Wargasm –Thrash Legends To A Handful of Fans
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.
There are not the cleanest versions available on youtube, some sound over-modulated. I suggest you try finding an original CD or LP. But here is a stream of the entire Why Play Around? album.
Incredibly rare video of the band performing Revenge live in 1991