Band To Watch: Sanguisugabogg

Adam Elkins

Band To Watch: Sanguisugabogg

Adam Elkins

Devin Swank doesn’t mind when people laugh at Sanguisugabogg. The Columbus, Ohio band’s frontman (and occasional standup comic) leans hard into the class-clown side of death metal. When Queen Elizabeth II died in September, he dedicated fan favorite “Dead As Shit” to her onstage, and he regularly introduces “Dragged By A Truck” as “a song about being dragged by a fuckin’ truck.” He runs Sanguisugabogg’s meme-poisoned, self-deprecating Instagram account, and when social media shit-talkers ragged on the band’s ever-growing stock of T-shirt designs, he changed their Encylopaedia Metallum genre to “merchcore.” Even his gore-obsessed lyrics are more slapstick than scary.

“I look at it as a funny thing,” Swank says over beers at a Columbus dive bar. “A Chuck Jones or Tex Avery approach, where we rip out entrails and we’re jumping rope with them.”

At the same time, Swank and his bandmates are dedicated to the craft of death metal. (“We take our musicianship and what we do and how hard we work very seriously,” he says.) There’s a difference between being a funny band and being a joke band, and Sanguisugabogg don’t want to be mistaken for the latter. Homicidal Ecstasy, the band’s ass-stomping sophomore album, plants their flag firmly on the right side of that line. It’s easily the best thing they’ve done to date — a point underlined by today’s new single “Face Ripped Off,” which features guest vocals from Jesus Piece’s Aaron Heard.

“We had something to prove,” Swank confirms. “We wanted to put out an album that stands out in our complete discography. We took it a lot more seriously, and on top of that, because we had more time to put something together, we put a lot more heart into it.”

Sanguisugabogg first exploded onto the scene with 2019’s Pornographic Seizures, a four-song blitz of primitive death metal depravity that was recorded, tracked, and mixed in a day. As anyone who trawls the genre tags on Bandcamp knows, there’s a dozen releases matching that description coming out any given week. But Pornographic Seizures managed to rise to the top of the heap.

“I thought that maybe in the underground circuits, it would be talked about,” Swank recalls. “I didn’t think it would be put up on any scale of what it actually was. But we did have in the back of our minds, this could be a cool thing that people talk about, and maybe when we play shows it’ll be cool as well. We played a garage show before the EP came out, and the moment it was released, we’re on NPR. Some musicians I looked up to as a kid are talking about it. I was like, ‘Okay, this is way bigger than I ever imagined it was gonna be.’ We were very grateful and humbled from the very beginning.”

Shortly after Seizures broke online, Sanguisugabogg hit the road. On their first tour, an employee from metal heavyweights Century Media reached out to say he was passing the EP along to the label’s A&R rep. It didn’t go well, at least not at first.

“Their A&R came back, and didn’t really talk shit, but had some comments about it, and was kind of making fun of it and wasn’t interested at first,” Swank says. “So out of a kind of ignorant, screw-you type thing, when we put out the vinyl of the EP, we slapped a sticker on it talking shit about Century Media. We put in quotations what they said in their email, and we said, ‘From The Posers That Brought You Deez Nuts.’ We were selling it, and people were cracking up about it, and before you know it, their A&R found out about that and said, ‘You know what, I was wrong about you guys.'”

Before the ink had even dried on their record contract, storm clouds started to gather over the band. First, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the live music industry, scuttling planned tours with the Black Dahlia Murder, Cattle Decapitation, and Knocked Loose. Soon thereafter, a distance began to grow between founding guitarist Cameron Boggs and the rest of the band. Boggs, who uses they/them pronouns, played on the band’s Century Media debut, Tortured Whole, but that was effectively their final contribution to Sanguisugabogg.

“They didn’t practice with us for about seven months,” Swank says. “It wasn’t until we were about to confirm our first tour back after COVID that they texted us and said that they were officially stepping down. When we were doing the rollout, they ended up getting the album name tattooed on their forehead, but then from there, we didn’t see them anymore.”

Boggs’ exit complicated things in the short run, but it also cleared the way for a new and improved Sanguisugabogg. Ced Davis, who had recently joined the band to play bass, slid over to guitar. Mutilatred’s Drew Arnold stepped in on bass. The lineup was rounded out by drummer Cody Davidson, a cofounder of the band and the songwriter behind most of Tortured Whole. The touring that ensued cemented the band’s reputation as road dogs. (Swank estimates that Sanguisugabogg played 125 live shows in 2022.) All that gigging also helped them figure out what kind of band they wanted to be, post-Boggs. That started with a bold new configuration.

“We were just like, let’s do something stupid,” Swank laughs. “One of my favorite bands of all time is Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and they never had a bass player. They did this thing where they would run the guitar through a bass cab. Pig Destroyer did it, too. So we were like, ‘Let’s do it with two guitar players, and just have this really muddy tone that the kind of death metal bands that we listen to are known for.’ And we decided to try it out on the Nile and Incantation tour [in early 2022], and from there we were like, let’s just stick with it.”

The stomach-churning bass tone the band captured on Homicidal Ecstasy bears out the success of that experiment. “We wanted to emulate the live sound as much as we can,” Swank says. “It’s still got the subs, it’s still got the low-end underneath it, so it still has the sound of a bass. But it’s a guitar. And there’s bass solos on it too, which is sweet.”

The sonic sickness of Homicidal Ecstasy goes far beyond its bass sound. Swank boasts that it’s the band’s most collaborative effort to date, with every member getting riffs on the record. Unlike its more obviously studio-bound precursors, Ecstasy sounds like the work of a great live band — which Sanguisugabogg now most certainly are. They spent the past year and a half sharing bills with death metal royalty, hardcore legends, and fellow hungry young upstarts. That all seems to have rubbed off on Homicidal Ecstasy. It’s single-minded in its bludgeoning effect, but it achieves it in a variety of ways — with groove, with speed, even with melody.

Homicidal Ecstasy is also major step up in the lyrics department, a development Swank credits to finally having adequate time to write them. Starting with an idea that was inspired by the serial-killer drama Dexter, Swank depicts death metal’s pet obsession with murder as a kind of drug: “Something you can get hooked on. Something that’s euphoric and puts you at ease, something you need and crave, something that can hurt you in the long run.”

“The way I look at it is, I wish Tipper Gore was after me in the ’80s, because I would have been right there with Frank Zappa and Dee Snider about how not-serious these themes are,” Swank says of his lyrics. Indeed, songs like “Black Market Vasectomy” and “Necrosexual Deviant” are provocative but fundamentally flippant, but that characterization still sells Swank a little bit short. Homicidal Ecstasy also found him writing the most personal song he’s ever penned.

“I included a song about my grandmother, and how when I got the news that she was passing away and I didn’t have much time with her, I went through all different kinds of things in my mind,” Swank says. “These are the last moments I have with her. Am I gonna let it tear me down? Or am I gonna live for her? I made a song called ‘Mortal Admonishment’ that was about going through that. It’s like, ‘This hurts me, but at the same time, I’ve gotta choose something.'”

“Mortal Admonishment” is an album highlight, but it’s also an outlier. This is still Sanguisugabogg we’re talking about, and their Looney Tunes-by-way-of-Terrifier aesthetic is still the dominant one. If Homicidal Ecstasy wins over new fans – and it should – it will be because the band came together to tighten the screws on their formula, not because they ripped it up and started over.

“We’re a band where there’s so much polarity,” Swank acknowledges. “We’re a band with a funny logo and funny name, so it’s like, people don’t know what to think about us sometimes. But I feel like if you listen to [Homicidal Ecstasy] in comparison to everything else, you can tell that we put a lot more love into it. There’s a lot more ‘us’ in it.”

Homicidal Ecstasy is out 2/3 on Century Media.

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