Sanguisugabogg: “Death metal doesn’t play into political agendas. It’s the anti-norm”

From the slaughterhouse imagery of ultra-heavy second album Homicidal Ecstasy to beefing with Ronnie Radke online, Sanguisugabogg are masters of headline-grabbing provocation. According to Devin Swank, however, the Ohio death metallers are more interested in paying respect to their storied genre and standing up for their friends than blindly going for the throat…

Sanguisugabogg: “Death metal doesn’t play into political agendas. It’s the anti-norm”
Sam Law

On January 12, Sanguisugabogg broke the internet. Well, their grimy, gore-strewn corner of it, anyway. When notorious Falling In Reverse frontman Ronnie Radke waded into an online debate around the potential insensitivity of Machine Gun Kelly’s razorblade-shaped new guitar, punching down at the metal underground with jibes about “15-passenger van bands” and “deathcore guys” being “soft as shit”, the Ohio OSDM crew’s vocalist Devin Swank had to mischievously swipe back.

“I will pull up to your show and hand you a guitar that I bought for you and then fuck your bitch ass up,” he parroted one of Ronnie’s earlier tweets. Plus a cheeky sign-off to ice the cake: “RawR xD”. Then the powder-keg exploded. In a spectacularly prolonged exchange, in which one side was obviously more rattled than the other, Ronnie would repeatedly challenge the Ohio death metallers to physically throw down while they responded with schoolyard put-downs (“You look like Trace Cyrus fucked Miley Cyrus”, “Temu Ghostemane!”), repeated requests for gas money to get to the hypothetical fight and, eventually, Devin’s request that Ronnie would just hurry up and kiss him already.

Battle-lines were drawn, not just between the Sanguisugabogg faithful and the kind of commentators who couldn’t even pronounce their name, but, more tellingly, between those who do and don’t understand the difference between a genuine blood-feud and joyously taking the piss.

“We like to fuck around and have fun,” Devin shrugs, having deleted his tweets and moved on. “I wish there was more thought that went into some of the jabs and low-blows that we put out there, but most of the time it’s really just us talking shit because we’re bored. It’s about showing that we’re real people who like to stir the pot. We don’t just like to create controversy; we like to be funny for funny’s sake and to show that we’re not afraid to bust balls and piss on things.”

Social media is the root of many ills, but for underground acts it is the great equaliser. A way to go viral and get your weirdo personality out there without the filter of ’zines or PR firms, sure. For better or worse, it’s a chance to stand toe-to-toe with big names and start swinging, too.

“As much as I was having fun talking smack with this guy back and forth, I got tired of telling him the same thing,” Devin lays the matter to rest. “I had a wedding to plan, and just a few days with my fiancée before I left for Europe. I think I proved I can talk shit way better than that guy, though. He’d talked smack about my friends and I wanted to put him in his place. I clearly succeeded, as he would message me from sun-up to sun-down. I was like, ‘This dude just needs to drink some milk and take a nap. I have no idea how I’m living in his head so much right now!’”

There are other ways to get inside someone’s head, of course. With fingers through the eye sockets, perhaps. An ice-pick through the roof of the mouth. Or a good old-fashioned hammer to the back of the skull. For a new generation of death metallers, provocation and shock value is absolutely integral to what they do. With a band name that translates (very loosely) to ‘blood-sucking toilet’ and a brutal sound that owes debts to underground legends like Scattered Remnants, Mortal Decay and Pyrexia, Sanguisugabogg are in the front of the pack.

“A lot of people are angry right now,” Devin reckons of the demand for truly horrible music. “I got into this when I was an angry kid, and when you’re living in this world, being constantly nickel-and-dimed, seeing people being far better off for doing far less work, it’s easy to be pissed off.

“Death metal doesn’t play into political agendas. It’s the anti-norm. You take everything that’s mainstream and piss in it. Instead of a love song, or a catchy hook, you have songs about killing people and riffs that make you want to throw your fist into the air. It’s about not being a part of any organisation, not being a part of any clique or any cliché. You’re just a different kind of person, a different breed.”

So, as the comment sections so often speculate, are Sanguisugabogg really such ‘sick fucks’? Around the gleefully bloody video release for Face Ripped Off from last year’s second LP Homicidal Ecstasy, for instance, they were accused of glorifying violence against women. Elsewhere, the obvious question: how can these ostensibly nice dudes conjure such gut-wrenching imagery?

“I write my lyrics in the first-person, where it’s just me and the listener,” Devin unpacks. “I’m trying to kill them.”

Confessed horror film fanatics, who even co-produced a pair of gloriously NSFW videos for early single Gored In The Chest with infamous splatter studio Troma, Devin likens Sanguisugabogg’s vibe to the slasher movies of the ’70s and ’80s such as Halloween or Friday The 13th.

“There’s no real backstory,” he says of the idea. “There’s just this menacing figure killing everything in sight. Plus, they’re not afraid to be a little cheesy and have some fun. I guess I just want to be Johnny Depp’s character in A Nightmare On Elm Street with that puffy hair and those tight pants!”

Acknowledging the primal brutality swirling inside us all isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Devin understands. And, obviously, finding the right place to release your wrath can be surprisingly healthy.

“Violence is a secondary emotion,” he says. “You resort to it because you’re feeling something else. That applies to music as it does in life. I grew up poor in an industrial Midwestern town in rust-belt Ohio. I never had it easy. Everyone wants to be Superman, but when you’re feeling angry, sometimes you want to be the opposite. You want to be a day of reckoning. You want to be the wrong person to cross.

“I get that there are people who could genuinely get upset about some of these [subjects],” he concedes, “and I don’t want to minimise that in any way. But these songs are an expression of those dark feelings. It’s not that I’d ever actually wish to inflict harm on anybody. In real life, I’m the guy that coaches sports and hangs out with my fiancée who has a degree in women’s studies!”

Sanguisugabogg aren’t interested in watering their music down in pursuit of new fans, either. Bands with song titles like Black Market Vasectomy and Testicular Rot tend to reside on metal’s more lunatic fringe, and it’s the unhinged absurdity of what they do that’s gotten Devin and his bandmates Cody Davidson (drums), Cedric Davis and Drew Arnold (guitars/bass) this far, anyway. But there’s a momentum building that could unlock untold opportunities. Like heading out on tour in the UK and Europe with death metal daddies Suffocation in February.

“Terrance Hobbs fucked my wife!” Devin laughs, well-versed in outlandish memes stemming from a throwaway remark about the appetites of New York icons’ legendary guitarist. “We won’t be bringing our partners on that tour, though I do wish my mom was still single, because Terrance as a stepdad sounds pretty cool!”

After that comes a U.S. co-headline with Philadelphia metallic-hardcore masters Jesus Piece, offering a whole different kind of audience.

“Ultimately, I do this because I think it’s cool, I want my friends to think it’s cool, and I want the people I look up to to think it’s cool,” says Devin. “Getting onto tours with some of our favourite bands is the proof in the pudding. But beyond that, I guess that we can play to such ostensibly different crowds might mean that we’re a little more accessible than we thought.”

Either way, Sanguisugabogg won’t be putting any limits on themselves. Expectations have already been shattered. The simple dream of being able to make a living from music as extreme as theirs is beginning to look like it might be feasible. Keeping to a grinding schedule of around 200 shows a year, they certainly won’t fail for lack of effort. Pressed for deeper ambitions, Devin is keen to follow the bloodstained path, collaborating with more horror film makers and perhaps even contributing to a movie score.

In the end, it’s the desire to follow their own hearts – from the nerdy love of all things nasty to the cathartic escape from the everyday – that connects band to fans. Having humanity behind the horror is everything. That could be the “yin and yang” of dark humour offsetting the most unsettling imagery. Or the vulnerability to allow autobiographical topics of depression, grief and struggle to bubble to the surface on songs like Mortal Admonishment and Proclamation Of The Frail. Mostly, though, it’s an understanding of what fans of extreme music want in a favourite band.

“I resonate with and relate to those people who are different from the norm, different from everyone else,” Devin signs off with a smile. “I try to connect with any fan who wants to talk to us, whether that’s online or in-person, and I meet a lot of people who remind me of myself. They’re the type of guys who are generally quite quiet in public, but who always crack jokes and have fun around their group of friends. I hope that this band can be like that group of friends.

“I don’t ever want our fans to feel like they’re alone or a sore thumb,” he continues. “I was a weird kid who grew up into a weird adult making weird music. But that’s working for me right now. And it’s badass. There’s no telling what the future could hold, so we’re going to enjoy every second of this that we can.”

How can anyone get mad at that?

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