Why GWAR Is Important and Why Metal Will Never Be The Same Again
Jamie Betts PhotoDave Brockie as GWAR leader Oderus Urungus (Center)
The character of Oderus Urungus - leader of costumed heavy-metal outfit GWAR - was a loutish brute. An intergalactic space traveler hell-bent on exterminating the human race, he took great pleasure in committing brutal atrocities on the worst examples of our species during live performances.
Unfortunately for the human race, it was Dave Brockie - the man behind the mask - that passed away on Sunday night at the age of 50. He was found dead in his home in Richmond, VA. The cause of death is still undetermined.
GWAR was formed out of the ashes of an art collective in Richmond in the mid '80s, making its official debut with 1988's Hell-O. But it was their next album, 1990's Scumdogs of the Universe, that saw GWAR truly begin to build their following. During a time when commercial hard rock and extreme heavy metal began to take things too seriously, the group's costumed imagery and outlandish odes to sex and violence made them a hit with viewers of MTV's Headbangers Ball and Beavis and Butt-head.
The men behind the costumes rotated in and out of the band... except for Dave Brockie. As Oderus Urungus, he was the band's vocalist and chief artistic voice. From their early days up through 2013's Battle Maximus, Oderus spewed venomous lyrics that had zero regard for anyone that might be offended. Satirical odes to the extreme perversions of corporate rule and religious zealots were offset by lyrics reveling in base sexual and scatological functions. GWAR made it acceptable to still giggle like a schoolboy while banging your head.
GWAR's legend was cemented by their outrageous live performances. While an underpinning of thrash metal and punk inspired everyone to mosh, those closest to the stage got drenched in fake blood and fake splooge as Oderus Urungus violated and decapitated figures representing the disgrace of humanity - politicians gone power-hungry and celebrities gone bad. GWAR had popularity swings throughout its career, but the one constant was the sheer spectacle of their live show.
As sloppy as a live show would get, off-stage Brockie took great pride in the art behind the spectacle. Taking great care to make sure the group's costumes and props were as high-quality as possible, he made sure that nothing about GWAR was half-assed.
Brockie was also incredibly gracious and helpful to dozens of bands getting their start over the years. Many of today's metal headliners - including fellow Richmond group Lamb of God - found their legs by opening for GWAR.
There is no update yet about the future of GWAR or the character of Oderus Urungus. The character of Flattus Maximus was retired after the 2011 death of guitarist Cory Smoot, who had played the character since 2002. But we cannot imagine GWAR without Oderus Urungus, or that anyone else would be accepted under the mask.
On stage and on record, heavy metal has lost one of its most entertaining frontmen in Oderus Urungus. Off-stage, heavy metal has lost one of its proudest spokesmen and biggest mentors.