Metalocalypse’s Dethklok, “Dethalbum II” (Adult Swim)
‘60s: Monkees. ‘00s: Dethklok. Four decades apart, the two creations mess with our heads in similar ways.
Both bands were designed for television shows rather than formed for socially approved reasons, such as smoking pot together in high school. While we’d love to bust Dethklok and the Monkees for fakery and imitation, we really can’t, because they fake so well -- lovingly, even. And think about it: What percentage of ‘60s bands didn’t copy the Beatles? About the same as the modern metal bands that don’t copy Metallica.
Dethklok’s only musical drawback is that it copies too widely. Berklee grad Brendon Small -- the instrumentalist-vocalist-songwriter behind Dethklok as well as the co-creator of “Metalocalypse,” the animated series starring the band -- embraces all metal. So he piles on 40 years’ worth of heavy concepts: gloomy riffs like Black Sabbath, twin harmony guitars like Iron Maiden, jagged obbligatos like Megadeth, medieval battlefield lyrics like Manowar, huffing no-note vocals like Cannibal Corpse, black-Mass keyboards and double-kick thunder like Dimmu Borgir. Small likes to compress decades, too, so Dethklok can cram almost the entire history of metal into a single song. This leaves the cartoon Klok, like the Monkees, without a sonic identity. But Small’s writing raises enough hair to generate a bristly listening experience.
The success grows in no Small part from the hands of Dark Angel/Death drummer Gene Hoglan. A double-kick specialist, Hoglan can also pull off any other style, and splice unlikely companions together to feel like a song. In the three and a half minutes of the opening “Bloodlines,” for instance, he helps meld elements of Sabbath, Queen and Dimmu, not to mention a harpsichord bridge, into a tight, dynamic unit anchored by his metallic rhythm tribute to Bo Diddley. Pretty damn ingenious.
Nothing stiffs on “Deathalbum II.” “The Cyborg Slayers” sticks out with the most anomalous sound, a boogie tribute to “Load”-era Metallica sporting an undeathlike vocal. You’ll twist to the devil-dance beat and zappo arpeggios of “Laser Cannon Deth Sentence,” and kneel before the rising Valkyrie chorus of “Volcano” that appropriately concludes the album. My own pick is the self-fighting rhythm, metal-rap chant and backward change-up of the longer, slower “Murmaider II: The Water God,” which conjures latter-day Deep Purple’s angstfully melodic “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming.”
With ever-improving skills and his music’s less soundtracky thrust, Small looks to be gunning for serious recognition, and he ought to get it. Even his lyrics (“We bless you with our mark/Become a part of the Klok/Become a gear”) ring with subtle intelligence. Heavy metal always skirts the cliff between melodrama and self-parody. But in a blindfold test of “Dethalbum II,” a true metal fan won’t come away saying he just heard a comedy record.
Last week, the third season of “Metalocalypse” began airing on a schedule of Sundays (a.k.a. Saturday nights) at 12:30 a.m. on the Adult Swim network. The season’s premiere episode is viewable here.
Mastodon, Dethklok, High on Fire and Converge play the Palladium on Thursday, November 19. Dethklok’s touring band, which performs in the dark in front of a screen projecting “Metalocalypse” images, includes Brendon Small, drummer Gene Hogland, guitarist Mike Keneally and bassist Bryan Beller.
The Gates of Slumber, “Hymns of Blood and Thunder” (Metal Blade)
Indianapolis’ the Gates of Slumber will make you want to wave your beer bottle around. Drummer Bob Fouts and bassist Jason McCash haul the freight like a train full of pig iron. Guitarist Karl Simon has a pancreas-saturating tone, a warehouse of Sabbathy riffs, and a concise, persuasive way of soloing that’s a true gift. Too bad Simon has other baggage common to many lead guitarists: a really ordinary, strained voice more suitable for demanding peanuts, plus a penchant for writing comic/cosmic lyrics. He might get away with having no lead singer when GoS are pounding walls and blowing PAs in crappy clubs across this great land. But Pelican producer Sanford Parker has been instructed to ignore time-honored stoner wisdom and elevate Simon’s singing into audible range within the otherwise powerful analog mix. Too bad axdudes who’ve ruled the mike for 10 years never give it up.
Ancestors, “Of Sound Mind” (Tee Pee)
Ancestors pack a little more variety and chest hair in the vocal department, but mainly they don’t sing as much. The L.A. five just establish a heavy atmosphere, cycle their melodic riffs and semiprogressive progressions, and let you groove -- I’ve seen them live, and it works. It helps that they’ve got a synthesizer player AND an organist-pianist (Chico Foley and Jason Watkins) who enjoy milking different trippy/cushy sounds, and that guitarist Justin Maranga understands dynamics. Here’s righteous non-aggro rock you can relax with after a hard day, and nobody’s gonna call you a pansy. Or at least I won’t.