drums we felt like a more solid, real band and could concentrate on the music. None of us knew what metal was and Scumdogs was sort of an attempt at “this is what we think heavy metal is.”
BRAD ROBERTS (JIZMAK DA GUSHA): Derks was in for about one U.S. tour and they came back from that tour and decided they needed a new drummer. Based on those tours they had some notoriety and were a hot item but they needed a new drummer because some offers were on the table. That’s when I auditioned — probably around late 1989. I was in a local band and knew of GWAR but had never gone to any of their shows. I’d seen Dave Brockie’s punk band Death Piggy before he started GWAR. But GWAR was a little elusive and in and out of town a lot.
The first time I saw GWAR was from behind the kit. I knew Brockie as a crazy stage performer and I’d seen pictures but I’d never seen it in the flesh. The first show was an amazing cataclysm event at the Cedar Crest skateboard ramp.It was a steel covered ramp in the middle of this country club kind of near the DC area (in Centreville, VA). We played on top of the ramp. Tony Hawk skated there once. The first show combined GWAR and one of the best known skate spots on the East Coast at the time. It was almost like a little skate utopia.
BOB GORMAN (SLAVE PIT ARTIST): I was very into the local music scene. I wasn’t a musician as much as I loved punk rock and weird music. I saw them at the end of 1987 with the Butthole Surfers and it was life changing. They crucified Santa Claus. It was really dark and weird. I was in art school and had no idea what I was doing. My teachers were all pretty square. When I saw that show I knew that was the stuff I would like to do. I went to a party afterwards right across the street from where GWAR played. I remember complaining about art school and talking about how great the show was. Bishop told me I should help out and make stuff.
HUNTER JACKSON (Band co-founder, TECHNO DESTRUCTO): We were all very committed to what we were doing and sure that the world would open up for us. The catch was that as individuals we had different goals. But it was a wild, fun time full of angst and anger. It was very much like being part of a pirate crew where our ship was a school bus painted grey and we traveled from city to city and fought a huge battle and got all bloody, then loaded up the ship and moved out to the next show.I knew that there was a whole world of crazy people out there who were into the same weirdo shit I was. I used video and comics to let fans know that there was this whole world of GWAR full of interesting characters that were funny and scary.
CHUCK VARGA (SEXECUTIONER, ARTIST): I met Hunter Jackson in the early ’80s after we both finished art school. We collaborated on a bunch of projects together that involved everything from costumes to superheroes — everything cosplayers get into today. We would go to conventions to shop our wares and rub elbows with people. Eventually we decided to do something more ambitious almost like John Waters except with all the things we liked. We started to combine all these ideas about guys from space with punk rock. Scumdogs was when we really started to work out the GWAR concept.
MATT MAGUIRE (SLAVE PIT ARTIST): I was still in high school. I probably met Jackson and Don [Drakulich] around 1987. Everyone remembers their first GWAR show. Back then who was doing anything like that — maybe KISS? Scumdogs was when I started hanging around the Slave Pit on a regular basis. It was such a crazy and formative time because nothing was too passé or stupid to do.
DON DRAKULICH (SLEAZY P. MARTINI): We felt we could do better [than Hell-O!]. We were full of ourselves and expecting a bigger label to sign us. We were expecting and hoping to be on a bigger label. But at least we got to a bigger studio with 16 tracks.
Could you share any memories from when you worked the punk concert circuit?
BISHOP: GWAR, on the road in the early days, was the craziest thing anyone could imagine. I’ve said this before but it is worth repeating: People had no idea what to expect. We’d pull up in El Paso, TX or Greenville, NC and would play these small venues. You’d see GWAR on these tiny stages and we never compromised on the setup. People just reacted to it with utter astonishment. There would be maybe 15 people there who probably would have been there anyway. During the day Hunter would get on roller skates and go to the cool part of town and hand out fliers and try to get people to go to the show. We’d start playing to these crowds that had no idea what to expect. It was like someone checked a box that said “anything is permissible, you can do whatever you want,” because that’s what we did.
There was a transition period where we realized our props were falling apart after every show. We had to come up with better technology and we couldn’t destroy monitors and rebuild costumes every night. Some of the shows were one-off events and we couldn’t repeat them. We had to find a way to take that crazy show on the road. It was almost like Ken Kesey’s acid tests. GWAR was never a stripped down rock band, even when we’d play the dining hall at Princeton or a sandwich shop in East Carolina University or the tiny stage at CBGB.
DERKS: We called up venues at the backs of fanzines to find shows.
ROBERTS: I remember doing two two-week tours, one to Canada and one around Texas and back. After that we came back and recorded. The tours were crazy. I was just 21. We were in an International Harvester school bus with the seats ripped out and bunks welded in. We were kids with no money doing crazy art. I learned how GWAR toured and it was the ultimate adventure. I got my first taste of Mardi Gras and Texas. I was the straight edge kid — I stopped drinking and smoking weed after high school and focused on the music. I think that’s what they liked with me. I wasn’t riddled with drugs all the time. My playing seemed to elevate them because I was all about the playing.
JACKSON: As a redneck punk rocker who grew up in the swampy air of the sticks outside of Richmond it was super exciting to be able to go to comic book stores in cool cities like New York and San Francisco. I was collecting Japanese manga books and saved money the whole trip to blow on comics I couldn’t even read! They were a huge inspiration for what I wanted to do with GWAR. I wanted GWAR to be like a pizza that combined all the geeky stuff I was into in one big head on collision that splatters all over anyone standing too close.
DANIELLE STAMPE (SLYMENSTRA HYMEN): Hell-o! was made around 1988 which is when I joined. GWAR had started touring up and down the East Coast. My very first show with GWAR was with the Butthole Surfers and it was terrifying. We also played at Danzig’s very first show – I can’t remember if it was New York or New Jersey.
What were your lives like outside of the band at that point?
DERKS: We were all in on the band but we all had to work. We were putting money into the band at that point to be able to go on the road.
ROBERTS: We all had jobs then and we still have jobs to this day. We’re a household name but no one is a rock star. It’s no different today than it was then. I was doing construction and had to drop out of college to go on tour because they had so much on the books. I thought I’d do this for a minute and get back to school and 30 years later it never happened.
JACKSON: I was working at a shop that made artificial limbs. It was near the Slave Pit and we were always dumpster diving because they were always throwing away fascinating, mysterious objects that I might use in my sci-fi movie sets and costumes. I eventually applied for a job and they hired me. I learned a lot about techniques and materials that I applied to my experimental GWAR costumes. As we started to tour more and take a lot of four day weekend trips I got fired. I went straight to their competitor and was hired. Eventually I worked for a guy who actually let me bring my GWAR stuff into the shop and work on it.
DRAKULICH: I don’t remember a life outside of it! We partied when we worked and we worked when we partied. I would go across the street and hang out at a club called the Metro. There was a happy hour special and I would always get a tuna steak burger and a pitcher of beer. That was my sole source of entertainment and socialization. The artists were going 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
STAMPE: I was a VCU art student. I was also learning how to faux finish and apprenticed under a master faux finisher. In the ’80s and ’90s Richmond was in the process of returning buildings to their original grandeur. I did a lot of work at the The Jefferson Hotel. Most of us were living in these little 1880s row-houses. It was an artistic community with a lot of different bands. Around 1989 is when GWAR really started solidifying. The band exploded pretty soon and we went from touring in a school bus to touring in a real bus.
Was the Scumdogs period the time that the Slave Pit coalesced?
JACKSON: It was certainly a time when we started to get more focused and streamlined. It was hard to find musicians who were willing to commit to make it a success. The crew we had were dedicated and determined to make it work and if you weren’t willing to keep up the pace you might be replaced.
GORMAN: I became a full time member at this point and we started working on costumes for the Scumdogs photo shoot. I was busy making the parts for the Balsac legs.
MAGUIRE: That’s a good assessment. It’s when it really started to become something. The characters came into their own around Scumdogs. All of a sudden it was like “there is a record deal!” That time solidified what GWAR would become.
DRAKULICH: We became a more professional organization. Moving into a larger studio was a big help. We started to add more people at that point — probably more people than we really needed. We toured with like 18 to 20 people sometimes. It made making money nearly impossible.
What artistic influences helped further develop the characters around Scumdogs?
MAGUIRE: Wrestling, Star Trek, sci-fi. It was a mix of all these different subcultures.
PART TWO: WRITING AND RECORDING SCUMDOGS (1989)
After releasing their debut through Shimmy Disc Records in 1988, GWAR signed with the English label Master Records. Much of the material was already in circulation but needed to be refined. The album was recorded in their Richmond hometown but featured their first taste of the real musical world: a professional studio and a producer who both forced them to improve their chops while encouraging experiments that would make the album sound that much more far out.
How did the songs for Scumdogs come together?
BISHOP: Sitting around in our rehearsal space being broke and hot and miserable. I remember going into a space in the basement that was kind of cool to work on riffs. I did a lot of writing with Derks. It was like we were trying to do GWAR’s version of Celtic Frost even though we didn’t know the vocabulary of metal. We were not metal musicians. We were punk musicians. Our appreciation for metal was real; we just weren’t steeped in it.
DERKS: We started bringing in some of these weird, alternative influences from both metal and punk rock. We’d been touring so much between Hell-o! and Scumdogs — we did like four U.S. tours in that time. We’d been playing these songs on the road for like two years before we got to the studio. The songs definitely changed a little bit in the studio and a few arrangements were changed.
JACKSON: The artists and the musicians spent a lot of time at the Slave Pit. There were many intense brainstorming sessions where we would come up with crazy ideas for the next show. “Cool Place To Park” is about (former GWAR guitarist/artist) Dewey Rowell trying to park a fucking school bus in New York City. It was funny to translate that into GWAR with a video where Beefcake is driving a chariot pulled by human slaves down the highway with truckers honking at him for blocking traffic. A lot of the guys were H.P. Lovecraft fans so the “Horror of Yig” is about seeing a monster so horrible that you are never the same. We played a lot of geeky war games in the Slave Pit and “Death Pod” is about a vehicle from those games.
DRAKULICH: The material was written before they got to the studio although since I’m not a musician I might be misremembering it [laughs]. It was just getting time to record it.
STAMPE: We would have Monday night meetings where we would discuss a lot of different show ideas. A lot of things were from the band jamming and could turn into something else when the artists got involved. We would think “this song would work well for the fire dance” or “this song would work well for a decapitation.” “Sick of You” came from the tour bus because we were so sick of each other. It was art imitating life [laughs].
At the same time you began working on Scumdogs grunge started to emerge on the West Coast and would eventually take over music. Were you paying any attention to it?
DERKS: We didn’t really notice it until after Scumdogs came out. Our influences came more from pop culture and strange ideas. GWAR was anti-grunge. They said it wasn’t cool to put on big rock shows and [performers should] go on stage in jeans and a flannel shirt and ignore the audience. What we were trying to do is bring coliseum shows into tiny clubs, which usually had energy but no visuals.
ROBERTS: Grunge didn’t even pop off till about 1991 and we were already working on America Must Be Destroyed. GWAR never wanted to be mainstream. Grunge was just palatable enough for America and was the new wave of sound. We always worked in the shadows and we weren’t too concerned.
You mentioned that you learned the metal idiom by writing Scumdogs.
BISHOP: That’s exactly right [laughs]. Even on records like Violence Has Arrived, which definitely has a metal sound, you always have Mike Derks doing his take on metal music. He’s a very unusual musician and a lot of the songs like “The Salaminizer” are a product of Dirks’s style plugged into metal.
ROBERTS: Punk was where we cut our teeth. We were between DC and Raleigh where the big hardcore explosion took place with Minor Threat and Bad Brains on the East Coast. The stuff struck a chord with all of us. Later on I’d get into King Diamond but that was when we were already in GWAR. Early on, though, that’s not the stuff that spoke to us. I was involved in writing very few songs on that album: “Maggots” and “Salaminizer.” Those weren’t written yet. The rest of the material had been out there for a while.
Where did the idea of riffing on N.W.A (the lyrics of “The Salaminizer” borrow from “Gangsta Gangsta”) come from?
BISHOP: That was 100 percent Brockie. I remember the first time we heard that record [Straight Outta Compton]. We were smoking pot at a venue in Holland waiting to play. There was a bunch of vinyl near a record player. The minute the needle hit that vinyl it was the same reaction we had to hearing the Sex Pistols. It was heavy. Dave didn’t listen to a lot of hip hop but he listened to particular hip hop. GWAR worked on art all day and there was a big studio, a shop with tons of stuff going on. The boom box was always playing and we’d listen to Jesus Christ Superstar, especially because a lot of the visual artists liked ’70s music. The N.W.A record was in constant rotation along with Black Sabbath and Dead Kennedys.
What do you remember about the studio sessions?
BISHOP: The album was recorded at Alpha Audio on Broad Street in Richmond. It was only a few blocks from the Lee Monument. It was a label studio for RCA in the ’70s and had the best Richmond engineers who’d been doing it for a long time. It was the only professional studio in Richmond then and they did a lot of ad work. We were in there with all the jingle writers. It was a lot of fun. Looking back, it was probably a pretty idiosyncratic space. Studios now all feel the same.
The studio was well known for this guy Robbin Thompson who wrote the song “Sweet Virginia Breeze.” He was the main jingle writer. We were definitely an odd fit but the guy who owned the studio, Nick Colleran, understood what we wanted to do. If you went in his office, he had a shit-ton of gold records. We spent maybe a week doing the basic tracks and Dave spent maybe a week doing vocals. We definitely spent a little more time then you would now but it was still on the punk model.
DERKS: It was off Broad Street right across the street from a fried chicken place. Ron [Goudie, producer] made us promise not to eat any fried food before we recorded. He said: “you need to eat salads!” Later he’d find me across the street eating a bucket of chicken. It was my first time in a recording studio. Ron had this thing where you would take a song and slow it down to half speed to see where the bumps were and where things didn’t fit. When you play full speed you don’t hear them. That’s something I still do to this day — play songs at half speed.
ROBERTS: It was terribly painful. Every recording session I’ve done with GWAR is like that except for the last one. Alpha was later turned into an insurance place for drunk drivers. But it was a great room and you could put a whole orchestra in there. I think the design of the room is still intact. Their money came from commercials. Robbin was the A&R guy trying to get the local stuff in the studio. I don’t think they understood us. But if you spend the money, you get the session time.
When did you decide to involve as many members of the pit and the GWAR universe in the album as you could?
VARGA: The “Sexecutioner” song was my idea. I fell in love with the song so much and begged them to let me do it [laughs]. I was only there for my sessions. I’m an artist and I got thrown into the world of songwriting. I had never done anything like it. Brockie was there to sort of cheer me on. Even though, at first, it didn’t seem to be that put together, over the years it’s turned out to be a Shakespearean classic.
DRAKULICH: When it came to my song (“Slaughterama”) they only let me track the vocals that were needed and then they threw me out [laughs]. I was like “hey I’m just getting warmed up!” As I would later find out, that’s a typical response to non musicians.
STAMPE: I was a lot of more involved with the logistical side, so I just came in to do my backup vocals. At that point ,Brockie wanted to be a serious band. I do have a musical background: My mother was a concert pianist in childhood and my grandparents were circus workers. I was a chorus geek in high school and played piano. The high operatic parts I did in “Maggots” were my idea. I called it a “wailing mermaid sound” [laughs].
Did Ron Goudie help develop and move your sound forward?
BISHOP: It was the first time we worked with someone who would qualify as a real producer. He definitely had some music school ideas about doing things. He’d make suggestions about bass lines — and they were good — about not hanging around on the root and messing around with the third and building chords. He helped me understand music in a way I didn’t. We were all self taught except for Derks, who could read music but read slow. He was actually in music school although he dropped out. He’s since done scores and notations for GWAR. But he was the only one. Brockie and I were self-taught.
ROBERTS: It was the first time I ever worked on the click. Ron died recently from liver cancer. He taught me how to play drums on a real record. I’d done tons of demos and EPs but that was the start of me getting into the music business. Before Ron, if you listen to the drums on Hell-o!, it’s super messy and the tuning and tempo is all over the place. It’s a chaotic mess. When they got me, I was the timekeeper and Ron put me on the click and everyone had to play to me. We realized we had to figure out specific rhythms and it really helped GWAR.
There are a lot of different and unexpected instruments and sounds on the record, including bagpipes and bassoons. Was it difficult to get those sounds on the record or was everyone on board with the approach?
BISHOP: The label was far away and uninvolved. Ron certainly pulled out some L.A. producer tricks. Some of that is how it got away from how it sounded in the room. I always wanted “Love Surgery” to have a Slayer bite and I always wanted a bass sax on there. [Ron] said a bassoon was much cooler. But nothing with a clarinet is cool. Ron definitely sharpened some of the sounds we were able to get and did a good job tracking the drums and bass. It’s how I’ve tracked bass since then.
DERKS: We were supposed to have a sax solo and it’s a bassoon. We got a music student from VCU to play on a metal album. It was just improvised.
ROBERTS: We had ties to VCU and the music and art department and Ron was going to exploit those relationships. We used timpani and screamed into the timpani and had bassoon players and bagpipes. He went all out — he wanted to have all of these crazy sounds from the GWAR world represented.
PART 3: DISCOVERED IN NEW YORK (1989)
In the run-up to Scumdogs, GWAR spent a lot of time going to music shows and conferences and meeting label executives to find a right partner to expand their footprint. Although GWAR was already committed to Master Records for Scumdogs an appearance at the in New Music Seminar in New York would prove pivotal to their career. At the show, the band met executives from Metal Blade Records, where they have remained for the majority of their career.
You were signed to Master Records but also signed a distribution deal with Metal Blade during the Scumdogs era. How did that happen?
BISHOP: I don’t know how we came to Master’s attention. The label was started by this guy named Buster Bloodvessel [Douglas Trendle] from the band Bad Manners who were sort of a second or third wave ska band. One of the first things they wanted was to get an American band on their label and we fit the bill. I do remember the general attitude [at the New Music Seminar] that we were a band to see. There was a lot of interest and we were talking to a lot of people. They thought we’d be huge in Japan because we had a bunch of interviews with Japanese television. The show was kind of a weird experience and it wasn’t the best show we’ve ever done. I remember thinking we had kind of bombed it but people thought it was great. I don’t remember meeting Brian [Slagel] or Mike [Faley] from Metal Blade. It wasn’t until I became a music academic I realized why Slagel was interested. His position in metal is huge. He’s an important character in the story. He has a long tradition of identifying cool stuff and bringing it out.
DERKS: Metal Blade brought the right to distribute the album in the U.S. My first memory of meeting Metal Blade is that they took us out in Times Square when it was sleazy. What impressed Dave was that they gave him a handful of quarters and set him loose to the porno booths.
STAMPE: I was there with Brockie and Sexecutioner. We could go to things like that and basically dance around in our costumes. It worked. We would show up at record labels just to do PR and sell ourselves. There was one [appearance] that Dave said I blew because I came out with a bloody crotch (Ed: Legend has it Stampe broke a blood capsule in her codpiece during a meeting with Relativity Records, costing them a potential deal).
BRIAN SLAGEL (FOUNDER, METAL BLADE RECORDS): Back in the day there was this college radio music convention that had a big metal presence. GWAR had played another show and people told me I had to see them. I saw them and they were absolutely incredible and I said I have to work with them. The word before was that they were a band with this amazing show but they weren’t very good players and the music wasn’t very good. But when I first saw them I thought the music and songs were great. I was into the whole package at once.
They had signed earlier with a company so we actually just licensed them at first. I didn’t hear any of [Scumdogs] until it was finished but I thought it was amazing. I said we had to promote it because it was so unique and different. It was this mixture of punk and metal and comedy that no one had heard before.
MICHAEL FALEY (PRESIDENT, METAL BLADE RECORDS): They played the New Music Seminar and just torched the place. This is a place where you went to be seen. There were all of these shows going on. The band that stood out was GWAR. Brian talked to me and said we had to sign the band. It was more than the music but the music is what held it together. In 1989 people were coming out of hair metal and grunge was coming in, so they were in this grey area. They just caught on with a lot of different fans because they crossed across all genres. I remember [the show] being so over the top and so much happening — Sleazy P. Martini in one place and Dave Brockie in the other. Every person was a character. When the blood started coming out all over everyone, I think that was the seller.
What do you remember about meeting Dave Brockie?
SLAGEL: He might not have been the first person I met — it was either Bishop or Dave. I quickly realized they were very sane people. But [Brockie] was really interesting because he had so many ideas. Sometimes there were sharp political overtones in songs and people didn’t even catch on. He was one of the most creative people I’ve ever met in my whole life — a tour de force.
FALEY: I met him while he was still in costume as Oderus Urungus. You quickly realized that all of it was thought out and he was this brilliant guy. That’s what struck you — they had big ideas and were very smart and knew where they wanted to go.
PART FOUR: RECEPTION AND LEGACY (1990-PRESENT)
Scumdogs of the Universe was released on January 8, 1990. Throughout the ’90s, GWAR’s profile grew and while they never achieved superstardom they have become an unlikely part of America’s pop culture milieu. Thirty years later almost everyone involved says Scumdogs allowed that to happen.
Do you remember how Scumdogs was received?
BISHOP: Thankfully a lot better than Hell-o! was received [laughs]. People liked it and I think we were surprised by the sound. The remix we have now [for the 30th anniversary reissue] is such a breath of fresh air. Derks and I were so young when we were in L.A. listening to them mix the record. It was like we were invisible. We didn’t have a say in how things were turning out and we weren’t old or experienced enough to assert what we thought. We knew it didn’t sound like we sounded when we were in the room. Even though we didn’t think it sounded as good as it could when it came out, people were positive and we started seeing a lot of momentum. We got on MTV, we got on Beavis and Butthead. Those things came from this recording. It’s when we started taking off.
DERKS: Well, you always think there is a one point where you break and become huge but with us it’s one progression to the next. I don’t remember seeing a ton of press on Scumdogs and the shows didn’t explode after that. It’s always been gradual. I don’t remember it being a huge step. I do think it’s when a lot of people became aware of us and so it has a lot of meaning for our fans. From the outside it’s probably easier to see.
STAMPE: Unfortunately with the costumes, some people still said, “but the music…” Honestly though, the musicianship is incredible, especially when you consider the stamina you need in the costumes to play those songs live.
FALEY: With Scumdogs, you got a much better delivery of their music and they also utilized a lot more members of the band like Sleazy and Beefcake. Some of the people who got Scumdogs hadn’t seen the live shows. What the record did was almost present a live show and introduce all of these characters. You knew that “Sick of You” would be a standout, although I never thought it would be performed in every one of their sets 30 years later. People now say it’s one of the benchmark records in shock rock history and that’s quite a statement with the likes of Alice Cooper out there. GWAR just took it to a whole new level.
In a way it’s a cultural benchmark — the moment GWAR became the band people know today.
BISHOP: [Laughs] What a weird cultural institution! I think we always just thought if someone said we shouldn’t do something we should do it. At the time, it was all different.
JACKSON: It was a point where we got all the elements of the show together: how to make the blood shoot 15 feet; how to build dynamic suits that look awesome from the back row; how to write a show that has a beginning middle and end, crammed full of funny social commentary and interesting characters, but most importantly, is still fun even if you don’t pick up on any of that.
What is your favorite song?
BISHOP: It’s changed over the years. “Maggots” is a really good example of us trying to be a metal band. That song sums up what we were trying to do. “King Queen” is another one and a perfect example of a Dave Brockie song. It’s so freaking funny.
SLAGEL: I knew you would ask but it’s a difficult question. “Sexecutioner” came on my phone randomly yesterday.
ROBERTS: I like playing all of our songs, even the ones from this that we put on a record 30 years ago. “The Salaminizer” has a special spot because it’s one of the first things I helped arrange and record with Derks and Bishop.
JACKSON: “Sexecutioner.” Varga wrote the classic lyrics for his character. Sexy was a good bodyguard and best friend of Oderus. He was a more refined masochist, savoring every disgusting aspect of his victim’s demise. In contrast, Oderus was all impulse and violent self-destructive, self-indulgence.
What is the legacy of Scumdogs of the Universe three decades later?
BISHOP: It’s the moment we announced ourselves to the world. That’s what records are. It’s a capture of a moment in time. GWAR was very unique and it captures this unique thing very early in its inception. It has flaws, but there have always been flaws. The reason this record stands is that GWAR stood against the boring presentation of rock music where people were just on stage in street clothes. GWAR was so unique that people couldn’t imitate it.
DERKS: It is the defining GWAR album. It’s the album where we defined the core concept. We had four or five years leading up to that, and after that we headed into the wilderness of what GWAR could be.
ROBERTS: Scumdogs was definitely when GWAR became a rock band and discovered the platform for our art.
JACKSON: [The record showed] that a whole bunch of driven, multi-talented people can strive together toward a common goal. Through determination and perseverance you can achieve a lot more than one person struggling alone against the odds. I’m proud of what I was able to achieve through GWAR because it was against the odds in spite of opposition and in the face of all the people who didn’t believe we could do it, or just thought it was stupid. We did it anyway.
VARGA: On Scumdogs we had a record label and had to work with adults. We were just trying to push forward the idea of what you could do with art.
MAGUIRE: The creativity came from every single person who was there. If one of those people wasn’t there, it wouldn’t have been the same experience at all. Scumdogs opened the door for people to think this art project/band could be a thing.
DRAKULICH: Scumdogs is where the look and the characters were cemented. The blueprint was established. Before that, it was still being worked out and characters were coming and going. We figured out everything on Scumdogs.
STAMPE: It’s probably everyone’s favorite GWAR album. Hunter always used to say: “Don’t talk about, do it.” That was a big thing in the Slave Pit. We were big fish in a little pond [in Richmond] and there wasn’t a lot of distraction in our town. I’m not sure we could have pulled this off if we lived in Los Angeles. I think that attitude rubbed off on other people in our community. We couldn’t have done this without our community pitching in.
SLAGEL: It’s a pivotal record that came at an unbelievable time. When it came out in 1990, it was just such a strange time in music. For them to come up with something so fresh, so different and so cutting edge that lasts to this day is a testament to them.
Would you change anything?
DERKS: We just did! [laughs]
ROBERTS: We did! People should go buy the remaster because this is how we intended for fans to hear it.
GWAR’s 30th anniversary editions of Scumdogs of the Universe are out October 30 but are available for pre-order now! GWAR will also perform special 30th anniversary livestream of Scumdogs on October 30. Get your tickets here!
If you’re reading this, you’ve either knowingly or unknowingly enjoyed Jeremy Saffer‘s photography. Saffer has photographed heavy metal musicians for two decades, starting with live snaps and thriving with studio portraits. Whether it’s Behemoth or the Misfits or Shadows Fall, Jeremy Saffer’s discerning eye has helped define visual representations of metal. Saffer’s extreme metal inspirations bleed into his fine art photography as well. His new photo book Daughters of Darkness compiles a project a dozen years in the making: photographing models wearing nothing but corpse paint.
Daughters of Darkness will appeal to those who devoured the vamperotica of early ’90s black metal imagery. With an introduction by Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and a forward from Cradle of Filth founder Dani Filth, it’s over 280 pages of striking imagery and tasteful nudity. In the interview below, Decibel shares some images that pass the kinda-SFW community guidelines. Special editions of the book also include a vinyl compilation from Season of Mist artists selected by Jeremy Saffer himself. The vinyl boasts grim cuts from Abbath, Mayhem, Rotting Christ, Carpathian Forest, and many more. Scroll further for the interview with Jeremy Saffer and play the Daughters of Darkness playlist as you peruse his bewitching photographs.
Decibel Magazine interview with Jeremy Saffer
When did you first realize your passion for photography and heavy music?
Jeremy Saffer: It’s my first time really thinking about this specifically, but I’ve been into metal since I was about 10. Starting with Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Pantera, then getting into the more extreme stuff. I always had a point and shoot camera on me when I would go to shows and go on trips. I never really realized how young I was when I was taking pictures and listening to metal because those two things never really crossed paths until I was about 15.
When I was 15 and 16, I was in bands opening up for bigger bands and would always take photos of the bigger bands to show off. A local promoter (Scott Lee) saw me shooting shows and had me start shooting all of his shows. That quickly snowballed into shooting shows for a bigger company he worked with called Massconcerts. They run the Worcester Palladium, Hartford Webster Theater, and also do shows at various other venues as well. So by 16 or 17 I was shooting shows almost every weekend, and by 18 I was shooting shows more than playing them.
I had gone to Berklee School of Music for music production and engineering and ended up miserable at Berklee. I hated it. I wanted to shoot shows. So after two semesters of misery, I spoke with Scott. I told him I didn’t know what to do. It’s not a great place to be in when you’ve spent every day since you were 9 years old dreaming of going to Berklee and playing music. Then you get to this place where your dreams become a nightmare and you feel like you’re suffocating and can’t do anything about it. Luckily Scott simply said, “Well, what do you want to do?” I said, “Take pictures.” He just smirked and said, “DO THAT!” And those two words, that conversation, changed my life. I never thought of taking up photography as a career; it was always something I did to see the bands I liked, something I did for fun. So I put down my guitar, picked up a camera full-time, started touring, and that’s really what got my career started.
I finished up a summer tour, and enrolled in a 10 month intensive photography school. Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing beyond basic photographic knowledge. I learned everything I could about lighting and photography; even got my first magazine cover (Mastodon on Metal Maniacs) while in photo school. Then I jumped right back on tour the next summer, but started doing more portrait work for magazines, album covers, and merch. That’s sort of how it all started.
What were your first impressions of corpse paint, and what appealed to you about the imagery?
JS: I always loved dark imagery. I grew up on horror movies, dark photography, and creepy, spooky things. I first encountered corpse paint in the early ’90s when Mayhem got picked up by US press. But prior to that I was always a big fan of King Diamond and his aesthetic. So I wanted to check out another band donning face paint, albeit differently. The first black metal album I heard was Cradle of Filth’s Cruelty and the Beast, and after one spin of that album my affinity for black metal rocketed past any other genre of metal and left them all far behind. I started with Cradle and Immortal and immediately got every Cradle and Immortal album I could. I also tracked down black metal video and CD comps which lead me to some of my favorites like Satyricon, Diabolical Masquerade, Limbonic Art, Emperor, etcetera.
I was well versed with Cradle’s imagery of romantic vampirism; the fine art nude imagery they incorporate in their imagery and merch. I always love imagery that pushes the envelope, so to speak. So having every piece of black metal merch that fit that description was a necessity to me. Bands like Marduk, Cradle, Satyricon, Rotting Christ, Samael, Immortal. I had to have every shirt I could get. So I would go to the local record store (Music Outlet in Enfield, CT) and flip though the albums looking for anything similar to what I already knew. If I saw an album cover with a nude woman in nature, or in an occult setting with corpse paint and blood I would buy the album. That’s how I really discovered so many black metal and doom bands such as Tristania, Theater of Tragedy, Mactatus, and The Sins of Thy Beloved. So I would blindly buy these albums not knowing who the band was. Nine times out of ten they were incredible bands and ended up being some of my favorites for years to come. I was always drawn to that imagery, and to the duality of beauty and beastly darkness.
What inspired the Daughters of Darkness project? The scope of the project seems enormous.
JS: The way it sort of started was not intentional by any means. My friend Karim was doing a black metal clothing line and wanted to do a rip on Pulp’s This is Hardcore album cover, where there’s a nude blonde woman with red velvet. I recreated the shot with a nude woman in corpse paint for a “This is Black Metal” t-shirt. After shooting that specific shot, the model (who is also an avid black metal fan) and I decided to shoot more. White background, black background, every type of lighting we can think of. Outdoors, in the creepy basement of my studio; we shot for hours and loved it.
That shoot really triggered a few things all at once. At the time (and still today) I mostly shoot bands for album covers, magazines, promo, and merch. Completely separately I photograph fine art nude portraits of women for art books, galleries and exhibitions. This was the first project that combined the two things I do the most. It also brought me back to that iconic black metal and doom imagery that would have me buying albums based on the art alone.
So after this shoot I decided I should do a series with it, maybe 10 shoots, and see where it goes. About a year later I was at least 50 shoots deep into this project and decided to do a collection of sorts, maybe a calendar. So I did put out a calendar in 2012, which did well. But I kept shooting this project beyond that as I loved shooting it. I was constantly getting contacted by models and friends who are black metal fans and wanted to shoot for it. It sort of just kept going and going and going.
About 5 years in I knew I had wanted to do a book with it, however I was having no luck getting it published. Publishers who put out fine art nude books wouldn’t touch it because of the corpse paint; too niche, too scary, too evil. When I gave up on that, I reached out to record labels, clothing lines, anywhere that was black metal themed. They wouldn’t touch it because of nudity. So I sort of just kept shooting, and every year would reach out to publishers with new images from the project and get a bunch of no’s and try again the next year. About 2 years ago I stopped shooting the project. I got a bit disheartened when a few places I thought would be interested in publishing it said no, and figured I would likely self publish it like I did my last two books. So I was thinking, maybe Kickstarter? How do I do one of those? And I brainstormed but got really busy with music photography work and didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the project.
Last year I did a photo shoot for Nekrogoblikon, who famously have a Goblin mascot, John Goblikon. I shot for their book which is a self-help book by John Goblikon and it’s incredible, so funny. The publisher was Rare Bird who I recognized, as they had published Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die). After finishing up the photo details of the Nekrogoblikon book, I mentioned my corpse paint project, and rather than getting a slow reply or a “we will get back to you, we will let you know” I immediately got a “YES! Lets do it!”
In February I met the owner for the first time, when I walked into the office he was wearing a Satyricon hoodie, and we talked black metal for an hour or two before even talking about the book. That’s how I knew I found the right publisher. They are as excited about this book as I am, they wanted every detail I wanted to come to fruition from the size, look, paper, everything! This book is exactly how I wanted it presented. I could go on and on about how incredible Rare Bird are. The best part of this project is its as much a victory for the models as it is for me. Some had shot for this 12 years ago and haven’t seen the images yet. So for this to finally finally come to fruition is such a massive achievement not just for me, but for them as well.
Some of the musicians I’ve interviewed talk about corpse paint like it’s a spiritual out-of-body experience. How did your models talk about wearing corpse paint?
JS: One of the things I really love about this project is that all the models did their own corpse paint designs. Every model who shot for this is a fan of metal, mostly black metal fans. Everyone was well-versed with corpse paint and knew what they wanted to do.
Most of these models I have worked with many times or are close friends or both. So seeing the corpse paint sort of transform who they are a little bit (or a lot) in terms of their posing, their attitude, their general demeanor was incredible. It seemed to be so empowering and so special and different to anything else I’d shot with them before. One specific shoot comes to mind: As soon as actress Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) had the corpse paint on, she was a different person and she did not break character from who she became until the make up was off. It was unreal. A few models in the book are also in bands who wear corpse paint, which is really cool to have them involved.
I think one of the most interesting things in these shoots is so many of these models became their own visual representation and embodiment of black metal. When models are asked about the project they talk about it being empowering, and they talk about the duality of evil and beauty. The vision and direction of the book is very much shared with those involved and within the pages of the book.
Because so many laws and rules are created and enforced by puritans, we’re only permitted to share the Safe-For-Work images with this interview. As a photographer, what’s the significance of nudity to you and how it’s perceived by the public?
JS: How insane is it that nudity is looked at in any negative light hundreds and hundreds of years after it had been looked up to in artwork? If you think about classic art you think of nudity in at least some of it. The human form has long been a study and subject in art since art first came into existence. So to see it looked down upon is just silly in my opinion.
But here’s the thing about art: it’s subjective and really up to the viewer to decide what it is. You have a fine line in nudity between what is art, what is porn, and what is erotica; what is acceptable, what is not acceptable.
I personally never got into photographing erotica/porn, but there’s certainly plenty that is art. And there is plenty of fine art nudity that could be considered porn. It’s a weird line that is drawn by each individual viewer. For me, I think the human form will always be a study and subject of every art medium in every different point of view possible. From artistic, exploitative, comedic, dramatic, and any way it could be created and presented.
Fine nude art was something I was always drawn to. The art of Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, and Joseph Linsner. The photography of Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle, and so on. I think it will always have a place in what I do.
The book is accompanied by an amazing soundtrack from Season of Mist. Do you ever incorporate music into your photo shoots as a way to set mood or atmosphere on set?
JS: There is never a time music isn’t playing while I shoot in studio. For Daughters of Darkness, it was always black metal. Sometimes a mix or compilation, sometimes an album or a few. I think music is important to get into a photo shoot especially when it’s in studio and it’s dead silent aside from the photographer and the subject. When shooting on location, obviously that’s not always possible.
As for the Daughters of Darkness vinyl, what a dream come true. I grew up on so many black metal comps that got me into bands I didn’t know, so as a kid you would imagine putting together your own comp. I’m sure every music fan has made playlists, or burned mixed CDs with MP3s, or made mix-tapes. I made so many black metal comps of sorts for myself, and years later I get to do it for real.
I have a great working relationship with Season of Mist, having photographed many of their bands over the years. So I reached out to them asking if they would be interested in doing a vinyl comp with the publisher, who would put it out and give it away free with the book. They gave me the keys to their archive and let me choose the bands I wanted and the songs I wanted. So I got to pick my favorite songs by some of my favorite bands which was unreal.
The book isn’t singular in style: there’s fashion, glam, in studio, on location, dark lit, bright lit, emotionless, fully emotive. There’s everything in the shots. And the vinyl is no different: it has symphonic, thrash, blackened death, raw, atmospheric, classic, new, and every subgenre of black metal on there. It’s a perfect companion-piece to spin while flipping through the book.
Your book shares a title with a 1971 vampire film that was a big inspiration for Cradle of Filth and other gothic/black metal bands. What are some other vampire films you’d recommend for the Halloween season?
JS: What an incredible movie that is, too. The book actually, and honestly, isn’t named after that classic. It comes from my favorite black metal band, Immortal. They have an amazing album, Sons of Northern Darkness. I thought, if they are the sons of darkness, who are the daughters? These are the Daughters of Darkness! So that’s where the title comes from though.
That said, there is no question I am a massive fan of vampires in all art, and even more so Bathory (the Countess and the band, respectively). That’s why Cruelty and the Beast is one of my favorite albums of all time. Shame they haven’t done a great Bathory movie yet. But the book The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu is amazing, if only someone would adapt that to film.
The best vampire movie of all time in my opinion is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Gary Oldman playing the Count. What a beautiful movie. Bloody, gory, the best script, the wardrobe, the cast, set pieces, how anti-religion it is. It’s a perfect movie.
Other great vampire movies: From Dusk ‘Til Dawn is an amazing, great take on vampires with a killer soundtrack. Nightwatch is one of the most amazing and interesting takes on vampires. What We Do in the Shadows is a great comedic take on vampires, as is Blood Sucking Bastards. Lost Boys is of course a must. I love when Cory kills a vampire with a record in Lost Boys: The Thirst and says “VINYL SHREDS!” If you want a fun action vampire movie, Blade is great. Innocent Blood is a great vampire comedy. If you have a younger crowd, the Hotel Transylvania series is really good, as is Dracula: Dead and Loving It (Mel Brooks spoof on the ’92 Dracula). And lastly, Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is excellent. But what movie with Alice Cooper and Depp isn’t excellent?
After Daughters of Darkness is released, what do you have planned for the rest of 2020 and beyond? I imagine like most collaborative in-person mediums, the pandemic has impacted photography quite a lot.
JS: I am basically out of work until touring resumes. I think the live entertainment world was hit the hardest with the pandemic, in that it will be the last thing to really come back. So until bands resume touring, I won’t likely be shooting many bands, which is the majority of my career. But in the meantime, I have been testing new equipment. I recently switched to Leica from Canon. I started a Patreon where I post these test shoots I’ve been doing (safely distanced or with my partner who is a model) as well as digging up past photo shoots and breaking down every aspect of them from the lighting, technical details, behind the scenes, and the story behind the shoot.
The next thing I will want to do is a new band photography book that doesn’t just show the final published images, but shows the behind the scenes and the stories behind the shoot. Many are funny, interesting and some are certainly frustrating. I recently started shooting corpse paint again and I’m not sure what the end game of that will be beyond galleries. But I am hoping, fingers crossed, that Daughters of Darkness does well enough to warrant a sequel. Beyond that, just like most of us in the music world, I am just waiting for the world to start again.
Pre-order Jeremy Saffer’s Daughters of Darkness from Rare Bird HERE
Follow Jeremy Saffer on Facebook for news and updates HERE
Two of the most brilliant and creative bands in the current grindcore scene, Daggra from Texas and Japan’s own Retortion Terror (featuring the legendary Takafumi Matsubaru on axe) are teaming up for a split release for Wise Grind Records in November.
We here at Blast Worship have received an advanced copy of the album and it is everything you would expect from these two bands: angular, blistering, disharmonic, beautiful and, of course, unique.
Along with five new tracks from each band the album is accompanied by music videos, one of which we are premiering right here, in this very article! The video for Daggra’s “Diminishing Returns” features a combination of tour footage, live shots and in studio recording to give fans a sneak peek behind the scenes of the album.
Abigail Larson creates spooky imagery pulled from old legends and fairy tales, as well as from contemporary pop culture. You’ll see her work on book covers and on tarot decks, and she’s even tried her hand at comic books — visit AbigailLarson.com to get the full sense of what she does. It’s Halloween week, as […]
Halloween just got a whole lot spookier with the announcement that the first chapter of The Reawakening at the Woolly Mammoth in Brisbane has officially sold out.
Featuring Valhalore, Among The Ruined, Evacuation Plan, Regular Gonzales and Dr. Parallax, this event brought to you by Serenity in Brutality promises to be one of the local events of the year, but don’t worry if you missed out on a ticket, we have the feeling this chapter is only the beginning…
East York have dropped their debut single “Outsiders”
In an otherwise forgettable year for many reasons East York decided to knuckle down in isolation ad began working on new material with “Outsiders” the triumphant result.
Vocalist Tarquin said of the song “’Outsiders’ is a tribute to the ones who walk on the outside of society. It speaks to those of us who play the game of life on our own terms and, who don’t care to swim with the tide.”
Featuring Zane Rosanoski from Mammal on drums, East York have struck gold with their first single and look set to become one of the few feel-good stories of 2020.