By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Bay Area’s own thrash-metal equivalent of Gwar, long-running bloody hooded cannibal rockers Ghoul bring their theatrical shenanigans to the Great American Music Hall on Friday.

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Founded in 2001 by singer and guitarist Digestor (who may or may not in actuality be Sean McGrath, veteran guitarist/vocalist of iconic Oakland death metal band Impaled), Ghoul has crafted a preposterous mythology that is just as entertaining as the quartet’s humorous, gore-spattered thrash.

Claiming to hail from the mythical Eastern European country of Creepsylvania, the group is equally inspired by metal icons like Exodus and Slayer and campy horror flicks. Joined longtime bassist Cremator (aka Ross Sewage of death metal acts Exhumed and Impaled), the early line-up of Ghoul built a reputation for hectic riffs, over-the-top lyrics and hilarious, heavily-accented stage banter during live performances.

Initial efforts We Came for the Dead! and Maniaxe showcased the band’s thrash/death metal roots, but also revealed their ability to branch out with the post-apocalyptic parody of the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World” and the surprisingly straight surf instrumental “The End?” mixed in with corrosive metal tracks. The band more recently put out a full EP of surf and fuzzed-out biker soundtrack tunes, Hang 10, that echoed the sci-fi surf of Man…or Astro-Man?

But it was the crew’s increasingly theatrical stage show that earned it spots touring with obvious costumed metal inspiration Gwar and invitations to play metal festivals in the U.S. and Europe. Introducing elaborately outfitted characters like Killbot, the Mutant Mutilator and Commandant Yanish Dobrunkum and storylines that tied into songs, Ghoul has refined its spectacle to entertaining new heights. The group’s 2016 blood-soaked metal opus Dungeon Bastards for Tankcrime Records pushed their sound in more of a crossover metal/punk direction that nods to the ’80s efforts of S.O.D. and D.R.I.

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While the band has only released a couple of new tunes in the five years since that album, earlier this month Ghoul issued Live In The Flesh, a full-on concert experience complete with satirical storyline and ridiculous stage band recorded at the Oakland Metro in 2018. In addition to releasing the album on CD and vinyl, the full concert is also available on limited VHS tape. For this special post-holiday show presented by the band’s label Tankcrimes called the Splatterthrash Bash, Ghoul will be joined by San Jose extreme metal purveyors Deathgrave, Oakland-based hardcore punk outfit Mutilated Tongue and the snarky, self-deprecating cyborg metal of Captured! by Robots.

Founder JBOT (aka musician Jay Vance, who had played in the ska-punk groups the Blue Meanies and Skankin’ Pickles) came up with the idea for Captured! By Robots after he got sick of dealing with his human bandmates in 1997. However, after building his new crew of collaborators — the percussive pair of androids DRMBOT 0110, and AUTOMATOM and guitar/bass robot GTRBOT666 — JBOT was enslaved by his creations.

Forced to front the band in chains, JBOT has been dragged across the U.S. on multiple tours featuring the band berating the singer between raging death metal songs and into the studio to record several albums of the group’s apocalyptic death metal laced with the bots’ misanthropic sense of humor. The line-up of the robot musicians would shift over more than two decades in operation — the loving Ape Which Hath No Name and the Headless Hornsman both were part of the show for a time — JBOT and company have grown to become a cult attraction with its collision of comedy, metal and performance art that’s been going strong for 20+ years.

While the band’s sole human member would be taking a break from C!BR in 2015 to concentrate on another project — the revived Teddy Bear Orchestra — a couple of years later JBOT returned to his earlier group with a decidedly more political stance inspired by the Trump presidency and humanity’s impending doom from the climate crisis. The robotic crew will once again share the stage with Ghoul at the Great American for Friday night’s show.

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Ghoul with Deathgrave, Captured! By Robots and Mutilated Tongue
Friday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m. $16-$20
Great American Music Hall