Judge Bill Gibron can throw hand signs with the best of them, but there's no way he can "digitally" describe the brilliance of this Adult Swim series.
Our reviews of Metalocalypse: Season Two (published December 24th, 2008), Metalocalypse: Season Three (published November 17th, 2010), and Metalocalypse: Season Four (Blu-ray) (published October 29th, 2012) are also available.
We Will Make Everything Metal!
First, there was roots music, sounds collected from a cultural subconscious. It eventually merged and morphed into the Alan Freed-defined rock 'n' roll, with stop-offs at bluegrass, rockabilly, and the all-important R&B along the way. Soon, the "roll" was dropped, and standard rock emerged with its easily accessorized nomenclature. There was acid and power pop, blues-based and retro revisionism. Then everything became heavy. Then punky. Enter New/No Wave and speed/thrash. Soon death and corpse-grinding horror became rock's archetype. Eventually, everything was boiled down to a simple, significant term, one word that best exemplified the amplified power of a set of drums, a bass, a pair of screaming guitars and one high-voiced (or low-throated) frontman. The word was metal, and its multilayered linguistic approach—a person could be metal, live a metal lifestyle, or metal 'til they puked—signified the farthest reaches of rock's thunderclap. That is, until megaawesomesupergroup Dethklok came on the scene. So brutal, so angry, so very, very metal, the fierce fivesome is the world's most popular band. Yet a high-level governmental conspiracy believes they are something more. True to the tenets of their genre, they appear to be potential portents of the upcoming Metalocalypse!
Facts of the Case
Created by comedians Brendon Small and Tommy Blancha, the 20 11-minute episodes of the first season of Metalocalypse have finally made it onto DVD. This hugely popular Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series follows the adventures of Dethklok, infamous death metal combo and twelfth-largest economy in the world. It makes Metallica look like minor monkey shite by comparison. The band consists of bassist William Murderface (filled with homicidal rage), Skwisgaar Skwisgelf (aloof Scandinavian guitar savant), Nathan Explosion (brooding lead singer), Pickles the Drummer (a Midwest moron), and Toki Wartooth (another Nordic axe wielder). Because of their popularity, they are watched by an evil tribunal. This Illuminati-like league is led by Senator Stampingston and seats such craven cabalists as General Crozier, Cardinal Ravenwood, and Mr. Selatcia. Their uncertain purpose seems to be centered on monitoring the band's every move while infiltrating their minion ranks to hopefully destroy them from the inside. Eventually, we learn of their part in preventing/jumpstarting the upcoming "Apocalypse of Metal."
The 20 episodes here follow a scattered story arc. Some installments are isolated vignettes. Others maintain and modify the end-of-the-world mythology. Specifically, here are the storylines included as part of this DVD set:
In a programming realm that's seen similar slices of animated brilliance (Futurama, Aqua Teen Hunger Force) Metalocalypse stands apart. To call it a better example of what This Is Spinal Tap originally strove to illustrate would not be an overstatement. This is by far the smartest, most insightful statement concerning metal ever conceived. The obvious creation of true fans, what we witness over the course of 230 near-perfect minutes is the direct deconstruction of the sex/drugs/rock 'n' roll mythos mixed with every warning ever issued by the PMRC and the FCC. As someone who has enjoyed the odd death metal DVD, who has seen acts like Kreator and Opeth reconfigure the standard sonic setups, I find these animated agent provocateurs absolutely flawless. It's all present—the borderline illegible pretensions, the unbridled dedication to art, the wavering lifestyle skills, the jaded joi de vivre that comes from a sense of being above mere humanity. Toss in a selection of songs that turns the power of parody on its pointed little head and a cartoon style that's best described as The Evil Dead meets anime and you've got a remarkable example of satiric sturm und drang.
One of the best things about Metalocalypse is the instant recognizability of the character types. Nathan Explosion is the kind of hulky, longhaired hero who clearly appears to be overcompensating for something. As the storylines play out, we learn exactly what he has to be ashamed of. Similarly, William Murderface is a ranting, raving loon, a man so unhinged that its hard to imagine that his brain manages even the most involuntary of bodily functions. Yet once we meet his family, all the desperation and rage seems absolutely excusable. Indeed, "Dethfam" is one of Season One's best efforts, since it encapsulates dozens of dysfunctional issues (Skwisgaar's slutty mom, Toki's Puritanical parents) into a sensational soup of psychological scarring. Even better, Metalocalypse loves to focus its lumbering lampoons at that most miserable of career curses—the fans. From their constant rioting (Dethklok will miss a release date and millions of followers will lay waste to their city) to their noxious desire to get to as close to their heroes as possible, the fat turd tweaking and nerd-bal kicking of Dethklok's demo add an additional layer of much-needed farce to the frequently dark (and rather gory) narratives. It helps put things in a plausible and applicable perspective.
As mentioned before, anyone who's seen Some Kind of Monster will recognize Metallica as one of the many main inspirations here. From the corporate concept of their empire-like existence to the intrusive therapist brought in to soothe seething band riffs, the noted metal world giants get a good going over here. All that's missing is an anti-Napster-like sequence to complete the farcical façade. Numerous European death acts that believe every single word of their morbid, macabre-laced lyrics also get a tender tub-thumping. Anyone privy to the number of fiercely committed black-rock bands of Sweden and Finland will find more than a little in common with Dethklok's conceptualization. Toss in a touch of the standard poseur positions—hair swirling, devil-horn hand signs, onstage corpse make-up—a hilarious swipe at Guns 'N' Roses, and a wonderful walk through the entire history of shredded sound, and you've got a knowing overview of what many consider the least mainstream musical genre around. Yet Metalocalypse does a brilliant job of making this metal embraceable and winning. Since we get to know the players, and their unusual proclivities and perversion, it's easy to "get into" Dethklok. It functions as a real phenomenon because the series treats it as such.
Certainly, there are moments when the joke is taken to obvious extremes (the apology to Finland, the final confrontation between members of the Tribunal), but for the most part, Metalocalypse is so sly that you really can't see the spoofing. Everything, from Nathan's witchy woman and the obese boy the band "adopts" to the various one-off characters that use their expertise (birthday whiz, child-control specialist) to make Dethklok's life difficult, Small and Blancha forge every facet into something brash but believable. They've even extended the joke to an actual CD release. Dethalbum was released on Sept. 22, 2007, and actually entered the Billboard charts at No. 21—and it's an act made up of fictional cartoon characters! It's indicative of the connection this series makes with the viewer. We laugh at the ridiculous needs of the pampered prima donnas, giggle at the constant clichés about everything associated with a life in show business (the band's egghead manager and CFO Charles Foster Ofdensen is a nonstop source of corporate-speak stupidity), and marvel at the menacing, moody cacophony created by the band. And we love every minute of it. We bang our heads and thrust our fists just like the mindless throngs enraptured by Dethklok's sonic boom. If you've never seen this marvelous series, Metalocalypse: Season 1 is an excellent place to start. It's a pristine introduction to a marvelous fake band and the talented men behind the drawing boards.
Williams Street, self-proclaimed DVD whores, have a lot to answer for, especially to rabid fans of the show. Though each episode of Metalocalypse is offered in a wonderful 1.78:1 widescreen image, the transfer here is fake letterboxed full-screen. That's right, this amazingly inventive series is showcased in an ancient, laughable 4x3 non-anamorphic picture. The only logical response is: Why? Why in this day and age of flat-screen technology, HD leanings, and the digital desire for precise aspect ratios would you release one of those notorious black-bar bafflers? It just doesn't make sense. On the positive side, the visuals are sumptuous and rich with detail. It definitely stands with some of the best animation in the genre, including the meticulous creations from the East. Equally weak is the decision to stay with a standard Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix. For a show that celebrates the decibel brutality of smash and bang death metal, the lack of a 5.1 revamp is almost inexcusable. Still, the aural aspects here are perfectly acceptable, if not all that aggressive. Finally, the added content is hidden on each menu. You have to do some concerting Easter-egging to find it. When successful, you'll discover outtakes, extended scenes, and band interviews. It's not the most overwhelming collection of context, but it is offered unrated and raw (unlike the episodes themselves, which still have mandatory language bleeps). Sadly, audio commentaries promised as part of the publicity materials provided by Warner Brothers are nowhere to be found.
It's rare when a cartoon can challenge the established brilliance of South Park, The Simpsons, Master Shake and the gang, or the tried-and-true idiocy of the original hobbled headbangers, Beavis and Butthead. But Metalocalypse easily becomes that No. 1 with a bullet. Thanks to its clever combination of creative elements, the intellectualized insight into an almost brainless entertainment experience, and the meticulous care taken to give everything a legitimate larger-than-life aura, we wind up with something that gets better and more unabashed as one watches. Even if your taste in tunes runs to the latest hip-hop jam, or you couldn't imagine enjoying a show about self-centered rockers regaling the planet with their regressed, reprobate personalities, you should give this sensational series a try. Metalocalypse is more than a show about metal. It's about our perception of the genre, and what it would be like if people actually embraced and existed in such a fanciful state. So get hellbent for leather, run to the hills, and mark the number of the beast. Dethklok is here, and ready to brutalize the ballads right out of you. Get angry. Get mad. Get METAL! Get Metalocalypse.
Not guilty. A great show. A so-so DVD package.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Band Interviews
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