When cartoon bands go on tour
HORNS UP Dethklok, "the most brutal band in the world" and stars of Adult Swim's juggernaut of animated murder, Metalocalypse, are touring in support of their recently released Dethalbum (Williams Street), which peaked at number three on the Billboard hard rock album chart and reached number 21 on the Billboard 200, making it the best-selling death metal album of all time. The fact that a cartoon band bested Slayer's Reign in Blood (Def Jam, 1986) might bum out old-time metalists, but facts have to be faced here: not even Slayer are more brutal than the almighty 'Klok. Even when tackling stand-up comedy or band therapy, they're unquestionably dark and unrelenting (and hilarious).
Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small started playing guitar by learning the riff to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and went on to Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music. He later took comedy writing classes at Berklee's sister school, Emerson College, which led to stand-up and ultimately the Adult Swim show Home Movies. When that show was canceled, Small got together with his friend Tommy Blacha "the only guy in comedy who would go and see death metal shows with me," Small told me over the phone during a recent San Francisco visit and they came up with the following pitch: "We've got a TV show. It's going to be about a metal band, and there's going to be tons of murder. And we're not interested in having anyone understand anything anyone says."
Metalocalypse openly acknowledges the humor inherent in the more-doom-laden-than-thou world of metal while paying homage to music that Small clearly loves and respects. "I look at it this way," Small said. "You go to a Cannibal Corpse concert, and they look like five serial killers onstage. And their songs are about murder, about how you how you are going to die. You're in a pit of zombies, you're bent over backwards, and you're going to be fucked with a knife. And I'm, like, 'Oh, fuck yeah.' That's the same kind of appreciation I have for horror movies. In a serious way and in a very kind of fun, audience way, where you see in a movie a face splatters, and the audience goes, 'Yeah!' It's that kind of dynamic. There's still a lot of people who don't really get metal and kind of make fun of it. It's like when you go and see a Broadway performance of Rent or Wicked or something. It's like laughing at the fact that they learned their lines and got in character. It's the same exact thing these guys nail their parts."
Despite being anchored in an alternate reality where the most popular entertainment act in the world and the 12th-largest economy is a death-metal band, Metalocalypse is "not even about a metal band," Small said. Rather, "it's about celebrityism. We're making fun of celebrities and our country's fascination with them." Small and Blacha use this allure to highlight the brutality of the everyday bummer. "It's not 'fucked with a knife' or anything, but there's shit that really fucks up your life all the time, and that's fuckin' brutal. Like, I don't know...." He paused for a second or two before coming up with things that are truly inhumane: "Humidity. Going to the dentist. Going to the DMV. People not making up their mind in front of you at Starbucks. It's fucking brutal. That's all a metal song. Every one of those are lyrics."
With ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Nov. 2, 57 p.m., free
Lower Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley, near Bancroft at Telegraph, Berk.
For the complete interview with Brendon Small, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/noise .