My first exposure to ArnoCorps was a little over a decade ago, while being tattooed by George Hernandez at Folsom City Ink, east of Sacramento. One of the other three tattooers at the shop, Big Frank Harrison, longtime punk / hardcore / metal scene stalwart, was also the founder of the late Eighties / early Nineties label Nemesis Records, best known for releasing The Offspring’s first studio album as well as music by a multitude of other influential bands, including Sensefield precursor Reason To Believe and second-gen straight edge heroes Uniform Choice. Big Frank knows music, and was always kicking interesting jams on the shop’s sound system.
Snippets of what sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger barking over anthemic metal-punk with melodic bass undercurrents kept pulling me out of the conversation George and I were having. Do it now! Get to the chopper! I’ll be back!
“Frank, what the fuck is this?”
“ArnoCorps, man. The Greatest Band of All Time!”
That proclamation wasn’t just Big Frank opining on the quality of the music, it was the title of the album. I bought the album online as soon as I got home, and a short while later ordered the newly-released Ballsy EP, which I played so much that the contagious sing-along chorus of the first track, “I’m Ballsy,” ranks in the top five of Angelica’s “you can only listen to that shit when I’m not around” list, along with Nine Pound Hammer’s “Double Super Buzz” and pretty much any Rush song.
Earlier this year, ArnoCorps released their latest record, The Unbelievable EP, on the suitably legendary Alternative Tentacles, before heading out on their sixth headlining tour of the UK. Alternative Tentacles has also released ArnoCorps’ entire back catalog, a tribute to the immense value of the band’s cultural contributions and ongoing attempts to rescue the cherished legends of their Austrian homeland from the Hollywood entertainment establishment’s ongoing, bald-faced exploitation and cultural appropriation via nearly forty years of Austro-ploitation films like Terminator, Predator, Total Recall, and others. Upon returning from a month of delivering ballsy action adventure audio assaults to UK heroes and sheroes, vocalist Graf Holzfeuer invited me to his “covert suburban dwelling” in the East Bay to talk bikes, music, and fitness.
As I ride up, Holzfeuer bounds out of his garage, arms raised in a classic double-bicep pose, stogie dangling from his broad, toothy grin, dressed in ArnoCorps’ requisite black fatigues and boots. He’s wearing sunglasses, which he will not take off the entire day. He exclaims, “SUUURRRJJJ” in his trademark Austrian accent, now perhaps softened a bit by many years residing in Caleefornya.
The garage holds a 2001 Moto Guzzi V11 Sport, a 2005 BMW R1200GS, and a 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim, along with a 1940 Indian Chief, partially disassembled, missing its motor.
I’m drawn to the iconic Guzzi, noting subtle changes. Holzfeuer tells me how he hand-polished the valve covers—concerned about staining the metal with chemicals, he painstakingly worked his way through grains of sandpaper before finishing with steel wool and polish.
The story is revealing—most know Holzfeuer simply as ArnoCorps’ thundering mouthpiece, proponent of bodybuilding, and simple concepts like “GO!!!” and getting to the goddamn chopper. But like the heroes of the Austrian lore the band seeks to preserve, the animated frontman is multi-faceted: destroyer of microphones, fitness fanatic, cultural preservationist, and artist.
“I don’t just write the lyrics and sing the vocals. I’m doing countless other things. I book it, manage the tours, all the artwork…” He pauses, since I’m taking photos as he speaks. “Where’s my stogie? I should be smoking my stogie.”
The photo I’m taking is of Holzfeuer holding the epic Frank Frazetta-inspired painting he created for The Fantastic EP, in front of a metal print of the same painting given to him by a fan, a shot that nicely sums up the influences of the band and the intense connections inspired in fans, who arrive at ArnoCorps’ action adventure audio assaults in full gear and face paint, referring to themselves as “reinforcements.”
ArnoCorps’ latest, The Unbelievable EP, draws on material that seems on the surface a deviation from the intensity of their previous work, with titles like “Mr. Freeze” and “Junior.” But what Holzfeuer describes as “ballsy punk rock energy and attitude” is still there, and the opening track urges the listener to have faith: “The impossible, it becomes possible, when you believe the unbelievable.” As a fan, I think it’s some of ArnoCorps’ strongest work. “Kindergarten Cop” offers up soaring guitar melodies that’d make Iron Maiden proud, and the last two songs, “Handsome Stranger” and “Twins,” continue the ArnoCorps tradition of previous album closers “Last Action Hero” and “Exactly,” which is to say, the band always finishes with frantic, powerful singalongs that make the listener long to be pumping a fist in the pit.
I’m pretty familiar with most of the Austrian folklore bastardized by the Western entertainment machine, but “Handsome Stranger” was new to me. Holzfeuer says those not aware of more obscure Alpine legends may recognize it from the 1979 movie The Villain, starring Kirk Douglas, Ann Margaret, and of course Arnold Schwarzenegger, who Holzfeuer refers to as “Schwarzenstrudel.”
“He played a character called the Handsome Stranger, which was of course based on ancient folklore from Austria that he bastardized. Every goddamn movie he did, is based on something in Austria. And that is why ArnoCorps exists, to take it back for the people.”
I wander amongst Holzfeuer’s bikes while he alternates between pumping iron and sharing memorabilias and stories of connections between the music and motorcycle worlds.
“Our theme, action adventure lifestyle, completely overlaps. Our fans message me to talk about motorcycles.
“We’ve done some East Bay Rats [parties]… We did… I think it was probably the best fight party ever, at Nimby, this huge warehouse that takes up a whole city block. It was like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in there. They had fire displays, motorcycle stunts, boxing ring right in the middle—they were doing bare knuckle boxing at the time…”
Holzfeuer and his bandmates were sitting on top of one of Nimby’s many containers, watching the opening band with Mykee of now-defunct Richmond venue Burnt Ramen, and noticed a chain rigging on a track, like the one Schwarzenstrudel uses to lower himself into the pool of molten metal at the end of T2. As the band fired up with their instrumental intro, Mykee ran the controls, lowering Holzfeuer on to the stage, Terminator-style.
“Nobody filmed it, but people still talk about it: ‘I was there at the fight party, you came out on the Terminator chain!’ Everyone thought it was all planned, this elaborate entrance.”
The Harley is a new addition: “A part of the attraction is nobody in the Bay Area likes Softails, and I like the look. I got a killer deal because nobody in the Bay Area likes them. Everyone wants a Dyna.
“Everyone’s expecting me to be really happy with it since it’s replacing my old Suzuki cruiser. It’s like… the suspension sucks, and it scrapes without barely leaning over. And it’s funny, I read this announcement of “New Softails!” They fixed every complaint I had about this Harley! But I wouldn’t have waited because I got a really good deal, and the styling… I do like the old swingarm.”
We leave his garage to ride Mines Road, me on my GS and Holzfeuer on his Guzzi, chatting on our Senas the entire way about motorcycles, music, and hanging with Jello Biafra. By the time we reach our big basket of fries at the Junction, Holzfeuer’s infectious, energetic way of speaking has me peppering my own sentences with guttural goddammits and closing exclamations of “Exactly!”