So much has happened since Spinal Tap. Digital portals have blurred the borders of “underground music.” Metallica is a household word. Virtuosity no longer clashes with brutality. And heavy metal has become the primary cultural export of Scandinavia.
BAD-ASS: Small wants Metalocalypse to pair comedy with the “awesome, grandiose elements that we love in metal.”
Metal remains fertile ground for satire on all fronts, but what sets the Cartoon Network’s new animated series Metalocalypse (premiering this Sunday at 11:45 pm on “Adult Swim”) apart is the reverence that precedes the ridicule. The show is created by fans for fans, to recruit the uninitiated and slay the posers. Creators Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha are so into metal, they ingest it like coffee.
Explaining it to me for the Webzine Maelstrom.nu, Small said, “We’re not making fun of metal but of celebrity culture. We love metal, and feel protective of it, as any fan should. But the funny thing about celebrities is that we tend to worship people who cause bad things to happen. They can literally get away with murder.”
Metalocalypse follows the mayhem surrounding the world’s biggest band, and 12th-largest economy, Dethklok. They live in a gigantic upside-down dragon boat perched atop the fjords of Norway. They cause disaster, destruction, and bloodshed wherever they go. In an age where metal is king, Dethklok’s business savvy trumps the world’s most shrewd visionaries. But they’re excessively dumb when it comes to the most rudimentary tasks. For example, they don’t know how to make food for themselves — not even a sandwich. During one scene, guitarist Skwisgarr Skwigelf tries to make coffee with a toaster. Although they’ve outsold the Beatles, Dethklok are, Brendon Small promises, “Just a thousand times more dangerous and a billion times more stupid.”
Heck yes, they’re dangerous — a shady symposium of world leaders scrutinizes the band’s every move. “We must watch them,” the group’s pensive, gravel-voiced chairman instructs from the shadows. As a cultural force, Dethklok are a matter of international security. They accidentally kill 100,000 of their fans within the first five minutes of the season premiere. The sheer volume of silly violence (operative word: volume) makes terrorists look like total pussies. Amen.
Brendon Small emerged from Boston’s comedy scene after graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1997. He found comedy more liberating than becoming a session musician or an industry screw. Producer Loren Bouchard caught Brendon’s stand-up routine one evening at the Comedy Studio (above the Hong Kong in Harvard Square) and, attracted to both his humor and vocal delivery, asked him to contribute to the cartoon series Home Movies. The show — about an eight-year-old film auteur — amassed a cult following for its dry wit and irreverence, running four seasons on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block.
Small’s new focus on writing a metal show is not without precedent: he composed all of the music for Home Movies, and he brought his guitar-shredding talents to the public ear in the classic episode “Guitarmageddon.” For Metalocalypse, he goes farther still, with growling vocals, frenzied blastbeats, and Yngwie Malmsteen–drenched guitar solos. He even writes the show’s supermarket muzak.
As for Tommy Blacha, he was once the creative director for World Wrestling Entertainment. Do the math. He was also on staff at Late Night with Conan O’Brien and TV Funhouse, the latter being the creation of edgy comedy animator and Triumph the Insult-Comic Dog Robert Smigel. The Smigel connection should give you a sense of the twisted sense of humor behind Metalocalypse.
“Ted Nugent once said that there’s something inherently stupid about rock and roll,” Blacha explains over the phone from LA. “I agree, but we aren’t derisive of metal. For example, when we had Michael Amott [guitarist, Arch Enemy] come in to do voices for the show, it was really pleasing to have him tell us in his Swedish accent, ‘I don’t like it when people make fun of metal, but you guys know what you’re doing.’ He gave us this one head nod, and we were like, ‘YES! That’s exactly what we wanted.’ ”
METAL MANIA: Within the first five minutes of the season premiere, Dethklok accidentally kill 100,000 of their fans.
Anyone who thinks he knows what to expect from Brendon Small solely on the basis of his Home Movies work is in danger of missing out. The visual style of Metalocalypse is much more realistic than Home Movies — more Aeon Flux than Simpsons. The show plays in widescreen to emphasize scale, structural depth, and lurid color. Anyone who has studied metal album covers can appreciate this æsthetic. Metalocalypse is also faster-paced than the often dry and sardonic Home Movies. You can blink and miss something, because the show crams a lot of mayhem into its 11-minute episodes.
Small: “It’s a lot more visual than Home Movies was. We manipulate the camera a lot more. We wanted to be able to pause a frame and say, ‘Wow, those guys look bad-ass.’ If they’re standing in a supermarket, put them in a metal pose. They have not changed their jeans in months. They smell bad. They will fucking kick your ass.”