Published on February 12th, 2014 | by Dave Scaddan0
Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera
I am not a fan of rock operas or musicals. The effort of trying to fit songs into a script — or writing scripts around songs — never seems to please both masters, and those who’ve tried have often been adept at one of these skill sets, but inept at the other. This is why Brendon Small’s Metalocalypse legacy is so impressive to me. Not only does the animated series incorporate music and comedy into one skillful, hilarious narrative, it does so without making any of the arts it uses (drawing, design, writing, comedy, parody, animation, or music) seem like the dominant skill at the helm. Small and company are masters of all of these trades, which is why Metalocalypse has been poured so smoothly into various media including TV, music, and comic books. After creating four seasons of his series for Adult Swim, Small has upped the ante with the latest Metalocalypse project, an entire-season-in-one 45 minute musical that delves deeper into the show’s complex mythology and back story.
Metalocalypse is the story of fictional death metal band, Dethklok, whose global popularity is so extreme that their album releases affect the world economy and their band members are rendered completely socially dysfunctional by the isolation their fame creates. Their legions of fans gladly subject themselves to death and disaster just to see the band perform live, and the masses of gruesome accidental deaths that occur every time they perform only add to the legend of how ‘metal’ they are. Small plays this bizarre concept to hilarious effect in every single Metalocalypse episode, even though the truths that Dethklok represent about celebrity culture are often as dark as they are humorous.
It would be easy to dismiss Metalocalypse as mere Adult Swim twaddle after only a few episodes (especially the first two of season one, where the characters’ voices are a bit hard to understand; after that point they become clearer and funnier) but as viewers power through the show, they’ll discover some very high concept comedy that lampoons the metal landscape in a modern-day-Spinal-Tap type of way. That Brendon Small (who plays guitar, bass, keys, and sings on almost all of Dethklok’s songs) has been able to make this vehicle fly through four seasons and three albums is pretty miraculous, since most potential viewers, even those who love Adult Swim’s other offerings, are very likely to be turned off by the death-metal-is-the-most-popular-music-in-the-world concept that drives the show. The show has improved with experience, and one can sense Small’s growing confidence in his own conceit as the seasons move along and he fills the need to do more with an often rude, crass, gross template.
The Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera is the ultimate realization of all of Small’s talents. The songs that drive this musical aren’t just death metal, they also delve into pop, dance, disco, lounge, and Disneyesque balladry. Also, Small presents a guitar duel with himself as part of the flashback that explains how Toki Wartooth (Dethklok’s Norse rhythm guitarist) became part of the band before they made their first album. Check out this clip as a brilliant sample of Small’s amazing playing, but also as an example of how, unlike almost every other guitar player in the world with at least as much ability, he is willing to make his obsessive skill the subject of fun, even as he elevates it to grandiose notions of metal idolatry.
Maybe these types of skillful, yet comical displays charm me so much because heavy metal music and culture is almost always so serious, and Dethklok are so outrageously goofy and dumb. Lead singer Nathan Explosion growls out lyrics about destruction and brutality, but insists that his manager use the term “hamburger time” to refer to death, because the band finds the notion of its own mortality disturbing. Lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf is the fastest guitar player in the world, but he speaks very slowly, in a tortured Swedish accent. Pickles the drummer looks like a parody of late-era Axl Rose, complete with ginger comb-over dreads, and his character, along with Dr. Rockzo, a rock n’ roll clown that Small clearly based on David Lee Roth, sets up most of the gags revolving around substance-based metal excess (Skwigelf anchors most of the parody involving promiscuity). Bassist William Murderface and rhythm guitarist Toki Wartooth represent the second-tier status that exists within every hugely popular metal band, constantly battling the even-more-inflated celebrity of their bandmates with hilarious results. Toki, who hails from Norway, hates Skwisgaar, but also idolizes him; he even plays all Skwisgaar’s parts in a Dethklok tribute band called Thunderhorse. All this makes for fantastically deep and accurate parody of a world that should be parodied more often, but likely isn’t simply because of what an amazing job Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer have already done in this regard. Brendon Small himself acknowledges this, remarking in interviews that Spinal Tap are untouchable, but that the metal world still has room for more good parody.
The storyline of The Doomstar Requiem covers enough ground for an entire season of Metalocalypse in under an hour. The narrative reaches back to the early, hardscrabble days of the group (though not all the way back to its inception — Small still has plenty of room left in the eventual season five for flashbacks and origin stories, which he loves to use) and moves the modern storyline forward by leaps and bounds. The powers that be who seek to monitor and control Dethklok — after all, if you control this band, you control the minds of practically the entire world — are stepping up their games and pushing the envelope on the band’s ultimate dominance or destruction, and the results are both epic and brutal. In classic rock-opera fashion, the opening number promises that one of the band members will die before the story is over, and an impossibly grandiose unfolding ensues.
The Doomstar Requiem will be much more entertaining if you’ve seen the first four seasons of Metalocalypse, yet it could serve as an effective table-setter for newcomers also. It actually aired on Adult Swim several months ago, but the accompanying soundtrack is set for release on February 25. In the meantime, The Doomstar Requiem has racked up over 800,000 views on YouTube, at least eight of which were mine. And let me tell you, this metal masterpiece is so great in its execution of what a rock opera should be, neither of these numbers seems large enough.