Band gimmicks come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are more recognizable than others and some work better than others. I think there are two big things to consider when discussing these gimmicks. One question I always end up asking myself is, “Is this band’s gimmick taking away from their music?” The next question that immediately comes to mind after that is, “Is this band only getting attention because of it?”
As far as the gimmicks are concerned, there are many categories of shenanigans that frequently come up in the metal scene. In light of this, we have decided to write about these in the form of a series, by focusing on one category per article (as opposed to slamming you with a massive tangent all at once).
For our first article, we’re going to take a couple jabs at “faceless bands”.
Slipknot, Mushroomhead, Ghost and of course, Gwar are most likely the biggest culprits.
Speaking as a former Slipknot fan, I can tell you that the high school freshman version of me was in it for the stage antics more than the music. The scary masks seemed to make them a heavier and darker sounding musical entity. I enjoyed watching Clown beat up beer kegs on hydraulics, while Mick Thompson played simplistic bar chord riffs from behind his chilling face made of rusted metal. Corey Taylor was always good for a clever vulgar rhyme and had a decent scream range, compelling me to ignore his almost senseless ramblings about, well, whatever. Not to mention, a lot of us were suckers for Joey Jordison’s massive rotating drum set. I think Joey was arguably “the talent” in Slipknot because of his expertise on such a large kit. This is all just a matter of opinion but, it wasn’t until a few years after their self-titled debut in ’99, that I saw how unnecessary the extra percussionists were. I finally saw how little a part Sid played on turntables, and how mediocre their overall sound was without the elaborate stage show or the stage characters they were hiding behind.
It’s almost too easy to say the exact same thing about Mushroomhead. It seems like they’re just another band that only has a career because of their masks, overalls and sporadically used additional members. I’m sure firing oozy discharges all over their audiences plays a big part in their appeal as well. But when you take away all these visual stimulants, aren’t Slipknot and Mushroomhead just like every other recycled Western nu-metal artist out there? Don’t most Slipknot riffs sound exactly like older Korn or Primer 55 riffs. They’re just in a lower tuning and are accompanied by screams and more intricate drumming Since I’ve never been a fan, the only thing I can really say in Mushroomhead’s defense is that they’ve been accused by many of ripping off Slipknot with their gimmicks, however this isn’t the case. In fact, Mushroomhead formed in Ohio two years before Slipknot and simply didn’t get their first big single out until after Slipknot’s infiltration of mainstream metal.
Now, if you’re at all familiar with Sweden’s Ghost, sometimes referred to as Ghost BC, you know that their look conveys more “evil” than their music. They’ve got that rock metal vibe with synth that’s reminiscent of countless bands in that genre. But once again, it’s their gimmick that separates them from the pack. The five instrumentalists are known as ‘the nameless ghouls’ and appear as druids in dark hooded cloaks, while frontman, Papa Emeritus II (soon to be replaced by a Papa Emeritus III), appears as a black metal version of the pope. They refer to themselves as ‘the clergy’ and never miss an opportunity to misrepresent themselves. But I suppose that’s part of the reason I kind of like them. There’s something about a band that visually reminds you of Norwegian black metal, but sounds like harmless heavy metal with clean singing that appeals to me. Many people compare Ghost to Mercyful Fate, and on most tracks I’d agree.
Last but certainly not least, what rant about faceless bands that use characters would be complete without mentioning Gwar? Gwar is arguably the most notorious gimmick band in the known universe. Their stage characters hail from distant worlds. Their real identities are a little more accessible than those of the other bands already mentioned, but let’s face it- Gwar is purposely not about the music. Gwar is about costumes, makeup, ooze, blood, guts, gore, dinosaurs, defaced political figures and most recently, blood squirting breasts. Let’s face it- Vulvatron is kind of hot and you were stoked as hell when “Snooki” got mutilated onstage. Musically, it’s arguably as typical as punk rock mixed with heavy metal can get, but that’s not why Gwar exists. Gwar was meant to branch out beyond their music in the realm of merchandising. Their action figures and comic books are just as highly regarded as classic albums like, America Must Be Destroyed or This Toilet Earth. They may even be responsible for the genre, ‘comedy metal’. Speaking as a musician who enjoys what Gwar does, I can tell you that I rarely, if ever, go out of my way to listen to Gwar at home. While at the same time, I’ve ventured from Buffalo to New York to see them live. I’ve been sucked in by the gimmick and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll never look back.
Obviously, there are many more faceless bands out there, but we didn’t feel the need to drag things out since there are many other gimmicks to cover. For our next segment in this series, we’re going to be talking about stage antics. If you can think of some good bands for this topic, leave us a comment here or on Facebook. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback! We hope you enjoyed this read! Thanks for checking this out!
Written by, Mike Marlinski and Vick Sacha
RIP Dave Brockie AKA “Oderus Urungus” \m/