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GWAR: Monsters of Rock

Maxim heads out on tour with GWAR, the most gruesome heavy metal band ever to visit planet Earth.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Leftley | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Small-business owner Dave Brockie stands in his moderate-size warehouse in the suburban-feeling Richmond, Virginia and surveys his company in action. “We listen to our critics, and we work hard,” says the 49-year-old, a look of committed earnestness on his face, while his colleagues bustle around us. It could be a scene from  almost anyone’s working life—except that Dave Brockie is leaning on a pile of dismembered corpses, wearing nothing but shorts and a set of giant spiked shoulder pads. That’s because Dave Brockie is better known to the world as Oderus Urungus, space monster and lead singer of gore-happy thrash-metal band GWAR.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Leftley | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Formed in the mid-’80s as an amalgamation of Brockie’s punk band Death Piggy and the costumes artist friend Hunter Jackson made for a planned independent movie (Scumdogs of the Universe, also the name of their seminal second album), GWAR have been touring their unique, blood-drenched heavy-metal soap opera for 26 relentless years, releasing albums ranging from the goofily experimental (1994’s This Toilet Earth) to the legitimately ear-bruising (2010’s Bloody Pit of Horror). Posing as a group of intergalactic monsters on the run from their master, each band member appears onstage in costumes that would make it impossible for most people to pick up their instruments, let alone perform a 90-minute set, all while indulging in an endless series of gruesome theatrical battles with rival creatures between songs. In short, it’s a hell of a show.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Leftley | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

“It’s rock theater, but it’s definitely adult and interactive in that you’re gonna get shit all over you,” explains the intense, shaven-headed Brockie as he shows me around the Slave Pit, a combination F/X workshop and recording studio crammed into a single warehouse, which sits inconspicuously between a gas station, a dry cleaners, and the odd wandering zombified crackhead. “It’s like Gallagher meets—wait, no, no, fuck that, it’s nothing like Gallagher!” he laughs. “It’s really a challenge to explain what GWAR is…”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

While he talks, the nine members of GWAR—which includes both the musicians and the team of artists who make up the spe­cial-effects crew—prepare for a six-week tour, commencing the next night. As the band rehearses (without costumes, an odd sight in itself), shop foreman and co-stage manager Bob Gorman puts the finishing touches on a costume. I ask him what I can expect of life on the road with GWAR, and he describes the experience of, on an early tour, waking up to see a dog on top of a recliner vomiting into the open mouth of founding member Don Drakulich as he slept on the floor below. “It was the most surreal, horrific experience,” he grimaces. “I had to roll over and pretend I didn’t see it. I felt so horrible for him!”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Although most of the guys seem fairly relaxed, there’s a definite air of solemnity to the proceedings, an effect of the tragedy that befell the band on November 3, 2011, when lead guitarist Cory Smoot (a.k.a. Flattus Maximus) was found dead in his bunk on the tour bus. “I’m the one who found him,” sighs tour manager Eddie Ortell. “I cried for 15 minutes solid when I was holding him, and that’s maybe the third time I ever cried. I miss him every day.”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The death, a result of his preexisting coronary artery disease, was a huge blow to band and fans alike. Although, with overwhelming fan support, GWAR completed the tour, Smoot’s absence is still very much felt. “We want everyone to know how important Cory was to us,” nods audio technician and close friend Dave “Gibby” Gibson. “He was a gung-ho, hardworking man. He would have definitely wanted us to carry on.”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When everything is finally packed onto the bus, a few of us head out drinking before crashing at Brockie’s house. Even after a grueling day’s work, the relentlessly energetic Brockie still seems wired. “I need some violence before I go to sleep,” he grumbles as I slowly pass out on the couch at 4 a.m. to the soothing sounds of zombie-murder from his Xbox.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Leftley | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When I awake the next morning, people are already up discussing business the way only GWAR can. “Dude, it’s not gay if you’re being raped by Oderus!” I hear Brockie shout from the next room with total conviction. Tonight’s hometown Richmond show is dedicated to Smoot—with all proceeds going to his widow and child—so everyone’s expecting an emotional evening. That, combined with the stressful first day of a tour, means everyone’s mostly keeping their heads down and getting on with their jobs. Life on tour is a series of 16-hour days. As soon as the bus pulls up at a venue at
11 a.m., the guys go to work, setting up the stage (including a castle set and a man-eating “World Maggot” under the drum riser), doing sound checks, and generally busting their asses until the gig’s over, the set’s packed up, and they pile back onto the bus around 3 a.m.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The work is all worth it, though: When the band marches out onto the stage at 10 p.m., the crowd goes insane. Monsters are introduced and dispatched, GWAR lackey Bonesnapper the Cave-Troll and nemesis Sawborg Destructo wage war on each other, and a pregnant Snooki is disemboweled in effigy to rapturous applause. “I’m tall and skinny, but I fill out a dress really well—they always get me in the girl’s costume,” the mad-scientist-looking spew tech Scott Krahl tells me later. “Over the years it’s gone from Monica Lewinsky to Snooki.”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Leftley| Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

“Spew tech” is a vital job. They’re the guys who ensure the endless barrage of fake blood gets showered into the crowd throughout the night. As the band plays, fellow spew tech and tattoo artist Jeremy “Germ” Howard pumps the handles on the blood tanks in time with the songs, head-banging delightedly. “My instrument has two notes,” he beams. “On and off!”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Amidst the madness, there is still time for an in-character tribute to their departed band mate. “We don’t know why Flattus decided to leave this miserable planet,” yells Oderus, “but we do know we fucking miss him.” The crowd bellows its agreement. Later, as the last blood spatters and the band finishes its encore, the stage goes dark, save for a single spotlight on Smoot’s guitar. The respectful silence is quickly broken by a recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” The audience sings along, lighters aloft, and, as the song climaxes and Gibby walks onto the otherwise empty stage to hold up Cory’s guitar, thunderously shows its love and respect. It’s a moment that will be repeated every night of the tour.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

After the post-gig party has staggered to a close around 3 a.m., we clamber aboard the tour bus. When I head for the sleeping quarters, I find my way barred by Krahl, who appears to be completely, and hilariously, bombed. I smile politely as he tries to tell me a story that seems to be about a time that GWAR played in a radioactive German slaughterhouse, but since he’s only managing one word every three seconds while swaying from side to side, it’s not exactly easy to follow. Brockie sticks his head out, listens for a few seconds, confused, then retreats, giggling.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Leftley | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

“Dude, you’re not making any fucking sense!” he shouts as the door closes. Eventually, I sidle around Krahl, still nodding, and close the door between us. As it slowly wheezes shut, he suddenly jams his head into the narrowing gap and, light bouncing off the tattoo on his bald spot, hisses, urgently, “Remember, man, coastal defense… is… really… hard.” My polite smile hitches up a few degrees into a polite rictus, then the door mercifully closes and I scramble into my claustrophobic, coffinlike bunk for a night filled with some of the strangest dreams of my life.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The next morning Krahl is back to his professional, engaging self. Having traveled 400 miles while we slept, I’m disoriented to wake up outside a former church, now concert venue in Pennsylvania, but everyone else seems to find it completely normal.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

As the venue’s electronics are wrapped in plastic to protect them from the inevitable blood deluge, guitarist Mike Derks (a.k.a. Balsac the Jaws of Death) remembers a gig in Slovenia during the Bosnian war. “We were 40 miles from where they were bombing. We could hear gunfire. But we’re in this disco with ivory statues and tiger-print carpeting,” he marvels. “They’d no idea who they’d booked, and when we started playing, the audience ran to the back of the club and cowered against the wall. Oderus had to jump off the stage and chase people around...”

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When the band goes on, all is organized chaos backstage as Gorman, Krahl, and artist-performer Matt Maguire swap costumes and struggle with the thin, blood-slicked metal ramp that leads to the stage. Gorman, fresh from being decapitated, chugs water as he squirms into a huge mutant reindeer costume, the Jager Monsta, that requires attaching stilts to his arms.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

“Watch out!” he yells, hurling a pair of dismembered legs at a huge packing crate. They hit the lid and it slams shut, missing taking a chunk out of Maguire’s bare ass by about half an inch. Maguire shrugs. After 20 years with GWAR, he’s used to stuff like this.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Despite an unplanned blackout halfway through—during which Oderus tries to entertain the crowd with a horribly mangled joke—the gig is another riotous success, leaving a multitude of bloodsoaked but grinning fans in its wake.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The next morning we wake up in Sayreville, New Jersey. After a quick group photo by a tank across the street (“For fuck’s sake, guys, it’s not a tank, it’s a goddamn mobile antiaircraft cannon,” grumbles WWII buff Brockie), everyone gets out of their costumes as fast as they can. They might be one of the most iconic aspects of GWAR, but they’re not terribly forgiving. “My helmet alone weighs at least 10 pounds,” grimaces bassist Jamison Land (a.k.a. Beefcake the Mighty). Drummer Brad Roberts (a.k.a. Jizmak Da Gusha) is rightly proud of the band’s ability to perform in them. “I dare any other band to come over here and put on a monster head that weighs 20 pounds and try to play the guitar when you can’t even see your guitar neck,” he growls.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Unfortunately for me, an oversize wardrobe is the least of my worries. As this is my last night with them, GWAR have decided that I must be sacrificed live onstage. My costume? A black, toothy latex thong known as the Mangina—and nothing else. As the band reaches the end of their set, I shiver at the side of the stage in my “costume.” When they begin the encore, Maguire—masked and clutching a giant sword—marches me out onto the stage.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

“We have a guest with us tonight from Maxim magazine!” bellows Oderus, his shoulder spikes thwacking me in the face.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

“Now, who votes that we let him live?” I raise my hand, pathet­ically—the only one to do so. “And who votes that we kill this fucker?” The audience screams for blood, and Maguire slices the sword across my neck, at the same time emptying the blood bag he has hidden behind my shoulder. It’s a spectacularly unpleasant mess, and one that gets messier when they turn me around and feed me to the World Maggot.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Essentially a giant accordion with teeth, the World Maggot is operated by Krahl, who, invisible inside, slams the Maggot head down over me, then calls for me to drop down and crawl through the body to the exit hole under the drum riser. As I’m halfway in, I realize that my costume has snagged on something: Every inch I squeeze through pulls the thong down a little more, and with no idea how much of my rear end is still visible to the crowd, I thrash about, panicked, trying to swat away whatever’s determined to pin my butt to the Maggot’s insides. Finally, I make it through, scratching the shit out of my back in the process, and tumble into a bloody pile at the side of the stage. Was it dignified? Not even slightly. Was it fun? Hell, yes.

Photographed for Maxim by Nick Ray McCann | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

After 26 years, GWAR have lost none of their ability to shock, entertain, and flat-out rock the hell out of an audience. The sheer, bloody-minded effort and determination of everyone involved is nothing short of heroic, although they’re generally too busy making fun of themselves to admit it. As I make my departure, it’s Roberts who succinctly sums it all up. “The world will be a shittier place once we retire,” he says matter-of-factly. “Oh, and remember—if you make me look like an idiot in this story, I will kill you with a rubber sword, kid. That’s just how we do it in GWAR.”

GWAR are touring nationwide until November 26.

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