Music review

A Klok Opera: Dethklok’s Fourth Album Is Less Metal, More Humor

When Adult Swim debuted the brand new cartoon series from Home Movies creator Brendon Small, Metalocalypse, the world was introduced to five metal maestros who aimed to deliver their own brand of fist-to-face, shout-to-hell death metal to the masses. Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Toki Wartooth, William Murderface, Pickles and Nathan Explosion were Dethklok, a band whose massive metal influence simply couldn’t be bound by a television screen. Pioneered in the studio and on stage by creator Brendon Small, Dethklok released three death metal albums, each with brutal metal fundamentals and a satirical outlook on genre itself (when one of your albums has a song called “I Ejaculate Fire”, your tongue is firmly rested in your cheek). After the three Dethalbums, Small and crew released the soundtrack to the Metalocalypse special, The Doomstar Requiem. Though it acts as more of a TV companion album than a standalone death metal juggernaut, The Doomstar Requiem does the band’s journey to reunite justice and offers a remarkable amount of creativity behind the quintet’s purely metal story.

As the soundtrack to the Metalocalypse special The Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera, The Doomstar Requiem acts in a different fashion than the three previous Dethklok albums, The Dethalbums I, II and III. While The Dethalbums were pure death metal records featuring Dethklok at their most natural and brutal, The Doomstar Requiem varies up the songs considerably, acting more like a Broadway soundtrack than the playlist to the rise of the Old Gods. While there are examples of death metal virtuosity on The Doomstar Requiem, it acts very leniently in that image. “I Believe” is an uplifting synth-driven song chock full of vocal melodies, while “How Can I Be a Hero?” contains multiple vocals from the band members (Brendon Small, Mike Keneally). “Abigail’s Lullaby” contains violent and frightening lyrics juxtaposed with an acoustic guitar and vocalist Raya Yarbrough singing high soprano notes. The consistently operatic songs tend to lend more instrumental influence from symphonic metal like Within Temptation than the death metal of Cannibal Corpse. “Givin’ Back to You” is a real oddity, capturing a synth-beat sound that sounds like it’s ripped straight from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The final track, the 24-minute long “Doomstar Orchestra”, plays the closer role with a massive orchestral score that captures that epic vibe that any metal odyssey can relate to. It’s a real cornucopia of sounds that Dethklok display on The Doomstar Requiem; it’s chock full of variety that, while not in tune with what you’d expect from the band, still manages to satisfy in a perverse and nonsensical kind of way.

That’s not to say there isn’t some brutality on The Doomstar Requiem. “The Duel” is a purely metal composition with the same amount of light-speed solos and double bass-pedal smashing as you’d expect from any of the Dethalbums. The same can be said with the single “Blazing Star,” and follower “Morte Lumina” a pair of mighty metal climaxes that bring Dethklok to its most apocalyptic of roots. The metal instrumentation throughout the album are usually set in the background, which is sure to bother long-time Dethklok fans, but when it shows up, it’s still incredible well-done. Songs like “The Answer Is in Your Past” might have some goofy vocals, but they’re still undeniably heavy. But is it heavy enough? If you got hooked on Dethklok from the Dethalbums, The Doomstar Requiem is sure to leave you disappointed. It doesn’t intend to be digested as a death metal album, nor should it really be judged as one. It’s a companion, a way to experience the story of The Doomstar Requiem instead of simply playing in its background.

Very much like past Dethklok albums, though, humor is big part of The Doomstar Requiem. Metalocalypse creator (and Dethklok mastermind) Brendon Small has constantly brought a sense of hyperbole and satire to the stereotypically brutal world of metal. The guttural voice of Small’s Nathan Explosion is both clever and brilliantly performed, with Explosion’s metal growls being the character’s default vocal style. Small and the rest of the longtime cast (like Mike Keneally, Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell) perform throughout the album just as well as on the TV show, with additional musicians like Jack Black and George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher bringing in even more variety. It’s a real circus of characters that drive Dethklok’s fourth album, a humorously ambitious record that seems more in tune with the show’s role as a comedic animated series than a harbinger of the future of heavy metal.

It really can’t be overstated how different The Doomstar Requiem is from its predecessors. Despite its small traces of metal intensity, it very rarely fits the same mold as any of the Dethalbums. Acting as a companion to the hilariously metal TV special, The Doomstar Requiem spends more time telling a story and showing memorable characters than brewing the circle pits. In that regard, it performs its job remarkably well. You really do get to know the characters more and it’s a great way to get yourself hyped for seeing the special on TV. But the goofiness probably won’t be enough for those who fell in love with Dethklok long ago. The Dethalbums were remarkable because they were fantastic death metal records in their own rights, so seeing this shift from seriously composed metal with un-seriously written lyrics to a character-driven humor narrative opera isn’t going to be met with unanimous praise. If you’re looking for the The Dethalbum IV, you won’t find it here. If you’re after a less serious and more experimental interpretation of Dethklok, then The Doomstar Requiem will leave a lasting impression. It’s a companion piece unlike any other and, if you’re willing to leave some comfort zones, you’ll fall in love with Dethklok all over again.

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