Why Now Is The Time To Bring Back Metalocalypse
As 2019 becomes 2020, the world feels gripped by an oppressive force of normality and stupidity. Politicians are greasier and more racist than ever, suicide rates and drug addiction are up, the future of Mother Earth herself hangs in the balance. The turn of the decade is a complicated era that makes us question if any of the past twenty years of progress ever really changed anything. In times like these, all we can really hope for is that a door gets kicked in, and a death metal band walks in and blows everyone away with a deluge of crushing riffs like some goddamn supernatural music video. Life is a minefield, but with a killer metal song playing in the background, at least you’ll die grinning.
This was the basic premise behind Brendon Small’s animated TV show Metalocalypse: that the known world had united under the banner of kickass death metal. The series told the story of Dethklok, a band of everyday metalhead jackoffs whose band has become the eighth-largest economy in the world. It became an underground smash hit, spawning three successful albums and countless live tours that honored the undying power of metal. But after Metalocalypse’s initial storyline came to an end with a massive rock opera, Adult Swim canceled it in 2015 without much explanation. Now, though, with the band having played their first live show in five years this fall, it feels like Dethklok are primed to return. And honestly, there’s no better time for them to do so.
What charmed most fans about Metalocalypse was the ridiculous yet totally believable members of Dethklok. Each of the characters was the kind of shallow, exhausted, befuddled dude that most metal fans sympathize with deep down, scholars when it comes to gear and band names but idiots when it’s time to make coffee or pronounce a three-syllable word. Frontman Nathan Explosion is a terrifying hulk with a Hot Topic love life; lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skigelf is an emotionless Swedish sex machine; rhythm guitarist Toki Wartooth is a try-hard man-child raised in an ultra-religious Norse commune; drummer Pickles The Drummer gets too fucked up because he hates his dad; and bassist William Murderface is a smelly asshole who despises no one more than himself.
The elaborate ways these five ding-dongs use their money — and the horrific ultraviolence they cause in their wake — is just a hilarious extension of the real-life metal scene. Because fuck, of course your typical metal band would live in a castle shaped like a dragon and accidentally murder all their fans if they had the money of a small country. The show’s supernatural underpinnings frame the absurdity of the lore behind heavy music, because if those epic events prophesied in your average death metal track are true, then the fate of the world will end up in the hands of some shmuck in an Autopsy longsleeve.
The show was completed by the music. Small put his earnest love of metal to work, pulling influences from both extreme acts and soaring power metal bands whose glittery obscurity somehow seems to excite death metal fans. He also brought on drummer Gene Hoglan of Dark Angel and Strapping Young Lad, making it clear that if his band were going to write blistering metal tunes about coffee and taxes, they better have a metallic pedigree behind them (he did the same with the show’s voice cast, including cameos by Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, King Diamond, Geroge “Corpsegrinder” Fischer, and Ihsahan, to name but a few).
The resulting songs were full of driving blastbeats and ugly pinch harmonics, but also showcased moments of cinematic melody and larger-than-life scope. Dethklok struck a chord with both metalheads and newcomers who were tickled by the ironic metal jokes and the listenable music. Not only that, but the band’s three Dethalbums also cemented Small as a technically-adept guitarist and songwriter, and made his band a capable touring entity.
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That said, while it was a bummer that Metalocalypse got canceled, it also made sense. The show’s principal gag — that metal was a ludicrous subculture and its makers were overly-grim goofballs — had begun to feel like a stale meme towards the show’s end. Small started to come off as both jaded by the metal scene (which at that point he’d been touring in for several years) and territorial of his creation. Many of the later episodes, especially series finale The Doomstar Requiem - A Klok Opera, didn’t have that much interesting metal in them, and focused on the band’s celebrity over their entrenched obsession with all things dark and brutal. When Adult Swim declined to pick up the show, even as financial backers stepped up to revive Metalocalypse when Small created a petition to bring it back, it seemed like the network was just uninterested in the joke anymore.
Maybe the world wasn’t aware how much it missed Metalocalypse when Brendon announced the band would play at this year’s inaugural Adult Swim Festival, but the public response to Dethklok’s return was undeniable. The band headlined the festival, and immediately rumors flew about whether or not the show would return. The return of the band to the live arena reminded fans how funny Metalocalypse actually was, and how cool it was to have a show that embraced all things metal head-on.
What Dethklok was at its best — and what it seemed to no longer want to be toward the end — was a pure celebration of all things metal. Sometimes, that meant eating cinnamon rolls and spending too much money like a worthless goon, but it also involved epic scenes of blood-soaked glory and pledging to die for the right to bang your head and scream. Like Dethklok’s horde of henchmen the Klokateers, fans of the show saw metal as more than loud music that bothered the mainstream world, but as something awesome and exciting that the world should embrace, because it’s just so cool. And if a piece of stage gear disembowels you in graphic fashion, well, you were going to die anyway, and at least you did it memorably.
One of the most effective cures for the malaise of life over the past year has been that reminder: we’re all going to die. Far from being an invitation to misery or taking one’s own life, it’s actually a liberating reminder that this life is temporary, so you might as well live it properly. The problem with dickfors like Donald Trump is that they think they’re better than anyone, but their eyes will turn to the same maggot-filled pulp as those of the “bad hombres” they rally against. That is the beautiful simplicity of extreme metal: death is coming, darkness is here, the world is unfair, but hey, check out this killer breakdown. God may be dead, but this guitar solo rules. Metalocalypse may be about privileged dimwits who don’t know how to feed themselves anything but liquor, but it’s also about the epic power of music and the acknowledgment of mortality that the world today needs.
Whether or not Dethklok’s return to the stage will result in the show’s revival is still anybody’s guess. Brendon Small has said in the past that he’s pretty much done with Dethklok, and has focused his efforts on his more progressive project Galaktikon. Adult Swim, meanwhile, is famous for dropping its most interesting properties for no reason, so the hype surrounding the band’s live return may fall on deaf ears. But if either party were considering bringing new life to Dethklok, now would be the time. With the chaos, confusion, and sense of instability that seems to run rampant throughout life in 2019, a death metal band taking over the planet feels like one of the more sensible directions for society to turn. It’s a brutal world, after all.
The cartoon metal band made their spectacular return at Adult Swim Fest this weekend.
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