Though it may not always sound that way, death metal is meant to be fun. A Slayer show should be throat-shredding catharsis rather than a serious display of Satanic pageantry, and most of the fans realize that when Tom Araya is howling about “The Angel of Death” he’s off his face on cocaine and Jack Daniels, not really writing love letters to Josef Mengele. There are some fans that aren’t in on the joke though; they walk around carving things into themselves and spending their Friday nights burning candles in graveyards rather than meeting women or honouring social conventions regarding hygiene.
I had this point driven home at the Vancouver date of Suffocation’s 2005 tour, when lead singer Frank Mullen screamed to the crowd, “Who here likes killing people?” and the throng stopped hitting each other just long enough to scream back primal agreement. About this time me and my long-suffering travel companion Mike started edging towards the door. This didn’t seem like letting off steam; this pack of unwashed 7-11 clerks actually seemed angry at the world and willing, at that moment, to take a round out of anyone within arm’s reach because of it. Suffocation, it turned out, was a bit much for someone not willing to buy into the lifestyle, but Dethklok, the fictional band featured on the Adult Swim cartoon series Metalocalypse, is much more my speed.
Metalocalypse, a comedy cartoon series centered on faux death metal band Dethklok, the biggest band in history and the world’s twelfth-largest economy, turned out to be a hit for Adult Swim in 2006. It was so popular that creator Brendan Smalls, who voices all five band members – Nathan Explosion, Toki Wartooth, Skwisgar Skwigulf, William Murderface, and Pickles, the drummer – went ahead and recorded a collection of the songs featured on the show's first season. Smalls sang vocal with session musicians providing the hard-driving accompaniment and The Dethalbum came into being. Suffocation fans have nothing to worry about; it’s metal albeit not quite of the “death” variety, driving, brutal, and epic. And very funny.
The first song “Murmaider” kicks off with some serious bass/drum gallop and horror movie guitar but when you realize that the subject of the song is mermaid murder — “Knife? Check. Mermaid? Check. Murder? Check” — you know that no one is taking things too seriously. That said, it manages a pretty killer guitar solo and a chorus of “Murder! Murder! Mermaid! Murder!” that borders on anthemic. Next song “Into the Water” is a four-minute epic that actually manages to evoke the vast coldness of the ocean. I’m not exaggerating; its subject is ridiculous, singing to the sea about a day when man will return to its depths, but the production gives the instruments and vocal room to breathe and the music takes on a kind of heavy majesty reminiscent of Mastodon’s Leviathan.
“Awaken” is the first full-steam ahead number on the album, has a couple guitar solos to its credit, and sounds a little bit like a tranquilized, Arise-era Sepultura.
The rest of the album is just as gleefully brain-dead, with songs about a fugitive using blood to electrocute his pursuers, “Bloodrocuted”, of course, murderous Vikings too proud to ask for directions to the battlefield, “The Lost Vikings” and, well, a “Hatredcopter”.
“Birthday/Dethday” is probably the last word in birthday songs: “Now you’re old and full of hatred, you take a pill to masturbatred” (yes, that’s verbatim from the liner notes). I don’t know if I want that sung to me the next time I have candles to blow out but I do get a cheap laugh from the idea of Marilyn Monroe warbling it to Jack Kennedy. “Castratikron” is another highlight, if for no other reason than it’s the first song I’ve ever heard reference a wizard’s scrotum. I’m sure they all have them; it’s just that I’d never spent much time pondering the subject.
“Fansong” is a fun jab at bands taking their fans for granted, and the album’s final track, “Detharmonic”, sounds like The Beatles’ “Taxman” if it had been pruned of subtlety and covered by Metallica on their S & M album: “If I could write off your murder / I’d save all my receipts / because I’d rather you be dead / than lose a tiny shred of what I made this fiscal year.” Sadly even Tommy Blacha and Brendan Small can’t find something to rhyme with “fiscal year”.
I could be wrong about this but I don’t think anyone has ever tried to have this much fun with death metal. Oh sure, Ensiferum and their fans are funny, but for different reasons.The Dethalbum is a refreshing change from the genre standard, even if it doesn’t strictly adhere to the rules. The way I look at it is that we've still got the old guard Mayhem and Cannibal Corpse, and newer acts like Black Dahlia Murder and In Mourning still blowing amplifiers and the eardrums of disenfranchised refugees from the chess club the world over, so I don't think we need to worry about anyone forgetting the rules of death metal. Why not let Dethklok fool around with them a bit? Even the chess club kids might have some fun.