or a cartoon about a metal band, Adult Swim's "Metalocalypse" has been quite a hit. Friends and family have filled my inbox with "Have you seen this?" messages. In its first week of release, the Season 1 DVD flew off shelves. I couldn’t find it in store after store, scoring it only when a Virgin Megastore employee looked in the back and found an untagged copy. On Amazon, the limited edition double disc of the soundtrack has sold for hundreds of dollars. Real metal bands aren't half as successful.
That's part of the point of "Metalocalypse," which stars Dethklok, "the most brutal band in the world." In the show, the band reaches such superstardom that it becomes the world's 12th largest economy. It does so almost in spite of itself. The band is a bunch of misfits who bumble through misadventures wrought by their ludicrous success. Dethklok record an album in a submarine, lay waste to Finland, and live in an enormous castle staffed by masked minions. Blood and gore flow freely. The band is essentially every heavy metal stereotype amplified.
However, Dethklok are hardly "the most brutal band in the world". Like their lineup, their music is a highly unlikely assemblage. Dethklok's sound could loosely be described as melodic death metal. It's approximately 50% Amon Amarth, 40% Manowar, and 10% Cannibal Corpse. Appropriately, these bands are themselves cartoonish. Amon Amarth play Viking-themed melodic death metal; Manowar wear loincloths and, backed by symphonies and choirs, sing bombastic songs about metal; Cannibal Corpse are synonymous with gore-oriented death metal. Debuting at #21 on the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 33,740, Dethklok's real life album, The Dethalbum, is the highest charting death metal record ever.
For a TV show soundtrack, The Dethalbum is surprisingly sturdy on its own. Dethklok's sound comes almost entirely from show co-creator Brendon Small. Small does the voices for 3/5 of Dethklok; on The Dethalbum, he handles all vocals (a functional death growl, mostly), guitars, and keyboards. Gene Hoglan, of Dark Angel/Death/Strapping Young Lad notoriety, delivers a metronomic, technically flawless drum performance. Small is a highly trained guitarist; his fake metal band is more proficient than most real life ones.
More importantly, it's funnier. It's difficult to make music genuinely humorous, but Small effectively straddles the line between parody and tribute. In the show's theme, he gleefully sprays sweep-picked runs left and right like a kid with a water gun. The over-the-top choral vocals suggest Queen on steroids. "Hatredcopter" alternates between technical death metal and cock rock. The brilliant "Fansong" is the best song Arch Enemy never wrote, but it mocks Dethklok's fans: "You hunched and blinded eunuchs / Living in chat rooms / You masturbate on the sheets / Your mothers clean for you." After a while, a slight sameness settles in as Small spoofs metal's Neanderthal tendencies. However, he can't suppress his musicality entirely. Even "Face Fisted," with its boneheaded "I'm so fucking tough / I'm so fucking tough / THAT'S RIGHT" refrain, has tricky odd meters and tasty harmonized solos.
The songs' most effective comedic device is the chant: say "Bloodrocuted" or "Hatredcopter" enough times, and it becomes maniacally funny. "Better Metal Snake" is about exactly that: "Shed its metal skin and destroy / It's such a better METAL SNAKE." The "Always Be Killing" chorus of "Briefcase Full of Guts" would make Cannibal Corpse jealous. Take the most over-the-top jokes, turn them up to 11, and set them to the most pomposity money can buy. The formula works for the show, as well as its soundtrack.