Posted by: Addison – Oct 26, 2012
I'm not really a big TV watcher, as a general rule, but as a longtime metal fan with many friends who are as into metal as I am (and way more into TV), I've had plenty of opportunity to catch episodes of Metalocalypse over the half-dozen years it has been on TV. The episodes I've seen have been amusing, both in the general over-the-top ridiculous manner of all Adult Swim cartoons and in their propensity to fill each episode with subtly amusing metal-related inside jokes. In their early episodes, Dethklok (for those who don't know, the members of this cartoon heavy metal band are the stars of Metalocalypse) made music that often struck me as a metal-related inside joke in itself; their ridiculously heavy riffs, as well as their monotonous song structures, seemed like a parody of the death metal genre within which they'd also be classified. Dethklok's music was certainly extreme, but it seemed to pursue brutality at the expense of dynamics, resulting in a conceptually hilarious but musically uninteresting low-frequency mush. Now, granted, I was only going by the snatches of the songs that ended up in episodes of Metalocalypse, so I knew there might be more to the full songs than appeared in the TV show, but I was nonetheless prepared to apply a different standard to Dethalbum III than I'd normally apply to evaluation of a death metal album.
As it turns out, though, this album does not need special treatment. Evidently the samples of Dethklok's music that I've heard in episodes of Metalocalypse were not sufficient to make me aware of what the band's album had to offer, because this record is an impressively enjoyable listen. The cartoon members of Dethklok are brought to life in reality by Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small, who handles vocals, guitars, and keyboards, and is backed by legendary death/thrash/metal drummer Gene Hoglan (Death, Dark Angel, Strapping Young Lad, Cynic, etc) and bassist Bryan Beller (who has also backed Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, and others). This trio does an excellent job of creating real-life metal of which the ridiculously grandiose cartoon band would be proud. The production on Dethalbum III is thick and heavy, and provides the real-life Dethklok with a solid sound befitting a brutal death metal band. However, in spite of a clearly audible influence, Dethklok don't really fit into the death metal genre themselves. They tend to avoid blastbeats in favor of mostly midtempo riffs, and refrain from the deep, guttural vocal sounds typically found on death metal albums. Instead, Brendon Small sings in a harsh bark that is more attuned to regular human vocal frequencies, making his vocals mainly reminiscent of Lamb Of God's Randy Blythe. Where his guitar work is concerned, he uses far more melodic leads than is typical for death or thrash metal, interjecting an almost Iron Maiden-ish power metal flavor into an album that nonetheless retains its fundamental heaviness even at its most melodic.
The humorous aspect of Dethklok is present as well, and should not be downplayed. The main place it reveals itself is in the lyrics, and song titles like "I Ejaculate Fire" and "Killstardo Abominate" are only the most immediate of the many humorous lyrical elements on offer here. The lyrics to "I Ejaculate Fire" deliver the same kind of brutally hilarious imagery that one would imagine from the title, but the lyrics on the album that are most amusing are the ones that parody typical extreme metal lyrics. Sure, the music turns out to be more straightforwardly enjoyable than I'd originally expected after watching episodes of Metalocalypse, but the vocals are harsh and distorted enough that ridiculous lyrics don't really impede one's enjoyment of the music. Therefore, Small takes every opportunity to interject lyric-based jokes. A personal favorite is the first verse of "Starved," which goes: "Archaic disgustion, normalic repulsion. Vomitous reaction, abhorrent transaction." This sort of attempt to use complex vocabulary, in which the lyricist's reach significantly exceeds his grasp and results in multiple terms that aren't quite actual words, is a commonplace amongst extreme metal albums, and the most important difference between those particular incidents and this Dethklok lyric is that this time, the humor is intentional.
"Starved" also offers the most obvious musically humorous moment; based around an intro and bridge riff that mixes two different midtempo time signatures to create a polyrhythm, the song features an extended segment about halfway through where the band stretches the slightly discombobulating polyrhythmic section (in which the guitars and the drums are playing two different time signatures) to its breaking point, and beyond. For a significant period, chugging guitars alternate with choppy drumming in a completely impenetrable pattern, with the whole thing sounding like a malfunctioning carousel. Just as the entire song sounds like it's about to flip over onto its side, though, an extended Gene Hoglan drum fill brings everything back into an understandable, unified rhythm. It's the kind of moment that metal geeks who sit in their room practicing pentatonic scales to the rhythm of a ticking metronome will find hilarious, while more casual fans may just be a bit confused. Regardless, it shows both the depth and subtlety of Brendon Small's sense of humor, and the high level of talent possessed by the real-life musicians of Dethklok.
On Dethalbum III, Brendon Small has brought together a variety of distinct and important factors to create an excellent metal album. He's proven his songwriting talent by seamlessly combining elements of death metal, thrash, and power metal into an album that touches upon multiple subgenres without ever experiencing a dip in musical quality. And more importantly, he's contributed a brilliant sense of humor, adding layers of amusing brilliance without taking anything away from the musical quality already on display. On Dethalbum III, Small and Dethklok have proven that metalheads can laugh at themselves without losing touch with the things that make metal great. In a perfect world, Dethklok and Metalocalypse would get that message across to the same sort of self-important, humorless metalheads that the band and the show parody. Will that actually happen? Only time will tell. But the quality of Dethalbum III certainly should adjust the odds in their favor.
Dethklok will perform at The Norva (located at 317 Monticello Ave in Norfolk), along with Machine Head, All That Remains, and The Black Dahlia Murder, on Tuesday, October 30. Doors open at 6 PM. Advance tickets are $32.50, and can be ordered HERE.
By Andrew Necci