Maris the Great held court at a picnic table in the back yard of a small house in north Denver on a Saturday afternoon in June. His six-inch-high pink mohawk was perfect, and the Corona he sipped was meant to protect his graying flesh from further decay.
“Alcohol preserves the undead,” Maris proclaimed in a low growl. Later, he’d have a hard seltzer as he plotted an appearance at the metal-themed Brutal Poodle on South Broadway.
It was a special occasion. Maris, known throughout Denver’s music scene for “killing” bands as part of his bizarre, decidedly not-safe-for-work performance art, returned from the grave this year after retiring in 2015. His latest victims were a two-man band, In the Whale, and the killing was to take place in bandmember Nathaniel Valdez’s back yard.
Maris the Great — a gay zombie who now prefers the name Lord Maris the Great — says he returned from hell through a ritual known as “The Dickening” and was briefly trapped inside a vagina before embarking on a musical killing spree to mark his twentieth anniversary. The coronavirus pandemic has put a crimp in some of his efforts, but he has tentative plans for a Halloween show to cap off his return.
“He brings excitement to the music scene,” says longtime friend and “royal mouthpiece” Rainey Kelso. “He’s just a zombie in a fucking rubber suit. He’s one of the best comics for Denver we have. He’s like a comic-book strip.”
Photographic evidence of Maris’s carnage is available on his website, but you probably shouldn’t view it at your work cubicle or when your conservative grandparents are even in the same zip code as you. Unless they're into that type of thing, of course.
Prior to killing them, Maris conducted a sit-down interview with Valdez and drummer Eric Riley.
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“Have you ever had a jerking-off contest?” Maris snarled. Valdez and Riley had trouble not giggling. The photographer and videographer, Sinister Star, also started laughing. Maris, for his part, never broke character.
When the interview wrapped, the weather began to go south, and the skies above Denver turned as gray as Maris’s face. After a brief discussion about working with the torrent swirling above, the killing was moved to a detached garage.
“Okay, let’s get murdered,” Valdez said cheerfully.
“Are we doing makeup?” Riley asked.
“There is no makeup,” Maris answered in his gravelly voice. “Only death.”
Maris the Great moved to Denver in 1982, and an older man told him that Cheesman Park once had a restroom beneath the pavilion where gay men would go to have sex. He searched high and low over the years, but never located the restroom.
“It became like the lost city of Atlantis,” he says. “I thought, ‘This place does not exist, and the guy was just making it up.’”
He eventually found the mythical restroom when he peered down a grate near the pavilions one day. It appears the City of Denver uses the space for storage. The abandoned glory hole was the perfect lair for Maris the Great. It was another layer to the hefty mythology he has constructed around his character.
Maris says a drummer he dated in 1999 introduced him to Denver’s heavy-music scene. He was enthralled, because he hated the dance music that most gay clubs played. He started killing bands the following year, ostensibly to eliminate the competition for his own band, Maris the Great and the Faggots of Death.
“I hated that music and did not idolize Madonna,” he says. “I idolized GWAR. At that point, people in entertainment were starting to come out as gay and lesbian. Rob Halford was maybe the first gay man to come out in metal, and had done so just a few years prior. I just wanted to see local heavy-metal shows, dress weird and be out as a gay man.”
Over about fifteen years, he killed mostly local groups, but also national acts like ska-punk band Less Than Jake. He says he once killed prince of the summer blockbuster Will Smith at the behest of Smith’s kids, but he lost the disposable camera he used to document the crime.
Maris was disinvited from Denver Pride one year after people objected to his presence. Organizers later apologized. He says that during some of his murder shoots, people have started crying. Tough metal guys have done a little dance to get away once they learned that Maris is a gay man. So, yeah, he’s probably not for everyone. After all, he does have a backing band called the Faggots of Death. It’s an homage to 1980s thrash-metal band Stormtroopers of Death, which also made wanton offensiveness a part of its act.
Eventually, Maris found himself burned out and decided to hang up his skull codpiece and take up Taoist philosophy and a vegan diet. He calls it a spiritual phase and notes that it's what informed his decision to bring back Maris the Great as a way to help people, to put a smile on faces. Maris also saw his face pop up on a club advertisement and a mural, so he decided to bring back the character.
“I created something that left an imprint on Denver,” he says. “What a lucky guy I am to get to play this character.”
He says he’s discussing his murders with bands beforehand so they're more planned out and less of a free-for-all than they were in years past. It’s an effort to make sure everyone is comfortable and no one takes things the wrong way.
“I probably won’t play it to the level of passion that I did previously,” he says. “I used to live in that makeup for days at a time. It just took over my life.”
Maris has refined his technique over the years, and it’s very punk rock — no classes, no theory on what makes good brain splatter. For the record, the answer is grapefruit, and although he used ground beef for guts in the past, he’s switched to Beyond Meat to keep with his new vegan lifestyle. If you add enough stage blood to fake meat, it would probably fool even the most grizzled crime reporter, at least at first glance. He studied crime-scene photos and serial killers, immersing himself in that world.
“I like nudity when I can do it,” he says. “When you see a crime-scene photograph and someone is nude, it’s more disturbing. It’s more like you are seeing something you aren't supposed to see. Something about seeing a nude murdered body is scarier. I have also done a lot of things in bathrooms.”
Maris is not insensitive to human misery, and he believes his art would suffer if he were. He witnessed a motorcyclist crash and get decapitated on 14th Avenue, and about a month later, a man jumped to his death in Capitol Hill. Both incidents affected Maris profoundly, and he has worked them into his art over the years.
“For the next week, I had nightmares,” he says. “Every time, I would remember hearing a knock on my door and I’d go open it up. [The man who jumped] would be there trying to communicate with me, but he couldn’t talk because his face was smashed up. A police officer friend of mine told me, ‘You are experiencing PTSD because you looked at him as a human and not as a body, like we do.’ It was a bad experience.”
During the recent band killing, Lord Maris the Great led Riley and Valdez to the garage. He ordered Riley to lie down, and he went to work crafting a gruesome head wound out of wax, vegan hamburger meat and what can only be described as a shitload of stage blood.
“Don’t open your eyes. It will burn,” Maris commanded as he poured a large bottle of the blood over Riley’s face. He also apparently forgot to bring what he uses for intestines, but he didn’t seem too concerned, and continued to work on Riley’s head.
Then it was Valdez’s turn. Maris ordered him to lie face down on the floor and crafted another gaping head wound. He also smeared blood on Valdez’s back to make it look like something awful had happened to his ass.
Sinister Star, wearing bloodshot contact lenses and a Faces of Death baseball cap, stepped in and took fifty or sixty photos, a few of which were for Maris’s website.
“The photos come with no explanation of what happened,” Maris growled. “It makes it more sinister.”
Lord Maris the Great’s first band murder of 2020 was a wrap.
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“Now I shall drink alcohol,” he said.
Lord Maris the Great plans on killing a band every two weeks in anticipation of a Halloween finale at the Marquis Theater.
It’s going to be a hell of a summer.
Check out Lord Maris the Great's work at maristhegreat.com.