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Slugdge: Salting the Rules of Parody Metal

slugdge

A band that writes songs exclusively about murderous, hyper-violent slugs from space should not be successful, but the Lancaster, UK-based band Slugdge has become one of the critical darlings of the underground metal world. Their first three albums Born of Slime (2013), Gastronomicon (2014), and Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms (2015) have been hits with both fans and critics, and were reissued this March in physical form as The Cosmic Cornucopia via Willowtip Records. The band also released a new single this year titled “Slave Goo World” and is hard at work on a new full-length.

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Parody is not new to metal, a genre generally considered by outsiders to be overly serious and grim. Bands like GWAR, Dethklok, and Cannabis Corpse have all served as metal’s veritable Weird Al equivalents. These artists make their piss-taking intentions overt. Slugdge, however, offer a more ambiguous and refined form of parody that gives agency to the listener to interpret their music as serious or humorous without tipping their hand either way.

The mighty GWAR may not have been the first parody metal band, but they were the first to crack the mainstream. Shock-rock antics — like decapitating dolls in the likeness of American presidents, threatening Jesus with crucifixion (again), and spraying concert goers with all manner of fake bodily fluids — put the two-time Grammy nominated band on the frontlines of the battle against music censorship. Sure, they’ve got some serious tracks, especially on recent albums, like the political “Bring Back the Bomb” and the thrashing “Madness at the Core of Time,” but GWAR’s songs titles and lyrics are blatantly humorous. Even the music itself in songs like “Slaughterama” and “Fuckin’ an Animal” sounds comical. Combined with their misanthropic PR techniques and plastic war suits complete with working phalluses, only a delusional fool could miss the overt humor of GWAR. Their parody is on the nose. GWAR is a great band that have the balls to never back down from a controversy (looking at you Kathy Griffin). Both metal fans and critics recognize the necessity of artists like GWAR to not only point out the ridiculous hyper-violent elements of metal, but the destructive tendencies inherent within human society itself. Subtlety, however, was never meant to be GWAR’s game.

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Like GWAR, Dethklok is another metal group that is firmly rooted in the parody camp. The group’s music gained mainstream notoriety through the popular Cartoon Network show Metalocalypse. The band’s first three albums each became the highest charting death metal albums in the history of the Billboard 200 (at the time of their respective releases). There is no mistaking the comedic elements of the band if you read the song lyrics. “The Lost Vikings,” for example, is about a band of roving vikings who ride out to a battle that they can’t seem to find. In a Monty Python and the Holy Grail-type scenario, the vikings ignore the advice of a witch — who points them in the right direction with her map — and remain lost for the duration of the tune. Though their song titles and lyrics are every bit as absurd as GWAR’s, the music itself is especially catchy and heavy. With the exception of 2013’s The Doomstar Requiem, which functions as a soundtrack to a Metalocalypse special instead of a true Dethklok album, the band forgoes the musical hokeyness GWAR has embraced throughout their career. Though the real-life members of Dethklok perform in regular metal-dude garb instead of costumes, they are accompanied by a backing screen of the Metalocalypse cartoon characters throughout their live shows. Dethklok are still clearly intended to exist mainly as a form of metal-loving parody music.

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Explore any form of parody extensively and you’re bound to find some band of merry stoners bringing marijuana humor to the masses. Cannabis Corpse have made it their mission to reduce even the grimmest death metal dude to fits of THC-induced giggles. Stoner humor is hit or miss for many, but Cannabis Corpse bring an appropriate level of gruesomeness to parody metal for a band whose name is a play on Cannibal Corpse, the metal kings of gore. Cannabis Corpse’s music imitates the scratchy, highly-distorted guitar tones and bludgeoning drums of their namesake. Their lyrics paint explicit images of murder and body horror, but all at the hands of weed instead of mankind.

What Cannabis Corpse lacks in variety compared to GWAR or Dethklok, they make up for with intense descriptions of carnage. Before dying at the hands of an evil bong, the protagonist in the song Dead by Bong screams: “This is less a house than a raw meat grinder / We’d better call for backup / The pure amount of gore I’ve never seen before / Excuse me while I vomit.” Grotesque lyrics like this are common in death metal, but rare for GWAR or Dethklok. GWAR prefers over-the-top humor, while Dethklok is generally lighter in tone, though not necessarily in concept. Despite their obsession with the obscene, the overall comedic intentions of Cannabis Corpse are clear. They’re here to write 1990’s Florida death metal with a death-by-marijuana punchline. A punchline made by the fact that no recorded deaths have been attributed solely to the use of marijuana. However, the darkness of Cannabis Corpse’s imagery shows an evolution in parody metal which Slugdge have expanded on to transcend the genre entirely.

GWAR, Dethklok, and Cannabis Corpse illustrate that presentation is instrumental to perception. All three groups make their purpose obvious. They are here to make you laugh along with them to a metal soundtrack. In an e-mail conversation with Matt Moss, the vocalist of Slugdge, he agreed that the band parodies metal the same way Dethklok do. Moss is right to point out that intergalactic slugs are no more ridiculous than the other cliched themes that saturate the metal scene. “If it were Satan or Cthulhu nobody would bat an eyelid,” he states. However, it takes an artist like Dethklok or Slugdge to write songs about murderous mermaids or space slugs to make listeners realize this. Moss also agreed that Slugdge share similarities with GWAR, such as their focus on building a cult mentality, which is made evident by the zealous comments of fans on the band’s Facebook posts.

Yes, Slugdge is ridiculous. Slugdge parodies the genre they adore by replacing humans or Lovecraftian demons with slugs in typical metal narratives. At the same time, they leave the choice of interpretation up to the listener by not fully committing to parody. You could take them completely seriously if you chose to, and this is what distinguishes them from bands like GWAR, Dethklok, and Cannabis Corpse. The only give away is Slugdge’s punny band name and song titles. The music itself is anything but humorous. The band’s brand of blackened death metal sounds like the lovechild of Carcass, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Mastodon. “Invertahate” has some of the most ferocious sounding guitar riffs known to man — or slug — and Moss’ vocals are downright nasty throughout. Even his clean sections are delivered with operatic gusto. This is real metal.

Although we haven’t seen how they will present themselves in a live setting (so far), Slugdge haven’t made use of any gimmicks in official band photographs. They don black t-shirts in dark forests like any other respectable metal band. No prancing around in plastic space suits, and no accompanying comedy TV show. It doesn’t matter that the songs are about intergalactic slugs. In fact, Slugdge’s lyrics hint at a rich back-story of intriguing characters and places, and it feels more like cultish-worship than a joke. The Tolkien enthusiast in me wants a detailed encyclopedia laying out more details about Lord Bothris, Rhaexorog, and of course, Greatfather Mollusca, the dark king of all xenoslugs from the Gardens of Slish. It’s a twisted fantasy of surprising depth and mystery that conjures comparisons to the lore from the video game Dark Souls or the darker elements of The Lord of the Rings. Slugdge are building a mythology.

Generally, the intent of a metal band is clear. They are either a “serious” band or they are a parody band. GWAR, Dethklok, Cannabis Corpse and the hordes of other parody metal bands make a point to show us they are kidding. Their goal is to make us laugh. Slugdge, however, presents us with a conundrum: they aren’t totally serious, but they aren’t kidding either. This combination gives Slugdge a unique allure and allows the listener to decide how they want to view the band. You can listen to their discography and laugh at the bizarre idea of an ultra-violent slug race from space, or you can suspend your disbelief and take it as a real sci-fi fantasy narrative and come away feeling genuinely terrified about what could be hiding in the dark reaches of space. It’s possible to be unsure whether Slugdge are a parody group, something none of their peers have managed to achieve. This is a novel approach to a genre that worships the status quo. With a dedicated fanbase, their new contract with Willowtip, and new music on the horizon, the future looks bright for Slugdge. There’s more to these missionaries of Mollusca than meets the eye.

—Chris Butler

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