Sanguisugabogg brings B movie splatter, brutal riffs to debut LP ‘Tortured Whole’

The rising death metal band visits Ace of Cups for a homecoming show on Saturday, Dec. 11

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

Sanguisugabogg’s NSFW video for “Menstrual Envy,” produced by the legendary B movie house Troma Entertainment, is a blood-splattered affair that features everything from comically over-the-top plastic surgery scenes to massive appendages best described as man-eating penis monsters, creatures that are eventually reined in by white-jacketed “surgeons” wielding bottles of a fluid labeled “anti-dong spritzer.”

The playfully gory visuals are a perfect companion to the band’s sound, which, while menacingly heavy (the four members consistently deliver an asphalt-pulverizing groove), doesn’t take itself too seriously, vocalist Devin Swank bellowing lyrics that draw heavily upon the horror films and books he grew up immersing himself in as the child of a blue-collar family in Reynoldsburg.

“Humor comes into play a lot,” said Swank, who has also cut his teeth in the local comedy scene, appearing regularly in open mic nights at Shrunken Head. “I don’t think this music is to be taken at all too seriously. I think the subject matter is just too comical and too outlandish. Anyone who takes it too seriously, I think there’s something wrong with them, personally. I can write about an absolute blood bath, but then I’m the type of guy who’s going to grow up to coach his son’s football team. So there’s a yin with the yang."

Of course, this dichotomy will be lost on most listeners, since Swank’s words are generally unintelligible, delivered in a series of guttural barks, howls and growls, his voice largely serving as another rumbling instrument in the mix. Because of this, lyrics are generally the last thing to emerge during the writing and recording process, with Swank initially focusing on the textures and tones he can create with his vocals.

“When we first jam these songs I’m not focusing on lyrics at all,” said Swank, who initially modeled his vocal approach on frontmen such as George Fisher of Cannibal Corpse and Frank Mullen of Suffocation, in addition to experimenting with what he termed his “own Cookie Monster voice.” “I’m focusing on what patterns I’ll use and what kinds of sounds I’ll be using, because, I mean, you can hardly understand what I’m saying anyway. … After we record [the demo] and play it live enough times, that’s when I get into the lyrics and what to say and things of that nature.”

Swank, who will join his bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Saturday, Dec. 11, traced his fascination with death metal to seeing Cannibal Corpse at Express Live (then known as the LC) at age 12, a spectacle that imprinted itself on his developing brain.

“My mom dropped me off and said, ‘Just call me and I’ll pick you up,’ and that was my first real death metal experience,” said Swank, who would continue to hunt down similar experiences after getting his driver’s license, trekking as far away as Cleveland to take in shows at venues such as Peabody’s. “It was the energy [of the concert]. Cannibal Corpse, this was a band I’d only listened to on speakers at home, and then I’m seeing them in person and they’re loud and going as hard as they can, and people are just eating it up, climbing on top of one another. There were circle pits, crowd-surfing, security pulling people off of the pile. It was intense. I’d never been to a show like it.”

Prior to the pandemic, the band’s shows were starting to reach these rapturous peaks, earning it better bookings and higher profile shows, which set up 2020 as a potentially huge breakthrough year. Instead, the musicians spent the first few months following the March shutdown in a funk, wondering what, if anything, might be next. Eventually, Swank said, a spark returned to the band, stoked further when Sanguisugabogg inked a deal with Century Media, which released the group’s debut album, Tortured Whole, in March.

“I’m very blessed to be able to play music I helped create in front of people, which was something I never thought could be taken away, but the pandemic showed just how easily you can lose that,” Swank said. “I’m sure there have been times I’ve taken this for granted, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to be able to do that again. From here on out, I’m going to hold onto every moment I can.”

It’s a sense of appreciation that has continued to build in spite of the May departure of founder and guitarist Cameron Boggs, who, according to Swank, gradually lost interest in the band, expressing a desire to devote more time to “getting a grip on the things going on in their house.”

“I think what happened was Cameron got so used to being at home that when it came time they didn’t want to leave home,” said Swank, who supported Boggs’ decision to step back in the name of self-care. “So when they quit … we were like, ‘Well, we shouldn’t let that slow us down.’ … And it’s cool to have that attitude back in the band, where it’s like, this is what I was put on Earth to do and there’s nothing stopping me.”