Just look at these guys. Don’t they look huggable? You might, however, want to resist your impulse to go in for the real thing with the members of local Christian horror punk act Grave Robber because they have a secret lurking behind those scary masks and skeletal hands.  “We’re pretty much the stinkiest band you’ll ever meet,” said lead guitarist Lamentor at a Thursday night rehearsal last week. “I’ve had kids come up to me who want to hug me and then they pull away at the last minute. Sometimes we don’t wash the costumes for three, maybe four weeks and they sit in boxes all summer and when we take them out – ”

“Step back,” added frontman Wretched. “It’s like cat pee and sauerkraut and bacon and feet and jock sweat and rotting chicken all rolled into one and stuck in a blender at high speed. That is the scent that is Grave Robber.”

So they probably won’t be getting their own cologne endorsement anytime soon, but that might be the only big break not on the horizon for these four guys who have found themselves suddenly thrust into the punk rock spotlight. Wretched, Lamentor, Plague (drums) and Carcass (bass) have a very busy month and year ahead of them that will include CD release parties for their sophomore album, Inner Sanctum, at both Come2Go on October 12 (where they’ll also be filming a live DVD) and Hot Topic in Glenbrook Mall on October 22; the publication of a comic book series in their honor; appearances at comic book and horror conventions all over the U.S.; performances at several regional venues such as The Chelsea House in Chicago and Cincinnati’s Covenant and a host of festivals like Horror in the Rockies and Cornerstone; and a possible deal with Alice Cooper producer Chris Lieck for their third and upcoming album, tentatively entitled You’re All Gonna Die. Grave Robber also recently inked a contract with national record company Hairball 8, whose connections with Hot Topic has inspired a set of Grave Robber action figures.

“It’s like we’re on the cusp of something great, and it’s pretty nerve-wracking,” said Wretched, who, along with Carcass, started Grave Robber in 2005 after the breakup of their punk band, The Migraines. “I was on the phone today with Chris Lieck, and it was crazy. I’m a huge fan of Alice Cooper. All of this stuff, it’s kind of overwhelming, and sometimes I feel like I need a vacation or at least a really long nap.”

But Wretched understands more than most that there’s no rest for the wicked. A karaoke deejay by day and night, Wretched’s work schedule often has him out rocking till the wee smalls. Then, of course, there’s all the work he does to promote Grave Robber, which is obviously a labor of love.

“I’ve wanted to be in a theatrical band ever since I first saw Kiss perform, and here I am. It’s like a dream come true,” he said.

The concept for this theatrical band – Grave Robber are known for spraying their audiences with fake blood, and Wretched often begins shows by striking the stage repeatedly with a shovel – was during a church service. Wretched and Carcass were sitting in a pew, listening to a sermon on Romans VI, which includes the famous line, “The wages of sin is death.” It occurred to Wretched who, like the rest of the band, is a practicing Christian that the Bible is in many ways a bloody document.

“We were waiting to take communion which, of course, symbolizes the eating of flesh and blood, and I told Carcass, ‘Great, we’re zombies,’ and that’s how we got the idea for the band,” Wretched said. 

“You know, there’s a difference between what the Bible reports and what it condones,” he added. “A lot of what it reports is really creepy, horrible stuff. We didn’t want to be one of those Christian bands who just acts like everything’s rosy all the time. So all of our music is symbolic and a lot of it comes right from the Bible. Our song ‘Valley of Dead Bones’ is straight from Ezekiel, and ‘Fear No Evil’ is right from Psalms. We’re not watering this stuff down so it’ll be scary. It already was.”

But Grave Robber are not out simply to horrify their fans. Behind the scary masks – purchased for $7 at Wal-Mart and dressed up with a little gauze and tape – are four unapologetically goofy guys who love to have fun. 

“We’re the kind of band that tends to annoy other bands we play with, we have such a good time,” Lamentor said. 

Case in point, their hot dog fight at Cornerstone last year, not to mention the green milk, or “zombie bile,” chugging contest they championed that led to at least one youngster yakking into a trash can and Plague doing the Johnny Bench through a puddle of puke that missed its mark.

“We like to get the audience involved in our shows,” said Wretched. “Obviously the music comes first, but if we play a musically great show and the audience is just standing there staring at us I feel like we failed somehow.”

While jokes fly freely around the church sanctuary where Grave Robber rehearse – the space is courtesy of Lamentor’s dad who is the minister of Colony Heights Church of Christ on Tillman Road – the members take their craft very seriously. Lamentor is a classical guitar and music history major at IPFW and leaves his mask at home to work with several area high school marching bands. Plague, 36, came to the drums late. “I started when I was 23. My brother sold me his drum kit, the same drum kit my parents bought him. He’s a consummate businessman.” Carcass started on the bass at 15, and Wretched, well, he’s been into music for as long as he can remember, and there was that fateful introduction to Kiss. 

“The bottom line,” said Wretched, “is we are our own worst critics. If we like it, then we feel it must be good.” 

The band is not without its critics from the outside. Wretched admitted that many people judge Grave Robber by their costumes and are skeptical that such a package can pack a Christian punch. But, as Plague put it, “We like to sneak in and crush with the Holy Spirit.”

Eventually conversation turned to the upcoming party and DVD shoot at Come2Go. Everyone agreed that the hope is to have a huge turnout so that the DVD, like their video for “Altered States” (also filmed at Come2Go), looks impressive and professional. There was, however, some disagreement about the cake.

“It’s gonna have the album cover on the top,” Wretched said, “but we have to decide about the flavor.” 

“Red velvet cake with white icing,” Carcass suggested. “It’ll be like blood cake.”

“What about green cake, zombie bile cake?” Lamentor said.

“I want chocolate,” Plague said.

It was clear that it wasn’t going to be solved that night, so they took the stage to rehearse. Before they got down to the business of punk rock, though, the guys all bowed their head and Carcass led them in a prayer, ending with this simple wish: “Help us stay focused on you, Lord, and not us.”

Now who doesn’t want to hug that?