DFW Music News

Rigor Mortis Re-Releases Lost Demo of Their Legendary First Recording

Thirty years ago, a band of four long-haired outlaws — Bruce Corbitt, Casey Orr, Harden Harrison and Mike Scaccia — walked into Sound Logic, a small recording studio in Garland, to record their first demo.

Ten hours later, the members of Rigor Mortis finished seven of the most brutal songs to ever come out of the local metal scene such as “Six Feet Under,” “Reanimator” and “Slow Death.” Scaccia’s riffs ignited the neck of his guitar, and the rest of the band added fuel to his fire. They called it “speed metal.” Capitol Records called it money and signed the band a year after the demo’s release in 1986.

Their self-titled debut album followed in '88, and their original cassette tape demo faded into legend.

Now the surviving members of the band — Orr, Corbitt and Harrison — are re-releasing their original demo on CD with Rigor Mortis Records. They plan to celebrate this release Saturday night at The Rail Club, where Scaccia suffered a fatal heart attack on stage in December 2012. He’s part of the reason the band decided to re-release the demo, Corbitt says.

“We originally only put the demo out on cassette, but cassettes don’t really survive like CDs; and how many people still have a cassette tape player?” he says. “So the idea was to honor Mike Scaccia with the demo’s release on CD, something no one even has, not even us. We also thought it would be cool for fans to be able to go back and relive those older days. It’s also the first official recording for Rigor Mortis and Mike Scaccia.”

Orr points out that fans have been asking about the demo over the years. "It's funny how it's become legendary in some circles," he says. "I love the stories I've been hearing from people who had the original tape. Everyone remembers where or how they got it, or who they were with or whatever. That's pretty cool!"

Rigor Mortis formed in '83 when Harrison, Orr and Scaccia bonded over their love of horror flicks and metal. Many people credit the band with igniting the thrash metal scene in North Texas, which would later give birth to bands like Gammacide and cause Pantera to shed its glam.

Orr originally pulled double duties as Rigor Mortis’ singer and bass player, but keeping up with Scaccia’s speed demanded his full attention. Corbitt joined the band in '86, began helping with writing duties and soon found himself standing in front of the microphone at Sound Logic recording studios in Garland. “I was nervous as hell in the days before we were going to record,” he says. “After all, this would prove if I could sing at all or not. I still didn’t really know how to sing. So, of course, I feared I would sound horrible and be kicked out of the band that day. It was weird like I was about to go on trial for my life or something.”

The band nailed every track, most of them in one take. The perfect storm allowed them to record two more songs, “The Troll” and “Six Feet Under.” Seven songs appeared on the '86 demo, including Orr’s rendition of “Die in Pain,” causing some fans to long for his return to the microphone. It was also one of the first songs they had ever composed. "I sing that one by default, because we didn't have anyone else at the time," he says. "The inspiration for that song was 100 percent Conan the Barbarian, more specifically the Savage Sword version of Conan. Even more specifically the John Buscema version of Conan!"

Five hundred cassette tapes were printed and distributed at places like the old Tombstone Factory and a lake party. The demo grabbed the attention of Jeffrey Liles, whose connections in the music industry ran deep. Liles wrote in his June 2013 Observer tribute to Scaccia:

"[I] put the tape in the jam box. Twenty seconds into 'Reanimator,' my eyeballs nearly exploded. I had never heard anyone play an electric guitar that fast, and that was just the intro and rhythm guitar part. When the arrangement arrived at the solo, the notes became an even more furious flurry of seemingly impossible harmonics, static sheets of glistening distortion, not unlike the sound of broken glass spinning wildly in the disposal of a kitchen sink."  

He signed on as their manager, and the guys soon found themselves opening for national metal acts such as Megadeth and Slayer, signing with Capitol Records and being labeled the next Metallica by the music press. "Our lives changed once we signed with Capitol only by how others around us changed," Corbitt says. "Some of our parents were no longer bitching at us to cut our hair and to get a real job, and people who never treated us with much respect suddenly were asking for our autographs." 

It was a rock 'n' roll heaven that wouldn’t last.  

The band fired Corbitt in '89. Scaccia left the band two years later to join "Uncle" Al Jourgensen's band Ministry. The rest of the guys followed his lead, and Rigor Mortis faded into memory. 

Flash forward thirty years later: Corbitt sings vocals for Warbeast. Harrison plays drums for Speedealer and Orr assumed a not-so-secret identity known as “Beefcake the Mighty,” the bassist for GWAR. Scaccia spent his years after Rigor Mortis slinging guitar for Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters and other music projects.

After Scaccia’s death on stage during Corbitt’s 50th birthday party at the Rail Club in 2012, the guys decided to continue honoring Rigor Mortis’ legacy with Scaccia under the moniker of Wizards of Gore. They also released a documentary titled Rigor Mortis, Welcome to Your Funeral in December 2015. Re-releasing the '86 demo is part of honoring that legacy.

Orr says when they decided to release the demo, they realized the original recording reel was lost to the ages. They had to work a bit of ProTools magic on it. "It is what it is, warts and all," he says. "But I think the performances capture the raw essence of what we were, more so even than the debut album in my opinion, and I think that's why it matters to our fans."

The guys printed up 1,000 copies of the '86 demo and plan to offer them for sale on Saturday evening at The Rail Club. (The demo will be also available online after the show.) They’re also bringing “throwback T-shirts” with Rigor Mortis’ old logo, and their friend Mike Taylor from Rabid Flesh Eaters will be stepping in to play Scaccia's parts. 

"He knows Scaccia's vibe," Orr says. "It shows in his playing because it's in his soul. I really don't think it would have felt the same with anyone else playing guitar. He understands Scaccia's feel. That's more important than anything else. He'd be the first to tell you that Scaccia was one of a kind and utterly irreplaceable, but Taylor does a kick ass job, and is a badass guitar player in his own right."

Wizards of Gore won't be the only band dominating the stage on Saturday night at The Rail Club. Reaper Crew, The Black Moriah, Hint of Death, Kill For Mother and Maleficus will be also playing. Corbitt points out that Maleficus' guitarist Stephenie Blaise studied under Scaccia before his death. She was one of his most talented students, and he told Corbitt before his death, "Man, she just gets it." 

“We can’t get anything new from him," Corbitt says of his late band mate, "but we can dig up some buried treasures.”

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.