Friday, October 2, 2009


I've never really written about Dethklok/Metalocalypse at length here on Illogical Contraption, which might be a surprise to those in my immediate social circle. Full disclosure here: I am a BIG fan of the show, and Brendon Small's musical output in general. I think Metalocalypse might just be the best thing on television, rivalled only by The Colbert Report and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I'm wearing a Dethklok T-shirt right now. Sweet Baby Jay bought me Seasons One AND Two on DVD, and both have the uncanny ability to not get old after repeat viewings. So why haven't I gushed about the 'Klok before? The true reasons are complex and even a bit shameful, but I'll get to them later in the post.
But first off, the MEAT of the issue: Dethklok's second release, aptly titled Dethalbum II (the first Dethalbum is pictured above right), hit the shelves on Tuesday, and having had a full two days to digest it, I feel that now is a good time for a fair and balanced review.
D2 is quite a bit more "death metal" than its predecessor, featuring quite a few more up-tempo/blastbeaty numbers and quite a bit more variation on Nathan/Brendan's vocals. The production is immaculate without being sterile and the guitar work is nothing short of jaw-dropping. I like D2 better than D1. A lot better.
I went on a long walk with this album rocking on the iPod last night, and what struck me the most about it was the EPIC quality of the whole thing. "EPIC" is a term not often bandied about in the death metal genre (usually reserved for power metal/D&D bands), but that's what sets Dethklok apart. The soaring solos, the marching tempos, the Viking-chant choruses -- It all causes one to instinctually hoist aloft their invisible oranges and prepare for battle. Seriously, every song on here is a winner, and Dethklok has upped the ante on both brutality AND catchiness. But D2 takes risks, too. Take the lazer/robot noises on "The Cyborg Slayers" or the tribal rhythms on "Bloodlines", for example. 'Klok is also getting weirder with age, which is surely a good sign for their future.
But the reasons I love this band are also the same reasons I hate other bands. Allow me to direct your attention to the VERY LAST post here on I.C., about Impetigo's Ultimo Mondo Cannibale. In it, I spoke thusly: "(Impetigo is) Tangible proof that four meatheads in a basement in Illinois can produce far more metal magic than any high-budget, major label death band in a $10,000 a day studio ever could." But D2 IS exactly that. Is it a better album than Ultimo Mondo Cannibale? Yes. Am I a hypocrite? Yes. Fuck off.

Below: Metalocalypse co-creators Tommy Blancha (left) and Brendon Small (right). Brendan rocks the same short-hair-with-sweater look as fellow shredder Mohammed from Necrophagist.

But let's talk about the show itself for a minute (I'll get to my main point soon, I promise). Metalocalypse earns my respect for not only pushing the boundaries of gore and violence allowed on television, but also for being arguably the first TV show ever to be written BY metalheads FOR metalheads. Thinly-veiled references to bands like Burzum, Asesino, and Nile pepper the scenery and dialog, adding an extra element of "we're in on the joke" snideness for the real metalheads watching. But is this neccessarily a good thing?
Metal has always been an insider's club, with a homemeade lattice of basement-dwelling Bros spreading the word, mouth to mouth, about the hot new shit. Recent years have been painful for these same Bros, watching their beloved metal scene exploited and commercialized by both the mainstream media and a slew of fashionably-dressed, elegantly-coiffed scenesters who wouldn't know the difference between Fistful of Metal and Attack of The Killer B's if it jumped up and bit them on the back of their skin-tight pants. It's sad, sure, but it was also inevitable.
In a way, Metalocalypse seems like it's on the wrong side of the fence, openly acknowledging and popularizing the ideals of the metal underground to an audience that was never in on the joke in the first place. These were OUR secrets, dammit, and (as spiteful as it may sound) the same Avenged Sevenfold and Atreyu fans poisoning the scene these days just SHOULDN'T have access to the "real deal". The first Dethalbum was the highest-charting death metal album EVER. Which wasn't really a surprise, considering the popularity of the show. What was surprising was the quality of the music. Therein lies the rub.

Which really brings me to my central point (here comes the shame): In a way, Dethklok embodies everything I despise about the commodification of metal culture (see yesterday's post about Tigger Slam). The Hot Topic-ification, the dumb chicks getting Metalocalypse tattoos (right), the onslaught of merchandising, the high ticket prices and Affliction-esque T-shirt logos. I try not to be too much of a music snob, but it's sad standing over the corpse of a scene that was once vibrant and healthy, lamenting the loss of that which once felt like a magical secret. And you can tell by the way he writes and performs that Brendon Small has nothing but respect for the metal scene. But sadly, he's also the one holding the knife.
It may sound ridiculous, but to me, this is the crux of the issue. This is why I've never written about Dethklok before. I don't like politics with my music, but I can't help harboring a certain amount of shame concerning my affection for this band/TV show/album. On more than one occasion, I've had some sort of teenage hipster/scene kid approach me when I'm wearing a Dethklok shirt and blurt out some sort of inanity like "Yeah Bro, Dethklok, sweet". Part of me sees a brother in metal there, but another (larger) part of me grits my teeth. This is the only garment in my vast wardrobe that seems to have this effect. Maybe I'm just getting old and surly. But if there were a parallel universe where Dethklok was an unknown band on an unknown label from somewhere in the Midwest, I would probably be tempted to switch over.
But these are all just figments of my own hypocrisy. All that matters is the music, right? Wouldn't I be taking the exact same ride as Brendon Small if I were that talented? Hm.

Below: Death metal action figures. Not OK. Well, sometimes OK.

But hey, you guys aren't here to listen to me waffle about whether or not I should like a band. That's lame.
Instead, allow me to share a quick story about the first time I went to see 'Klok live. It was at The Fillmore in SF, a legendary venue that has hosted an abundance of hugely famous bands over the years. Halfway through the supporting act Soilent Green's set, a Fillmore official rushed onto the stage, shutting the band down and seizing the microphone. "There is a fire in the building", he announced, "everyone needs to evacuate calmly and quickly".
Catcalls and shouts of "Bullshit!" quickly erupted amongst the crowd. Was this some sort of elaborate Dethklok hoax? They kill their fans on the show all the time, was this just a theatrical entrance ceremony? It was a surreal scene indeed. The drunken crown grudgingly managed to leave the building, and when a fleet of fire trucks showed up it became abundantly clear that this was no joke. The show was cancelled, but guess what? The next day off they had on their tour (three or four days later, if I recall correctly), Small, Hoglan & Co. came back to SF and made it up to us with a ridiculously awesome "apology" show. Now THAT'S class.

For print coverage of the incident, click this. For amateur video of the scene, click this.

Above: Dethklok LIVE, version 1. Below: Dethklok LIVE, version 2.

The verdict: If I were going to let current musical trends and scene politics dictate what ended up on my iPod, I would've deleted Master of Puppets a long time ago. Fuck that. Good metal is good metal. Period. And Dethalbum II, along with just about ALL Dethklok, is FAR BEYOND good metal. It kills, tr00 metal naysayers be damned. My nads are pumped.

Check out the official video for D2's opening track, "Bloodlines", below.

Dethalbum II is streaming here. A link for purchase is included.


Holkie said...

Hey, you like the music, you like music. That's is all that matters.
There are a lot of things in life that have conucdrums. Just enjoy what you like/love and don't sweat it.

Mister Booze said...

Yeah, I know what you mean. I love the inside jokes, like Finntroll store. But I feel like it is one big hipster jokes and some stupid emo kids are just taking the piss out of me. So I love the show and I also hate it. Thus I will watch the show, but I wouldn't be caught dead in the tshirt.

Anonymous said...

Saw the same tour in Albuquerque. I went for Soilent and split before Dethklok. I can't understand the popularity. Maybe D2 will sway my opinion but I'm a stubborn fuck. I'll see the next tour since High on Fire is scheduled to open though.

cable_zombie said...

That's the exact reason I've avoided them at all costs.

Maybe deep down I'm scared I'll think there's actually something good about it and then I'll like it and then I'll be one of those fucking wankers that likes Dethklok.

So yeah I reckon I'll just keep steering clear.

Helm said...

So wait, you say you're sad that HM is getting commodified like this and yet you listen to a manufactured band with practically no meaning to it besides the joke, just because the riffs and solos are pleasing? Takes more than riffs to make real steel. I don't care if that dude is a skilled shredder and listens to good HM on the side, I don't care about any scene and never did, what I care about is that there are riffs and there is pathos. Dethklok are a joke, just riffs don't excuse that.

Shelby Cobras said...

Joke metal bands that I'm down with:

Spinal Tap
Impaled Northern Moonforest/Anal Cunt

etc etc...

Bottom line: If it makes me smile and/or bang my head/want to kill, I'm OK with it.

"So wait, you say you're sad that HM is getting commodified like this and yet you listen to a manufactured band with practically no meaning to it besides the joke, just because the riffs and solos are pleasing?"

Yes. that was the whole 'conundrum' I was attempting to make sense of in this post. I hate the politics and the underlying wankerism, but I can't deny that the music is well-crafted, driving metal. I know that intelligent metallions (such as the fine people who read this blog) fall on both sides of the fence on this subject, and this whole diatribe was about which side of the fence I'm on.

I'm actually surprised at the anti-Dethklok sentiment here, I was expecting a bunch of comments like Holkie's. But it's actually a pleasant surprise. I sorta thought I was the only one with Dethklok issues. I'm definitely pleased to hear the opinions on this one, it seems like a real double-edged sword.

PS - I don't really think it's fair to call Dethklok a "manufactured" band, as they are more of a "one-man-band" with a hired-gun drummer.

PSS - I think I feel a 'pros and cons of joke metal bands' post coming on...

23 Wolves said...

What do you think about the many metal luminaries who have done guest voices on the show, who theoretically don't have a problem with it? Are they now compromised as well? Personally I think Metalocalypse is awesome, and a lot of the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable about it are the compromises that are necessary for a show like that to be on TV in the first place. It's Cartoon Network, they need to make money and need a show that has appeal beyond heavy-duty metal dudes only. But yet, the show does not forget about or leave behind the real heavy-duty metal dudes. I think you should stop over-thinking it.

Helm said...

I've noticed this with the musicians making appearances at stuff like that (Dave Mustane seems to be up for anything), besides from cynical money-making reasons that I can think of but can't substantiate, I would guess that a lot of metalhead musicians have an underdog complex and whenever the mainstream throws them a bone they're very eager to go for their 15 minutes of relative acceptance. I'm not judging them for it, perhaps under the circumstances I'd do the same and figure out a concept that justifies it in my head later. But that I'm not judging personalities doesn't mean I find the whole concept of metalocalypse benign.

I don't listen to any joke bands. Closest to it is Carnivore, but they were a pretty serious joke.

I called Dethklok a manufactured band in that the material was made to follow a tv-show, not in that other sense where a record company puts talent together and focus-tests it and then pretends these people were friends since highschool or anything.

23 Wolves said...

Yeah, man! No Jokes! Metal is Serious Business! Just ask Mike Amott, Richard Christy, King Diamond, George Fisher, Gene Hoglan, ICS Vortex, Ihsahn, Mike Patton, Silenoz, Trym, and, uh...some other guys like Kirk Hammett.

I wonder how they sleep at night.

Shelby Cobras said...

Valid points all around. I am once again impressed by the debate skills of my knowledegable and well-read readership.