The Best Heavy Metal Band That You Never Heard Of

Wargasm –Thrash Legends To A Handful of Fans

Incredible riffs, great songwriting and a blistering live show. Those are the ingredients that usually add up to music immortality and lots of money and success.

They should be up there with the all-time greats of heavy metal. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth.  But they are not.

They started out being called Overkill and then Maniac. A name change to Wargasm was probably not for the best.  When I told people to tell check out “Wargasm” the reaction was usually a chuckle at the name and “are you kidding?”  The name belied the strength and melodic tightness of this killer band.

A number of things would conspire against the power trio from Massachusetts.

Brothers Rich (guitar) and Barry Spillberg (drums), Peter Schiffer (bass) and Bob Mayo (guitar and lead vocals) formed the band around 1982. Schiffer left the band in 1985 and Mayo switched to bass.  After making a name for themselves in the northeast they were signed to a recording contract in 1988 with Profile Records. Profile was primarily a rap label and Chris Williamson who ran the subsidiary Rock Hotel, was to be their guide. Williamson, soon left Profile after signing Wargasm.  The album, Why Play Around? was released and the band was promptly forgotten by Profile Records with no company support.

Guitarist Rich Spillberg told the story to Metalcore Fanzine and said:

“Just before we signed with our first label (Profile), we recorded another demo – this time as Wargasm. It was called “Satan Stole My Lunch Money”, and it contained the songs “Wasteland”, “Revenge”, “Sudden Death”, and “Humanoid”. We sent it out to a bunch of labels including Profile, and began talking with a few other labels. In fact, I think Profile’s first reaction to that demo was disinterest. It wasn’t until they heard we were talking to
Metal Blade that they approached us – typical politics of the business.  Anyway, we met with Chris Williamson, of Rock Hotel Records – a metal/hardcore affiliate of Profile, and he promised us the world – he would get us more money than any other label could come up with (he didn’t) – he would get us on the road more than we could ever imagine (he didn’t) – he was going to get Profile to push our albums hugely (he didn’t). In fact, we unfortunately had no clue that his label was about to split ties with Profile, and that we in fact would be left with Profile, which was at the time, primarily a rap label. We did sign with him based on all of his promises, and waited a year for the release. By then, he had split with Profile, and they didn’t know what to do with us. Despite all of that, we got great radio airplay around the states and continued to tour around the east coast of the states.”

For the few metalheads who heard Wargasm’s debut album Why Play Around?, the decision was near unanimous – this was going to be one of the great bands of all time. I met Rich Spillberg at the CMJ music festival and told him how great the band was and that they were the best new band I had heard in years.  He was gracious enough to record some radio ID’s for our radio station, as we were playing the record quite a bit.

The band however was stuck in a situation that they could not get out of. I had heard they could not get out of their contract.  Poor management, an indifferent record label and bad luck contributed to anonymity.

In 1990, I asked one of the top rock A&R people at Judas Priest’s label Columbia Records (A&R stands for artist and repertoire -the people at a record label responsible for signing talent) what he thought of Wargasm.

“They are phenomenal” he replied. Then why not try and get them out of their contract and sign them I asked?  His response floored me. “They will never make any money. They have no look or sex appeal, they are too old (they were in their early to mid-twenties at the time!) and they are a thing of the past, not the future.”

The future was Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden. Grunge was taking over as thrash was heading into a tailspin along with hair metal.

Time would prove the A&R rep partially wrong. Some bands like Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, Testament and Pantera would have successful careers and many others would forge ahead into the next century and are still with us today.

Eventual release from their contract was not helpful. A couple of excellent albums and an EP later Wargasm called it a day and broke up in 1995. They have performed live only a handful of times since. The final indignity in my view is that there is not even a wikipedia entry for them.

These are not the cleanest sounding copies from the internet, they sound over-modulated. I suggest you try finding an original CD or LP.  From Why Play Around? here are the links to three absolutely amazing songs:

Wasteland

Revenge

Sudden Death

Incredibly rare video of the band performing Revenge live in 1991

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3 thoughts on “The Best Heavy Metal Band That You Never Heard Of

  1. Tom philips

    You never know where you will find relevant commentary on obscure topics. When you do, it almost always seems to be in “Stuff nobody Cares About” Case in point, the metal band Wargasm from the late 80’s into the 90s. Truly a case of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Polar extremes when talent is compared to level of success. This band should have succeeded and excelled. They had the right formula, and work ethic. They consciously gave the people what they wanted before it was a thought in Gene Simmons head.

    Reply
  2. Jesse

    No one can say who the best metal band is of all time. That is subjective to a point. But what one CAN say is that there is no one better than Wargasm. Your commentary above is well done and appreciated. I found these guys when LP’s were still in record stores back in 1988-89. Now LP’s are all but gone as well as the hip place to hang out, record store itself. To this day I jam on everything I can find from these guys. I have everything they’ve produced (including the long out of print, Why Play Around).

    One of the greatest losses to the metal world was these guys not recognized for their talent and not making another dozen or so albums.

    Reply
    1. tom philips

      Jesse,

      A year and a half too late to respond.
      Life is cruel, and the experiences this band Wargasm had are similar to what I am experiencing now in a different business endeavor. The right thing at the wrong time is the same as the wrong thing at the wrong time. Some talent succeeds, some trash makes it through to success. I have been fortunate in the sense that I am surrounded by people who can point out to me musical phenomenon that need to be noticed..which in my self proclaimed hectic life, I would normally miss. Wargasm, was one of those things. In a perfect world, I would go up to Massachusetts,where Spillberg lives..and say… “What can we do to revive this effort?” In this recent wave of 80s metal revival, in part due to the fact that record production is no longer profitable, but touring is. I would have hoped that a band like WG would have gotten together and toured again. Life goes on, and Mayo/Spillberg have other lives. Cest La Vie.
      My opinion, Wargasms debut album was up there with all the subject greats. Obviously to many too name. (Ace of Spades, VH1, Reign in Blood, Rust in Peace, Kiss Alive 1,Highway to Hell etc etc etc)

      Good thing we heard them when we did.

      Reply

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