The band's characteristic costumes are generally made of foam latex, styrofoam, and hardened rubber. The costumes cover very little, with the rest of their bodies accentuated with makeup. They further their production in concert by spraying their audiences with mostly "harmless" fluids.
Another trademark of Gwar's live show is their lampooning of celebrities and figures in current events. Targets have included O. J. Simpson, John Kerry, Mike Tyson, every American President since Ronald Reagan, Jerry Garcia, Osama Bin Laden, Michael Jackson, Al Gore, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Paris Hilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Lady Gaga, Jerry Springer, Mr. Lordi, Sarah Palin, Snooki and many others. The band also makes frequent references to political and historical figures, fantasy literature, and mythology. For instance, the song "Whargoul" makes reference to Minas Morgul as well as the eternal warrior of Michael Moorcock. Gwar also has many references to H. P. Lovecraft themes (Antarctica, Yig, Giant Penguins, Fleshy Insanities, etc.). They were nominated for two Grammys, one for Best Metal Performance "S.F.W." and one for Best Long Form Music Video "Phallus in Wonderland". The band also performed fire dancing until the character "Slymenstra Hymen" left the band.
Gwar is the end result of two separate projects merged into one. Dave Brockie was the vocalist for a punk band named Death Piggy that often staged mini-plays and used crude props to punctuate their often ridiculous music. Bands would occasionally practice in a room at the Richmond Dairy, a deserted bottling plant that had been taken over by hippies. The hippies rented out interior areas to various artists and musicians. It was at the Richmond Dairy that Death Piggy met Hunter Jackson (Techno Destructo) and Chuck Varga (Sexecutioner), both attendees of Virginia Commonwealth University who had set up "The Slave Pit", a production space for Scumdogs of the Universe, a movie they intended to make. Jackson would create props for Death Piggy to use on stage. Brockie had an idea to use the costumes made for "Scumdogs of the Universe" and have Death Piggy open for themselves as a barbaric band from Antarctica, playing nonsense songs while sacrificing fake animals. The name of the joke group was "Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh". Death Piggy began noticing that more people were coming to see Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh and leaving immediately after the set. After a several refinements, including shortening the band's name, Death Piggy was phased out in favor of band now named Gwar.
The first known line-up for Gwar consisted of Ben Eubanks (vocals), Dave Brockie (guitar), Steve Douglas (guitar), Chris Bopst (bass guitar), Sean Sumner (Drums) and Hunter Jackson. However, this line-up was short-lived and would suffer multiple changes in the following months, with Ben Eubanks quitting after just one or two shows and being replaced by Joe Annaruma, who went on to record several demo tracks with the band. Annaruma soon quit and was replaced by Dave Brockie. The band solidified into a line-up consisting of Hunter Jackson, Don Drakulich, Chuck Varga, Mike Delaney, Mike Bonner, Scott Krahl, Dave Musel and Dave Brockie. Mike Delaney would leave in 1987. Dewey Rowell (Flattus Maximus), Michael Bishop (Beefcake the Mighty) and Rob Mosby (Nippleus Erectus) were recruited in 1987, along with Steve Douglas (Balsac the Jaws of Death) who rejoined the band after having previously left. Danielle Stampe (alias: Slymenstra Hymen) joined sometime in 1988 and toured consistently with the band until 2002. The band has also recruited, and lost, three other female members: The Temptress (Heather Broome, 1986), Amazina, Gwar Woman (Colette Miller, 1986–87) and Gwar Woman (Lisa Harrelson, 1987–88).
The band's debut album, Hell-O, a crossover heavy metal/punk rock album, was released in 1988 under Shimmy Disc Records. The band started touring in support of the album, with Steve Douglas leaving that same year, later to form the alternative band Log, and being replaced by current rhythm guitarist, Michael Derks, who took over Douglas' alias as Balsac the Jaws of Death.
However, the band's line-up would undergo further changes before 1990. In 1988, the Slave Pit saw the joining of Bob Gorman, a young, new artist who would help with the art design and fabrication aspects of the band. One year later, in 1989, Rob Mobsy left the band and was replaced by Pete Luchter, who also quit to be replaced temporarily by Jim Thompson, who had been in the band prior to the release of Hell-O. Thompson later quit and was replaced by Brad Roberts who has since portrayed Jizmak Da Gusha.
With Gwar's line-up somewhat solidified, the band would set up to record Scumdogs of the Universe. The album met a moderately large mainstream success and would mark the start of a career under the Metal Blade Records record label. The band would tour extensively in support for this album, releasing the Live from Antarctica VHS tape in July 1990, containing, amongst other things, the music video for the song Sick of You. It was shortly after the video's release when the Slave Pit took in another new, young artist, Matt Maguire, to help out with costume fabrication, as well as illustrations for comics and such.
In August 1990, Michael Derks had a daughter leading him to take a short break from the band. Barry D'live Ward from the band Rich Kids on LSD filled in on guitar as Balsac on Gwar's 1991 European tour. Upon returning home, Gwar filmed their first cameo in a mainstream film, Mystery Date.
Scumdogs of the Universe was originally released through the U.K. label Master before being picked up by Metal Blade in 1991. In the group's hunt for a larger label, they auditioned for Relativity Records, one of the larger independent heavy metal labels. The group killed their audition when they showed up in costume and Slymenstra Hymen broke a blood capsule from her codpiece onto one of the office chairs, simulating menstruation.
The band suffered further line-up changes during this period, with Dewey Rowell leaving the band in 1991 and not being replaced until 1992 by Pete Lee, after the recording of America Must Be Destroyed. During this period, Gwar was (temporarily) banned in North Carolina because Brockie was wearing his "Cuttlefish of Cthulhu" codpiece, which led to his arrest; this incident was the inspiration for Gwar's third album, America Must Be Destroyed, released in 1992. The album was accompanied by the movie Phallus in Wonderland, which documented the main concept and contained music videos for the album. Phallus in Wonderland was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1993. After recording for This Toilet Earth was completed, bassist Mike Bishop left the band. He was replaced by Casey Orr, from the band Rigor Mortis.
This Toilet Earth was released on 1994, to moderate success. The album received additional attention due to controversy surrounding ""B.D.F.", a song that graphically refers to subjects such as sodomy, necrophilia, pre-natal rape, pedophilia and mutilation. 1994 also saw the music videos for "Saddam a Go-Go" and "The Road Behind" being aired on Beavis and Butt-head. This would also mark the beginning of the band straying from their trademark sound, as the album contained several experimental songs as opposed to the heavy metal heard on the previous two albums.
In 1995, Gwar released Ragnarok, an album characterized by a unique sound, including the use of keyboards, something largely unseen before by the band, as well as a much larger use of secondary vocalists. The record is considered to have been largely unnoticed after the success of the last three albums. Despite this, the band would record two videos for the album, "Surf of Syn" and "Meat Sandwich" as well as release Rendezvous with RagNaRok to support the album's plot through footage from the supporting tour.
The band's next record would come out in 1997 under the name Carnival of Chaos, proving to be the epitome of this experimental period containing songs from many different genres, including the classic Heavy Metal, but also hard rock, country, and even jazz. Shortly after the release of Carnival of Chaos, select members of the Gwar ensemble appeared on The Jerry Springer Show to discuss the growing trend of "shock rock" and their role as entertainers. Aside from their appearance on The Joan Rivers Show, this guest appearance is still recognized as one of their most infamous bits on national TV.
Carnival of Chaos would be the last album with Pete Lee on guitar, being replaced by Tim Harriss who had previously been in the band around 1986 and was featured as a guest guitarist on America Must Be Destroyed. For the recording of We Kill Everything between late 1998 and early 1999, Michael Bishop would temporarily rejoin the band as the bassist during the absence of Casey Orr. The record, largely influenced by punk rock, is the band's least favorite album and thus its songs are rarely played live.
Following this, co-founder Hunter Jackson left the group in 2000 to focus on personal projects. Danielle Stampe left the band to focus on a personal project named Girly Freakshow; however, she rejoined the band temporarily for the Bitch Is Back tour in 2002.
Due to the band's distaste for the previous album, Gwar's sound changed considerably for the next recording. With Tim Harriss gone, Zach Blair was hired to fill his spot as Flattus Maximus, Casey Orr also having returned to the band as Beefcake the Mighty for the recording of the band's first entirely thrash metal album in years: Violence Has Arrived, released on November 6, 2001, the album being seen as a "comeback" of sorts and setting off changes that resulted in the current state of the band. Violence Has Arrived was, however, the band's last album on Metal Blade Records, with the band leaving the label soon after the recording and releasing of it.
In 2002 Zach Blair left Gwar to form the power-pop band Armstrong along with drummer Brad Roberts. The band released one album titled Dick the Lionhearted. Since February 2007, Blair has been the guitarist for Rise Against
As the band focused on a heavier, more brutal sound near the end of this period, it would also result in the creation of another side project, the Dave Brockie Experience, a band created by frontman Dave Brockie along with rhythm guitarist Mike Derks and drummer Brad Roberts as a way of continuing the comedic sound found on albums like We Kill Everything while maintaining a more serious focus in releases by Gwar. They released their first LP on March 20, 2001, Diarrhea of a Madman.
This was not the end of Gwar's new focus on heavy sound, as was proven with the release of Violence Has Arrived by their most successful album in several years, War Party in 2004 on their new record label, DRT Entertainment. The album met with a large underground success, as it followed the same path Violence Has Arrived did, but this time with a more serious and technical edge, partially thanks to the efforts of new lead guitarist Cory Smoot (Flattus Maximus) and bass guitarist Todd Evans (Beefcake the Mighty). Videos were released for "Bring Back the Bomb" and "War Party," and the band was invited to play on the Sounds of the Underground tour in 2005. That same year the band released Live from Mt. Fuji, the band's first live album besides the then extremely rare You're All Worthless and Weak, released in 2000 (and re-released in 2006) on Slave Pit Records.
Gwar began work on their next album, tentatively titled Go to Hell!, in January 2006. That same month, Gwar opened a gallery show called "The Art of Gwar" at Art Space gallery in Richmond to display the many props, costumes, cartoons, paintings produced by The Slave Pit, Gwar's art and effects studio.
On February 23, 2006, Gwar's official website announced Gwar's album, officially titled Beyond Hell, for which, at the urging of DRT Entertainment, a cover version of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" was recorded and released. The music video, was directed by David Brodsky on July 2, 2006. The part of the "school marm" has been mistakenly identified as Devin Townsend, the producer of the "Beyond Hell" CD. It is actually Scott Krahl, a long-time Gwar "slave" and inventor of Gor-Gor. "School's Out" was nominated for Best Video of 2006 on MTV2's Headbanger's Ball.
The Blood Bath and Beyond DVD was released on June 20, 2006, containing exclusive behind the scenes and vintage footage of the band.
Gwar performed a special "half-time" show at the Sounds Of The Underground 2006 tour. Gwar went on to headline the following year's Sounds of the Underground Tour in 2007.
Vocalist Oderus Urungus is also featured on the last Strapping Young Lad album The New Black as a guest vocalist on the song "Far Beyond Metal". Oderus' lines in the song are taken directly from the Gwar song "Maggots" ("now in the halls of the Necrolord…" etc.). Scott Krahl is in the "School's Out" video as a female teacher, with whom Oderus makes out before mounting "her" at the end of the video.
Beyond Hell was released on August 29, 2006, with Gwar touring to support the album and being helped by the creation of new props for this tour, including several characters from Beyond Hell's plot, including Jitler and Jewcifer. Gwar was also present at the third annual Rock & Shock festival from October 13 to 15 as a part of this tour.
In Spring 2008 Todd Evans left Gwar to focus efforts on his project Mobile Deathcamp. Shortly after Todd's departure, Casey Orr was confirmed to return as Beefcake the Mighty.
Sleazy P. Martini returned to the stage with Gwar during their Electile Dysfunction '08 tour.
In 2009, Gwar celebrated their 25th year as a band. Gwar's eleventh studio album, Lust in Space, was released on August 18, 2009, through Metal Blade Records. They performed at the 2009 Gathering of the Juggalos and toured nationwide with Lamb of God and Job for a Cowboy.
A Christmas vinyl record has been available at recent shows consisting of a new song called "Christmas Stripper Summer Weekend" and a live Hell-O medley. The single is also available through the official Gwar website.
Oderus Urungus hosted the "Crack-a-Thon" in Brooklyn, New York at the MF Gallery in April 2010. A second Crack-A-Thon followed in 2011.
On November 3, 2011, guitarist Cory Smoot, who had portrayed Flattus Maximus since 2002, was found dead by his fellow band members in the band's tour bus as they prepared to cross the border into Manitoba, Canada from North Dakota. The Cause of death was "a coronary artery thrombosis brought about by his pre-existing coronary artery disease.” At the time of the announcement, no formal statement concerning the circumstances of his demise nor of the future of the band had been made. On November 4, Dave Brockie officially announced that the character of Flattus Maximus would be retired out of respect to Smoot.
The last single recorded with Smoot was released on December 22, 2011 and is a cover of the Dayglo Abortions song "Isn't This Disgusting". The single was made available on iTunes and is scheduled to appear on the Dayglo Abortions tribute album in 2012.The band's name is not to be confused with other GWAR acronym meanings like Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement, the organization Gay Women Against Rape, Generic Waste Acceptance Requirements or GAWR gross axle weight rating.