“From the ashes of this golden age of confusion, the denim  recruits came to be known as ... the apocalypse dudes ...”— 'Apocalypse Dudes' Turbonegro

In the late 1990s Turbonegro was one of the heralds of the Scandinavian invasion, laying the groundwork for later exports like the Hives with a hard-edged sound that exalted the dangers of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, a threatening mixture of Alice Cooper and Tom of Finland they dubbed deathpunk.Like most bands that “suddenly” rise to prominence, Turbonegro had been slugging it out for several years, and had already broken up and reformed once before most people outside their homeland even became aware of them.

The band formed in Oslo, Norway, allegedly as a counter reaction to the humourless political punk scene of the time. The motley crew were proud purveyors of an unfashionably depraved outsider stance. Three members of the band have been with it for its entire lifespan: Guitarists Pal “Pal Pot Pamparius” Bottger and Rune “Rebellion”  Gronn and bassist-turned-drummer-turned bassist Thomas “Happy-Tom” Seltzer. In those early days the lineup was rounded out by singer
Pal Erik Carlin, guitarist Vegard Heskestad and drummer Carlos Churasco.Their first year wasn’t a promising portent. They released a few singles (one on Sympathy For the Record Industry), did a U.S. tour, and broke up. But a few months later they had decided to reform.

Their first album, 'Hot Cars and Spent Contraceptives' came out in 1992. (Helta Skelta,  which had an overlapping track listing, came out a year later — the Bitzcore rerelease sandwiches the two together under the earlier album’s title.It’s not bad, but it suffers from muffled production and several similar-sounding songs (only some organ riffs in 'Zonked Out on Hashish' add to the band’s basic ingredients).

More unfortunately for 'Hot Cars’ place in the Turbonegro canon,  most people heard it after the release of 'Ass Cobra' and 'Apocalypse Dudes' on Long Gone John’s Sympathy for the Record Industry and  Frank Kozic’s Man’s Ruin label, when the band’s songwriting, production skills, recording budgets and musical skills had all progressed.

Though it’s thrashier than the band’s later music, it does contains the heavy chugging riffs and  exhortationary vocals that are hallmarks of the Turbonegro sound (the vocalist on this album is Harold Fossberg; around this time Happy Tom had moved from the bass to the drums to make way for Bengt Calmeyer; Heskestad had left).

Lyrically, 'Hot Cars'is a swelter of satanism, sex and violence, as song titles like 'Vaya Con Satan', 'Kiss the Knife' and 'I’m In Love With the Destructive Girls'. The band also tips their hat to The Leather Nun, an early inspiration, with 'Prima Moffe' a heavily reworked cover of  'Prime Mover' that adds about four minutes of feedback and incoherent vocals to the original five-minute tune.

Turbonegro’s sophomore album 'Never Is Forever' , released in 1994, was a superior piece of work. The band allowed some variety into its sound, like the strummed guitar, piano and of the opening track 'Letter From Your Momma' and the echoing riff that opens 'No Beast So Fierce'. The clearer production allowed for cleaner vocals (by new, and current, vocalist, Hans Erik Husby, aka Hank Von Helvete) and a greater range of guitar sound without diminishing its force(indeed, the chopping chords give the album extra velocity); the drumming was noticeably improved and, most importantly, the songs were catchier. It’s still quite a punky album; 'Pain In Der Arsch, Pocket Full of Cash' has a poppy Ramones feel to it, and the heavy riffs still reference Poison Idea (there are also some Misfits-ian “oh-ohs!” in 'Nihil Sleighride').

Once again, Turbonegro dwells on the dark side of the street, with the down, out and dead junkie tale 'Suburban Prince’s Death Song' , transexuals-gone-bad closer 'Oslo Bloodbath Pt. III: The Ballad of Gerda and Tore' and “everything goes wrong” ripper 'Destination: Hell'. (Also note 'Timebomb', a clear precursor to 'I Got Erection', one of the bands most popular tunes.)

The band also stepped up the homosexual imagery in its look and lyrics in songs like '(He’s a) Grungewhore'. If nothing else, the band’s toying with a homosexual image, though not entirely unprecedented,  set them apart. In a recent interview with Lollipop magazine, bassist Happy-Tom said the band’s appropriation of lipstick, sailor boys and rough trade was an attempt to one-up Norway’s increasingly violent black metal scene. If that’s not enough to offend,there’s also a flirtation with dictatorship (or dic-something, anyway) in 'Ubermensch'.

Altogether, a much more focused and enjoyable effort that its predecessor. 'Never is Forever' could have been the album to push Turbonegro over the top,but once again, the band split up after the departure of Bottger and Calmeyer. As before, it didn’t last: Bottger returned to the band to play keyboards, Seltzer returned to the bass, Anders Horslien joined on drums, Knut Schreiner joined on guitar, and the band was once again a going concern.

Turbonegro’s next album, 'Ass Cobra' is really a singles compilation; all the recordings on the album were made prior to the band’s second breakup. The cover design is  a takeoff on The Beach Boys 'Pet Sounds', but these aren’t teenage symphonies to God — more like G.G. Allinesque hymns to Satan. It’s a pummeling work, with chant-along choruses and covers of the Lewd’s 'Mobile Home', the Rude Kids’ legendary street gang-baiting song 'Raggare Is A Bunch of Motherfuckers' and Texans The Dicks’ 'Young Boys Feet' (along with 'The Midnight NAMBLA', it offers a bold, or stupid, new frontier of offence for the band). The album also features the band’s look-defining anthem 'Denim Demon' and such fan favourites as 'I Got Erection.'

'Ass Cobra' shreds from start to finish and is undoubtedly the band’s hardest-hitting album. Note that the recent reissue on Burning Heart/Epitaph drops the Dicks cover and 'Screwed and Tattooed' from the SFTRI issue’s 16-song running order.

As excellent an album as 'Ass Cobra' was, 'Apocalypse Dudes' was a step beyond —though the band’s punkier fans might disagree — it merged the sleazy street look and musical variety with an increased appreciation for glam (the band also covered David Bowie’s 'Suffragette City' for a Bad Afro single, which is compiled on that label’s 'Pushing Scandinavian Rock to the Man, Vol. 1'). It was
a highly effective combination of 'Never Is Forever' and 'Ass Cobra'(its intro is very reminiscent of “Letter From your Momma”).

Most importantly, 'Apocalypse Dudes' gave Schreiner, a.ka. Euroboy, a chance to show his considerable chops on record. (Incidentally, Schreiner had played with Seltzer in the Vikings, which also featured former Devil Dog Steve Baise. The band has an album on SFTRI. He also leads the cinematic instrumental outfit Euroboys, which has released three albums of Shadows-esque music and one, with an entirely new lineup behind Euroboy, in a punkier rock'n'roll vein.) Also, Christen Enger (Chris Summers) replaced Hornslien on drums.

Though the glam slam of 'Apocalypse Dudes' was a further step away from the band’s punk past, but not a distant one. While the band was frequently compared to Alice Cooper at this point (obviously encouraged by Helvete’s adoption of King Diamond-style heavy mascara around the eyes), the band was still openly referencing 70s punk: the “There’s a headache in my pants” line is a plain lift from Akron, Ohio, 1970s punk group Rubber City Rebels’ 'Brain Job'. (As an aside, the Rebels recently reformed and released a new album , the excellent 'Pierce My Brain' ... with a member of The Lewd on bass — it’s all connected, I tell you ....)

Lyrically, the band gave homosexuality a big sweaty hug, with songs like 'Rock Against Ass', 'Rendezvous With Anus', 'Prince of the Rodeo'. Schreiner’s lead guitar work was also a distinct improvement over his predecessor’s, adding a greater early-’70s classic rock swagger. An increased use of backing vocals (Wo! Woo! Woo!), a more polished guitar sound, extra percussion, and a steady diet of hooks added up to the band’s catchiest album yet.

The album was an unabashed success, and helped propel Turbonegro to considerable fame and fortune for a band unassociated with a major label. Unfortunately, for Helvete the band’s party lifestyle proved too much; he went over the edge and, for a time, into a mental hospital. At the peak of their powers, the band once again split.

But while the band’s previous breakups had forestalled the band’s destined international rock supremacy, this time even nonexistence couldn’t dim the band’s star.

Helped along by rock groups like the Hellacopters, the Scandinavian scene was grabbing the attention of music lovers world wide, and 1998 was Turbonegro’s time. Despite its departure from the touring scene, the band remained in the eye of discerning rock’n’roll fans.

First there was the release of 'Darkness Forever!', a storming 20-track live album of a show in Hamburg and the band’s “last ever” show (in Oslo), featuring almost all of the songs from 'Apocalypse Dudes' and the best tracks from 'Ass Cobra'. Unfortunately, or not, the home audience is denied the spectacle of the band’s show closer: The launching of a firecracker from Husby’s ass. (Be warned: there are a few 15-track CDs floating around out there; go for the double-LP or the CD with the “bonus tracks”)

Even better for fans interested in the band’s earlier career, the German label Bitzcore rereleased and remastered 'Hot Cars and Contraceptives' and 'Never is Forever'.

Lastly came the inevitable tribute album, 'Alpha Motherfuckers'.
With demand for mock-fascist homosexual glam rock unrelenting, the band’s 'Apocalypse Dudes' lineup reconvened in 2002, played a few festivals, found it good and decided to reunite (what the heck, they’d had practice ...).

They signed a two-record deal with Burning Heart; the first fruit of which, 'Scandinavian Leather' was released this year — with a cover by Klaus Voorman,no less!

It shares a portentous opening with 'Apocalypse Dudes', (which for some reason makes me think of the soundtrack for some 1980s cop show) and heads even further into glam-metal territory — 'Wipe It ’Til It Bleeds' even opens with violins amid the chunky guitar chords, which show up again in 'F**k the World' (the latter title also begs the question ... who would think anyone buying a Turbonegro album would be offended by the word “fuck”?!?).

Like any band reforming in a blizzard of money, Turbonegro has been accused of just doing it for money; the band addresses such matters in musical form with 'Gimme Some' which remarkably enough is about cash, not sex; the chorus begins “You want some fun ... so gimme all your money.” Well that settles that question.

Elsewhere there’s the girl-group from hell singalong 'Covered In Blood', and an ironic response to their detractors, 'Turbonegro Must be Destroyed'. Most surprisingly, for a band which began as a relatively apolitical outfit, there are calls for bloody revolution in album closer 'Ride With Us' and the cod-French 'Le Saboteur' and angry demands for personal freedom in 'Remain Untamed' and 'Locked Down'.

'Scandinavian Leather' may not better 'Apocalypse Dudes' (not that anyone could fairly expect the band to scale such heights twice in a row), but it is still a triumphal return, one that succeeds by virtue of avoiding being a dull rehash, the pitfall that the band’s admirers might have feared the most.

Who knows: Turbonegro may break up again. Then again, they might well reform. They’ve left the world six albums: One good, two very good, one excellent, and one classic (opinions vary on which is which). Right now, they have the world in their hand. What they’re, however, doing with it can’t be described on a clean cut website like pennyblackmusic.com.

(Credit must be given to the Grunnen Rocks website at ww.grunnenrocks.nl for providing a discography and the lowdown on the members’ various pseudonyms.)

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