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The 50 greatest cult metal bands of all time

Impotent Sea Snakes

Among the most eccentric cult bands of the 20th century, few rivalled the jaw-dropping depravity of the Impotent Sea Snakes. Formed in the mid 80s by Dean Riopelle (stage name ‘13’), the Sea Snakes were a 10-person (and often many more) troupe of crossdressing musicians and performers who transformed every stage into an orgiastic freakshow of sex-charged, rock’n’roll debauchery.

Highly energetic and wantonly provocative, their music united a broad spectrum of subcultures such as punk, metal, BDSM, goth, gay and other alternative lifestyles with a propulsive rock sound and an eye-popping live show. Patrick Briggs, aka ‘Torment XXX’, was co-lead vocalist in the band. He explains that their mission was simple: “Shock and awe, basically. At every fucking gig on the planet.”

‘Shock and awe’ actually undersells what went down at a Sea Snakes gig. As the band uncorked a siege of riff-powered bangers, performers – some on stilts, some carrying snakes – would prowl about, piercing their breasts and genitalia with needles and graphically simulating sex acts on each other, often naked or covered up to the bare minimum required by local law. They burned bibles and US flags, and go-go dancers occasionally used crosses for decidedly unholy purposes.

Many clubs flat-out banned them. The normally progressive city of Los Angeles reportedly threatened to close down two clubs that had booked the ISS, forcing the band to caravan over to nearby Silverlake to play their show. A Georgia club had its alcohol licence revoked after a Sea Snakes show during which bandmembers allegedly exposed themselves. Invariably, they attracted police, religious zealots and protesters hell-bent on stopping the shows, and it was not uncommon for the band to be attacked or threatened. Patrick recalls, “I had a death threat in Florida. Granted, I can get on your nerves, but not to that extent! Ha ha! Nothing you can do about it; you’re supposed to turn it into the FBI and then they know who killed you when you die.”

Musically, the Sea Snakes released three studio albums hewing mainly to punk, rock and metal. But they would never receive any mainstream radio play or MTV exposure, not with tracks like Pope John Paul Can Suck My Dick. Impotent Sea Snakes Live In Wacken Germany (2005) is their only official DVD, capturing their magnificent set at Wacken, and they also gained notoriety after appearing on a segment of HBO’s Real Sex TV series.

The point was never to simply shock. The Impotent Sea Snakes brought a genuine sense of theatre and panache to every performance. “It’s like Vaudeville schtick. That’s what it is,” says Patrick. Their fans included Lemmy and the wrestler Goldberg, both of whom appear in their Pink Lipstick video, and guitarist Robin Finck played in the ISS prior to joining Nine Inch Nails in 1994.

With their cult status comes a shroud of tragedy. Seven bandmembers have died from causes including suicide and AIDS-related illness. Dean Riopelle passed away from a heroin overdose in 2013. Authorities later brought murder charges against a woman known as the ‘Call Girl Killer’, alleging that she intentionally gave him a fatal shot; she denied any connection to his death.

Excluding a one-off show in 2009, the band have been inactive since 2004, and a reunion seems unlikely (“I don’t see that happening,” says Patrick). But those fortunate enough to have seen them live aren’t likely to forget the experience. With virtually zero mainstream exposure and in the face of unrelenting external pressures, the Impotent Sea Snakes spent more than 20 years blowing minds and melting faces. There will never be another.

Listen to: Kangaroos (Up The Butt) (God Save The Queens, 1995)