Tavern Doom: A Conversation with Bohren & Der Club of Gore

Put on a pair of headphones and turn off the lights. Press play, and close your eyes as the melancholy night-sound of the German instrumental band Bohren & Der Club of Gore fills your ears and casts shade upon your soul.

In 1988 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, four musicians gathered: Thorsten Benning on drums, Robin Rodenberg on bass, Morten Gass on guitar and piano, and Reiner Henseleit on guitar. All previously members of various hardcore, death metal, and doom bands, they began to meddle with jazz and ambient styles, all while keeping their sound strictly instrumental. By 1992, they had come to call themselves Bohren (which translates literally to “boring,” and although it has an ironic association in the English language for a disappointed listener, it is actually a reference to the physical action of boring, like drilling a deep hole into the ground.) In 1993, they added “und Der Club of Gore” to their band name, as an homage to the ‘80’s Dutch noise rock band Gore, whose exclusively instrumental approach to music was a direct influence upon Bohren’s own style.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s debut album, Gore Motel (1994), featured a variety of sounds, including some distorted guitar and even an up-tempo track, but the majority of songs were brimming over with a very moody, dark sound. With 1995’s Midnight Radio, Bohren’s sound became even more dense, its eleven untitled tracks (each clocking in at 10 minutes or longer) sounding like a nighttime cruise in the grim streets of a city straight out of a noir film.

In 1995, Henseleit quit the band, and in 1996, Christoph Clöser was hired—but instead of continuing the band’s guitar-heavy sound, Clöser introduced the saxophone. Starting with 2000’s Sunset Mission, Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s style shifted fully into what is generally thought of as their signature sound: extremely slow-paced songs that are gloomier than a moonless night and denser than a black hole, with haunting melodies creeping through every track. By this time, Clöser was also playing Fender Rhodes, piano, and vibraphone, and Morten Gass picked up organ, vocoder, 8-string bass, synthesizer, and Mellotron. It was with the 2004 re-release of their fourth album, Black Earth (2002), on Ipecac Recordings, that they began to grow popular in the United States, and with each subsequent album, they’ve gained more and more exposure.

Recently, I had the pleasure to chat with Morten Gass about the music, albums, and creative process of Bohren & Der Club of Gore.

BLD: Many people attempt to classify Bohren’s music as anything from “doom jazz” to “death jazz.” Do you or the other members of the band have some kind of name for your sound?

MG: I remember in the beginning I described our music as “Tavernen Doom” (tavern doom). That is still okay for us.

BLD: How would you describe der Club’s sound over the years?

MG: Minimalistic, quiet and slow without distortion but a lot of bass. Music with a certain kind of heaviness, but not in a heavy metal kind of way. The basic recipe is still the same as (when we started playing) 22 years ago; we try to play very slow and quiet music in a jazzy, easy-listening kind of way. But of course, it is no real jazz that we play; (we’re perceived this way) by using all the classic jazz instruments. On our new album, Piano Nights, we were more focused on sound by using better studio equipment.

BLD: What bands or musicians were the biggest inspirations for der Club?

MG: Since the early ‘80’s we listened to extreme music. Bands like Hellhammer, Repulsion, Autopsy, Gore, Cocteau Twins, Sade, Martin Böttcher or Helge Schneider.

BLD: What are some non-musical influences on your music? (Any books, stories, or myths, for example?)

MG: Video games and nighttime activities.

BLD: The band has generally used the same instruments (keys, drums, bass, saxophone, and occasional guitar), and has more or less retained the same styles for quite some time now. Are there any plans to incorporate other instruments or styles?

MG: We always use some different instruments on every record. Since Midnight Radio, we use no more guitars. On Sunset Mission we used a saxophone for the first time. Black Earth got lots of Mellotron. Geisterfaust got no keyboards except the Fender Rhodes, and saw the (use of a) vibraphone and eight string bass, plus a fine housewives choir. For the next one (Dolores), an old organ, and so on. I mean there will be always some kind of small changes in style and instruments and music, but not too drastic.

As I know us, I am very sure that one or another new instrument will sneak in our sound again. At least this was always the case on our previous albums.

BLD: Does anyone in the band have musical ideas that you’d like to explore, but haven’t yet?

MG: We like the style of our music so very much. That is why we are extra careful with our musical formula. For example, we are big fans of techno and house music, and of course heavy metal. But we find it silly to integrate something like that into our music.

BLD: Has the band ever been approached to score a movie? (I think your music would make for an amazing soundtrack.)

MG: Yes, there were some. But to be honest, we are not so keen to write a soundtrack. Something like that means a lot of work, and especially a lot of compromises, so we’d prefer to save ourselves up for the right one.

BLD: On your 2011 mini-album Beileid, you have a song, “Catch My Heart,” the in which you do two very unusual things: covered another band’s song, and had a vocalist, the great Mike Patton. Do you guys plan on doing either of these things ever again?

MG: The Beileid mini-album was just something special in between two regular albums. We will stay an instrumental band until maybe one of us recognizes his own great voice.

We had this obsession to do a cover of a German heavy metal ballad. (When) our version of Warlock’s “Catch My Heart” became such a monster, Patton was just the only one we knew and in which we trusted to sing it properly. Plus it was a great honor to finally work with him.

BLD: Were there “themes” on any your previous albums?

MG: There is always a theme on our albums. Just to get in the right mood for the music. The theme, or the title of the album, comes before the writing process.

Midnight Radio was about lonely driving around in an urban city at night. Sunset Mission was about assassins. Black Earth was our graveyard album. Dolores (2008) was about pain. (The 2009 single) “Mitleid Lady” was inspired by the Chris Norman song. Beileid was fun at the funeral. Piano Nights, a bar at the end of the world.

BLD: So what was the story behind the “hand theme” of your 2005 album Geisterfaust (which translates literally to “Ghost Fist”)?

MG: The fist of a ghost is like our music. It’s a spectral kind of thing, but it can hit you full force in the stomach.

BLD: There’s a black and white photo of a very young Christoph Clöser on the cover of Piano Nights. What’s the story behind that?

MG: Actually, it is a very sad story. Teenage Christoph was forced by his parents to earn money for the whole family by entertaining people in front of the Cologne Dom with his piano magic. This was by the way in the early ‘70’s where no digital pianos existed. The poor guy had to carry the big upright piano all the way to the Dom on its little narrow shoulders, whether summer, winter, rain or storm. Not to mention that he and his parents lived in the eighth floor.

BLD: Does the band tour much?

MG: We play about thirty shows per year.  (We’ve) got regular jobs. This makes touring difficult for us. So we do short trips, like three to five shows in a row. But we fell fine with that kind of situation. Touring gets boring and exhausting after a few days. Plus we are not the type of guys who “want to see the world” or are interested in cultural things and stuff like that.

BLD: Do you think the band will ever tour in the U.S.?

MG: We were there in 2009 for the first time. Under the right circumstances, we will come back, for sure.

BLD: Would you like to say anything else?

MG: Thank you very much for the interview, Barry. Stay happy.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s albums are available from major retailers nationwide.

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Oderus Urungus: In Memoriam

We at Shock Totem love our music. We (singularly and collectively) love most genres. The metal world was shocked last week by the passing of a legend, Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus of GWAR, and we felt it needed to be noted. We reached out to one of our extended family, Chris Seibert, a fantastic artist and a feral GWAR fanboy, to see if he could put it into perspective. —John

The crowd was anxious and outwardly violent, booing the opening bands with heckles and glass bottles, some of which still contained beer. I insisted on being at the front of the stage so I had the perfect view of the opening chaos. If what I had read on the Geo-Cities sites, and if what I could make out on grainy, bootleg VHS tapes was even remotely close to the truth—I knew I had to be in the thick of it. When the lights finally went low, the entire crowd rushed the stage. There’s a special feeling one gets when smashed between a metal bar and 700-some people; I came to know it as “bruised ribs.” The band took the stage and immediately dismembered some poor soul, his sacred fluids spraying me in the face. I cleared my eyes of blood and screamed for more. The sound they made was deafening bliss, with the guitarist in front of me having a bear trap for a head and a scrotum that hung 18 inches between his legs. The front man had, himself, an 18 inch penis (complete with eyes and lips) and a very real scrotum poorly hidden underneath, sheathed in panty hose. The rest of the night is a blur of ejaculate, dismemberment, rape (usually in that order,) culminating in a multi-song-spanning battle between the band and a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The band I saw was, obviously, GWAR and while I was no stranger to the metal band prior to this first experience, no one can truly say they understand what GWAR is until you see them live. For the uninitiated, GWAR is a metal band (transcending many sub-genres, though mostly associated with thrash) which acts more of a collective than a band. This is because GWAR (under the umbrella known as the Slave Pit) is actually comprised of artists, writers, and filmmakers, as well as musicians…all working within the mythos that is GWAR to create the experience that is GWAR. While many members have come and gone (and come back again) throughout the years, the proverbial keystone of the whole affair, as well as founding member, was Dave Brockie, aka Orderus Urungus; lead singer, artist, Scumdog of the Universe. Sunday March 23 saw his passing at age 50 and for many of us bohabs (a term used to describe the core fans of the group,) this was our JFK event.

Most of my idols were dead before I was even born, so to loose one of the four living people that I admired and looked to for inspiration was exceptionally hard. Dave was an amazing artist who had found a way to live the “American Dream” by doing what he loved, middle-finger up the whole way. Some may look at his fine art, or listen to his lyrics, or even look at his alter-ego’s costume and refer to what they see as “tasteless” or “offensive” and it’s those people who Dave would contest are the problem with the world today. It’s his desire to teach us that inspires me the most.

When I cut my teeth on the larger world outside of my own, I noticed that much of society is censored; locked in the attic like some shameful accident child or disease-ridden family member, left to rot alone while everyone else continues the rest of their days in an ignorant bliss. The darker aspects of what it means to live among other human beings is rarely discussed, save for the nightly news which only presents us with marginalized tragedy so that the collective “we” can have villains to hate. It’s a convenient method for feeling better about one’s own demons, the discovery of people worse than ourselves and our own thoughts. That is, admittedly, a depressing way to look at the world, as well as exaggerated. I don’t truly believe that everyone does terrible things or that everyone is in some way responsible for the demons we willingly fail to see in our societies, but in a way, we are responsible and just as guilty. What Dave showed me was that it is okay to embrace the taboo concepts we hold as humans and re-purpose as something new. I like to think of it as “desensitizing to promote logical thought.” Once you take the emotion out of the equation, it’s possible to look at a topic and intelligently debate and discuss it.

Now, do I honestly believe that Dave Brockie intended for his various works to stand as modern transports for social engineering, promoting philosophical discussion to implement upgrades to the human condition? No, I do not. Certainly some of his body of work represents social commentary, but I don’t believe that was his intention for his various projects. Instead, I believe that’s what he inspires, at least what he inspired in me, and that is what a true artist does. Anyone can paint a picture or write a song or put on a show, but a true artist inspires others, both to interpret what they are feeling based on what the artist makes them experience and to go out and create something of their own. If humanity is a cancer on this Earth, then art is gonorrhea, splashing out of the creative holes of the infected and spreading to all who are open to such experiences. In this sense, Dave is the “King of Gonorrhea” for many of his fans.

While writing this I had a Dave Brockie playlist blasting and a song from his first band, Death Piggy, came on. I’ve heard these tunes a thousand times before but suddenly the words to “Whippin’ Round the Bay”struck me with new meaning. Many of his early songs were novelties at best, but in mourning a new depth presented it’s self as a lyrical irony:

“One thing/ one thing for sure/ gonna end up/ end up in the ground/ and one day, my flesh will rot away/and I’ll be found/ a thousand years from now/ and all the things/ I said and brought/ they’ll be bought/ they’ll be bought/ and all the things/ and all the wings I never wore”

I came to realize this song as a rare look into Dave Brockie the man, as opposed to Oderus Urungus who, for a majority of his life, dictated his song writing. Even my personal favorite project, The Dave Brockie Experience, focused more on funny ideas and inside jokes rather than individual inflection. It would be safe to say that the Brockie we are presented with is, in fact, the real Brockie. From my limited first hand experience with the man (at a GWAR-B-Q), as well as the various accounts I have heard throughout the years, Dave is just as funny and crazy as anyone familiar with GWAR could possibly imagine.

What hit me was that this song may be the only truly serious song he wrote. Where as in other songs that he wrote to subvert some aspect of society, this particular one actually addressed his own mortality. Sure, it’s a song (ultimately) about consumerism, but doesn’t that go hand in hand with who we are when we are alive and our legacy that we leave behind when we die? Now that he is gone, all we have is his legacy in the form of the art he created and helped create. There is comfort in this, but that comfort is cut with sadness, only because I know he had so much more to say.

A few years ago Dave started a blog. It is a very personal look into his life as much as it is an oral history of GWAR. For those who feel Dave was a shock-rock icon and low-brow hack, hiding behind the guise of art as an excuse to be offensive, I highly suggest you read this blog. In a way, it’s almost perverse that we yearn for that type of understanding of people we don’t (and will never) know. Does understanding the gears behind the clock face make you understand the time it reads any better? No, but for those willing to learn, new appreciations can be found. These types of projects bring out the humanity in gods, and in this case, the Brockie in Oderus. It is a shame that he never finished his story. Chronologically speaking, it ends around 1990, with a cliffhanger to boot.

After reading countless memories of Dave throughout the years in the days following his death, I decided to binge-read this blog, which I had all but forgotten about. It was this action that halted the process of mourning and introduced the aspect of celebration. Reading his own life, in his own words, was very surreal but revitalizing at the same time. My frame of mind during mourning reflected the attitude of “he checked out too early, he still had so much more to give,” while my mindset after reading GWAR, ME, AND THE ONRUSHING GRIP OF DEATH was “damn, if only I can achieve and give so much during my stay on this mudball…”. Grieving is very selfish, especially when your only relation with the deceased is indirect. Why should our sentiments be “he had so much more to give” when we were already given way more than we collectively deserve? Dave Brockie may have been a boob but he certainly was no tit whose only purpose in life was to feed us until we are full.

So what is left in Dave’s wake? Well, some amazing music. It is important to remember that GWAR isn’t just Dave Brockie. GWAR is a collaborative effort among many talented people. In 2011, GWAR lost another talented Scumdog, Corey Smoot. His proficiency with the guitar, and the song writing process as a whole, was second to none. GWAR overcame the loss and muscled on with one of their strongest albums to date, Battle Maxiumus. GWAR’s drummer Brad Roberts and rhythm guitarist Mike Dirks have been in the band longer than should be considered healthy for any normal human being, and I have no doubt that they will make sure the band continues. It would be unfair to say that Dave Brockie is what made GWAR what GWAR is. GWAR is a collective effort, first and foremost. Dave has even stated in interviews that since the band is costumed, GWAR could technically continue long after it’s members quit or pass as long as someone were still interested in the characters and their story. Some could argue that the Misfits without Danzig or the Dead Kennedy’s without Jello simply aren’t the bands that they once were and this is true. But when it comes to GWAR, this is an idea as much as it is a band. At it’s heart, the power of GWAR lies in the stories they tell. Will there ever be another Oderus Urungus, let alone Dave Brockie? Absolutely not, nor should there be, but I hope the idea doesn’t die with Dave.

Dave Brockie’s passing is certainly a loss to the metal world, whether you loved or hated him, but his bravery and creativity will stand the test of time long after all of us join him in whatever may come after this mortal candle burns the last of it’s wick. Dave, I raise my bottle of Jagermeister in your memory and thank you for all you have taught me about what it truly means to be an artist, and how to have a sense of humor.

Oh, and if you see The Master, kick him in the balls for me.

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Witch

When Witch’s self-titled debut dropped in 2006, the album caught me by surprise. Mainly because J. Mascis was in the band, as their drummer. Mascis, for those unaware, is the man behind the long-running legendary indie rock band Dinosaur Jr.—a longtime favorite of mine (those fuzzy solos are so nice). So when I heard he had once again set up shop behind the drum kit, it was unexpected.

Before Dinosaur Jr., Mascis bashed the skins in the punk/hardcore band Deep Wound and later, in the early 90s, for the doom-metal band Upsidedown Cross. With Witch, he not only traded in his guitar and wah-wah pedal for a drum kit, he also revisited a heavier, doomier metal style far removed from the musical style of the band he built his career on.

Joined by Kyle Thomas (guitar and vocals) and Asa Irons (guitar), both from the avant-folk/rock band Feathers, and Dave Sweetapple (bass), the result is pretty fantastic.

Witch play a slightly mixed bag of doom-metal styles: traditional, stoner, and psychedelic, though heavy on the traditional side of the spectrum with a good dose of 70s rock. The cabalistic lyrical content may remind some of Witchcraft, and fans of the legendary St. Vitus or Pentagram may hear musical similarities, but Witch groove with a more vintage rock swagger than those aforementioned bands—at least the latter two. This is consistently reinforced by Kyle Thomas’s vocals when his upper-range begins to sound somewhat akin to that of old-school Robert Plant. The guitar work throughout the album is excellent, rife with solos and dark grooves courtesy of the Sabbath-heavy riffs. Sweetapple’s bass runs and clear tone in the mix make his instrument more of a standout element rather than an unnoticed part of the rhythm section, the backbone of which is Mascis’s standard but solid drumming.

The album starts in epic form with the stunning “Seer,” a glorious doom-laden jam best suited for a funeral parade at the End of Days. The same formula is applied to other tracks like the stalking stomp of “Black Saint”—accompanied by riff-heavy two-and-a-half-minute closing jam punctuated by some fuzzy dual leads—and the mind-wearying ebb and flow of “Rip Van Winkle.” With the first six songs painting on coat after coat of heavy, doom-riddled texture you might find yourself scratching your head when the final song, “Isadora,” opens with acoustic guitars and subtle vocals wrapped in an eerie melancholia that lasts for almost four minutes. But then things veer back into familiar territory as the floodgates are opened to the down-tuned riffage and solo work that comprise the first six songs. The song ends in classic, plodding doom fashion and Kyle Thomas singing “Isadora” over and over and over again…

And this is generally where I hit play again.

In the years since this album was released, with newer bands like The Sword, Saviours, Blood of the Sun, Priestess, Dixie Witch and Early Man having imparted varying degrees of 70s-influenced stoner rock and doom upon our ears, the style began to feel a bit overwhelming, the scene saturated in mediocrity. Thanks, of course, to the labels who tried to exploit things and shove more and more similar bands down our throats, as they tend to do. Despite this, there will always be a handful of diamonds to be found within the deep, sucking mud of the mainstream’s latest go-to genre. Witch, and those aforementioned bands, are some of those diamonds.

This review originally appeared in Shock Totem #4, July 2011.

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Jamming at World Horror Con, 2013

This is Mort Castle and Mason Bundschuh jamming together after the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony. Mort just walked away with two Stokers, one in the Superior Achievement in an Anthology category for Shadow Show, and Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for New Moon on the Water.


In D minor, the saddest of all keys.

The photograph was taken by Stacy Scranton-Morgan.

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Sunday Digs: On Prowler, Spiders, Rejection, and WTF?

Here are a handful of goodies from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week:

First, let’s kick out the jams!

If you dig heavy metal and horror, check out Prowler, a three-piece metal band from South Carolina that pays homage to classic horror.

You can order their debut full-length, After You, from our buddy Kieran and Slaney Records.

Spiders just got creepier…and learned how to dance.

Moving right along, quickly. (Did you see that thing? Christ!) There always seems to be some author out there making a big, ill-advised stink about being rejected by some publisher or another. Never a wise thing, of course. But if you’re looking for some possibly helpful tips (I personally think a few of them are bullshit, but you may think they’re writer’s gold), check out 25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection.

And finally, we host a prompted flash fiction contest every two months, the latest of which began on July 1. The prompt this go-round was an article from 2008 concerning a century-old Swiss watch discovered in a Ming Dynasty-era tomb that’s been sealed for four centuries.

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Tales from the Metalnomicon: James Newman

We here at Shock Totem HQ are big fans of Decibel Magazine, and we’ve been very privileged to have a fan in one of their writers.

Shawn Macomber has featured Shock Totem on the Deciblog in the past, and just recently he invited James Newman to stop by and drop some knowledge on writing and music for his Tales from the Metalnomicon feature.

Looking for inspiration? Click here.

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Devour It Before It Devours You

John Guzman sent in this incredibly awesome pic. Rock.

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Frank ‘N’ Con Report – First Strike

Living in the middle of nowhere, you get used to the idea that you’ll have to travel if you want to see much of anything, particularly when that something is a specialized interest, like a horror convention. Cons are on the list of things we just don’t get around here, along with fresh seafood and people who know how to use turn signals. So I was thrilled to hear about the first annual Frank ‘N’ Con, a horror convention that was held Halloween weekend in El Paso, Texas, which is “only” a three hour drive for me. That’s as local as it gets when you’re homesteading out here in the badlands.

The guest list was impressive. A fairly comprehensive reunion for the cast of the 1985 classic Return of the Living Dead, including a live performance by legendary punk band 45 Grave, was the big draw for me; but they also had Ernie Hudson, Margo Kidder, Dee Wallace, Belinda Balaski, and a slew of other stars.

So I got up early on Saturday morning and made the trek down with my sister Julie, who knows a whole lot more about horror films than I do. Being a novice at the con scene, I’m a poor judge of the success of such an event, but it seemed like a decent turnout to me, especially for the first year. It was pretty busy both days, but not so packed that you couldn’t get around. Lines for each table were rarely more than two or three people deep and frequently there was no wait at all, so there was a lot of opportunity to interact with the booth operators.


[ we also got the chance to meet chicks! ]

The Return of the Living Dead cast was set up in their own special side room, which is a good idea in theory. In actual practice, I think it segregated them a little and led to a lower turnout for the actors. That was good for us, as we got to hang out with them a bit more, but I hope they did well with their merch sales. We spent a lot of time talking to Linnea Quigley, and also interacted quite a bit with Miguel Núñez, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Matthews, Allan Trautman, William Stout, and Michael Perez who is the executive producer for the new Return of the Living Dead documentary, More Brains.

It was a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Miguel Núñez in particular was hilarious. At one point he freaked out Linnea Quigley by swiping her money pouch and sending a fan over to tell her that someone had made off with it. He let her sweat a little before coming over and handing it back. Michael Perez encouraged us to try to prank Beverly Randolph, but she was just too nice for me to go through with it. It was also the first time that Dinah Cancer from 45 Grave had met Linnea Quigley, so we had a lot of fun watching the stars have their own fan moments. The only sad note was the absence of Jewel Shepard, who was scheduled to appear but is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and had to bow out on the advice of her doctors. There is an opportunity to donate to her medical expenses on the Frank ‘N’ Con homepage.

Another interesting booth was a local El Paso group called Guerilla Graphics. They were promoting artwork for a planned animated horror project called the Zygomatics. Good stuff! I was impressed with their artwork, and intend to keep up with what they are doing.

The main area was open until six. Then it was time for a night of horror set to music. I think blog posts are best if they are only so long, though, so I’ll leave that story for another day. Stay tuned…

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Drink with the Living Dead

Check out the new animated video for Ghoultown’s epic “Drink with the Living Dead,” from the fantastic Life After Sundown.

When you’re done watching, swing on over to www.ghoultown.com and pick up some of their wares.

Support brilliance!

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