TURBONEGRO with BAD WIZARD at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (September 19), $15. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
until just recently, norway's dangerously explosive Turbonegro seemed destined to be another one of those legendary "you should've seen 'em" bands better remembered for their outrageous antics than for their music. Even though Turbonegro dissolved in a drug and alcohol haze midway through a European tour in 98, stories of their epic-scale debauchery and wildly bizarre, gender-bent performances - involving various combinations of afro wigs, clown makeup, sailor suits and, um, rectal rockets - fascinated a fan base that continued to expand in their absence.
Yet for all of Turbonegro's mindfuck foolery - which once had them decked out in blackface to open for their hardcore heroes, Bad Brains - their decadently hard-pummelling sound was remarkably influential on heavy rock thugs of the post-grunge era outside Scandinavia.
Nashville Pussy, Zeke, the Supersuckers, Queens of the Stone Age, even the weeds in Hot Water Music, all saluted Turbonegro on the Alpha Motherfuckers (Hopeless) tribute disc, helping keep alive the myth of the anally fixated "Denim Demons" until their unexpected comeback with Scandinavian Leather.
"When we broke up," says founding bassist Happy Tom from his Oslo pad, "we thought, 'That's it - we'll never play together again.' Our singer, Hank Von Helvete, was struggling with his heroin problem, and I could see the end coming for about a year. We were becoming a bad band, so it was actually kind of a relief when it finally ended.
"When we started talking about getting back together, Hank wanted to prove to himself he was still capable. The rest of us felt that we still had a lot more to accomplish, but we couldn't do it without Hank. We're like a cartoon band made up of six strange characters. Turbonegro can't exist without all six working together."
There were signs in the anthemic blast of the Apocalypse Dudes album that Turbonegro's death punk sound was now a distant memory. But even those who followed their evolution were surprised by the stadium rock sellout moves they made on the softer and slicker Scandinavian Leather.
"We're telling everyone we're nu-metal now," roars Happy Tom. "After making Ass Cobra - probably the best punk record of the 90s - we decided to turn everything up a few notches and try something really grandiose for Apocalypse Dudes.
"That was the direction we planned to pursue before breaking up, so it's only natural that we continue from where we left off with Scandinavian Leather. It's definitely more grandiose and glittery than Apocalypse Dudes, but it's also more angry and negative.
"Anybody can make an angry punk record - in fact, everyone has - but we wanted to make an angry record that was beautiful. We're very proud of Scandinavian Leather. It's like a rainbow of negativity."
Whatever hardcore Turbonegro loyalists they've lost in the smooth-over, they've obviously gained in nu-metal converts. That Scandinavian Leather was certified gold in Norway the day of its release hasn't gone unnoticed by the Norwegian government.
"Bands in Norway get a lot of money from the government to export Norwegian culture and show everyone what good things are happening here. Of course, we never got shit from them, because they don't want the country to be represented by homo hooligans like us.
"The funny thing is that when we arrive in the U.S. for the current tour, we're being honoured with a special reception at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. That should be interesting. I guess they had to do something, because we're the biggest band in Norway right now. We're outselling Christina Aguilera!"