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Being in the happy state of indifference/ignorance of the goings on in mainstream culture puts things in a different perspective, or at least that is my way of rationalizing the fact that I am getting too old to keep informed of the particulars regarding every latest craze. I don’t keep up to date on the latest releases and barely get to the theater at all, and my ritual worship of out-of-date video games and B grade Sci-Fi/Fantasy movies from the 80s affords me no time for television apart from the latest South Park episode mocking the decline of American culture. To put it plainly, I have not seen Metalocalypse, I know absolutely nothing about it apart from the occasional secondary source panning it as a bland rehash of what Spinal Tap pulled off decades ago, and thus my judgment of Dethklok is based solely on my subjective analysis of the merits of what I hear, kid hipsters and my own reputation be damned.
Although the joking subgenre offered up by this fictitious band on their show reads as Ragnarok metal, a more proper title for it would be wiffle melodeath. Much like the pejorative term denoting early 90s groove/thrash, it is noted for being extremely predictable and unadventurous, though in this case it is less so for hypnotic riff loops than for melodic material that is incredibly steeped in cliché. Add to this a really bland and somewhat comical rendering of the death metal vocal style, lacking almost any level of distinctiveness in its murky middle ground between raspy Gothenburg barks and lightweight attempts at deeper New York scene brutal grunts, and what emerges is a 3rd rate metal band that occasionally just misses falling into metal core territory.
But within this rather dubious context of softball extreme metal, something of a guilty pleasure seems to permeate the overly smooth edges of this simplistic and slickly produced fit of misguided commercial satire. Perhaps some of it can be credited to Hoglan’s integrity as a drumming maestro, or to the fact that some of these songs contain some fairly solid, albeit derivative, ideas. Call me crazy, but withal the oversimplified Children Of Bodom meets Amon Amarth worship going on in “The Gears”, I find myself nodding along and feeling a measured sense of satisfaction. Even more overtly unoriginal fits of generic melodeath emulations like “Black Fire Upon Us” and somewhat posh manifestations of it in “Volcano” and “I Tamper With Evidence At The Murder Site Of Odin” somehow manage to put a smile on my face.
Naturally, some of the material on here gets a little too formulaic and comes off as ridiculous, in somewhat the same fashion that Trivium has in the past. Probably the clearest example is “Mermaider II - The Water God”, which tries to balance a slow trudging doom character with the comical melodies attributed to previously mentioned songs, and with a combined offense coming from a really banal vocal performance, just drags along and sounds like a 10 minute song in a 5 minute song body. “Bloodlines” and “Burn The Earth” fail in a somewhat different way, and simply bang out non-catchy, over-produced riffs in an ad nauseam attempt at making themselves memorable. And to top it all off, there is actually a really bad attempt at merging melodic death with Cannibal Corpse in “Dethsupport”, which will probably induce a cynical sigh quicker than the playful giggle that it’s probably aiming for.
Although the obvious attempt of all this is mass media propagation, there is a unique paradox to this album that makes it work on some levels. It is definitely well beyond any hope of seriousness, but it has a sort of charm to it that is completely missing from other commercial pandering such as the last several crapshoots put out by In Flames and Children Of Bodom. A would be consumer of this album, who isn’t in love with the television show that bore this project, will probably find himself hitting the skip button occasionally on the less than frequent instances that he listens to it. But this album does have its place, and it is not at the bottom of the barrel.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 24, 2010.
Review of Dethklok - Dethalbum II (Standard version)
First I have to say, I don't watch the Metalocalypse show at all and I'm not too aware of anything related to Dethklok except the musicians (both the real and the fictitious). This is a straight review of the album and the music.
A friend of mine watches Metalocalypse and listens to Dethklok, and he played some tunes of them for me back in like 2006. I remember it sounding pretty shitty and it didn't really make an impact on me at all. In 2007, when The Dethalbum were released, I gave it a chance. However, I found some tunes on it, maybe like four or five, that I liked. I was unaware of the release of this album, but the same friend of mine played "Comet Song" for me and I thought is was pretty good. I decided to check the whole album out, just to see if it's any better than the last one and man - it is!
I listened to track after track and found myself liking all of the tunes, and what was the reason for that? I've got a few thoughts 'bout that: more melodic elements in the songs, a symphonic approach in the tunes and it all seems to have a bigger soul behind it. I also feel like this album is more oriented between heavy / slower bits and fast bits. The Dethalbum really, for me, felt like it wanted to be as brutal as possible (except for that song "Detharmonic"). I overall think an album should vary between the tunes and not have every song being the same. That was the lack that The Dethalbum had and this hasn't.
The album production is another great thing with this album. It sounds somewhat thicker than the debut and I like the guitar tone as well as the drums. The musicianship between Brendan Small and Gene Hoglan (the man!) is really tight. It sounds very rehearsed but still so real, unlike Lamb of God's two albums before "Wrath", for instance.
And now to the best and least good things with Dethalbum II:
Best things: The variety between the songs and the symphonic approach. Pretty nice album cover too. It's cheesy, but still cool. It's a metal-type thing, I guess.
Least good things: The lack of any bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, like The Dethalbum had (quite many as well). The keyboards could at certain times be a little louder in the mix.
That's it really. It's a great album and definitely better than The Dethalbum. Get it! I can pretty much guarantee that you won't regret it!
Final rating: 9/10.
Best songs: Laser Cannon Deth Sentence, The Cyborg Killers, Bloodlines.
Least good song: Symmetry.
It’s very hard to know what to expect going into a Dethklok album. On the one hand, criticisms about it not being profficient enough are silly: ultimately, this is a spin-off from an animated comedy series. The songs from “This is Spinal Tap” aren’t particular impressive in of themselves either, but as music from a mockumentary it’s good. On the other hand, this IS an actual album being released, and it’s origins surely can’t excuse it from all criticism? You can’t just say for every negative point “It’s a joke”, and leave it at that. Obviously “Birthday Dethday” is a joke, but nevertheless this is an attempt to take the snippets used to enhance the show and make them into proper songs.
So with Dethalbum I tried to judge in terms of how well it converted the snippets into full songs. Could it add sections, riffs, solos and so on to flesh them out without feeling like it’s just needlessly padding 15 minutes into an hour? I felt it did that quite well, so it deserved a reasonable score.
Dethalbum II is an interesting departure. Number 1 was very much a product of the show: it was Dethklok, but it was also clearly Metalocalypse. Now imagine Dethklok being real and actually releasing an album: that’s what this one sounds like. Or if Small had had the idea but never made a TV show about Dethklok, just jumped straight to an album.
Small sounds like he’s trying to distance the album from the show somewhat. It’s audible in the vocals, the way they are done differently: It still sounds like Nathan Explosion most of the time. But there are also parts where he takes things to more of a raspy growl than a deep one, a touch more black metal from time to time. There are others where you can hear more of a plain (albeit aggressive) voice amid the layers of vox. This variation adds nicely, and helps the songs sustain themselves, but it also sounds less like the Nathan Explosion fans of the show are familiar with. At times he sound more like a gravelly Dave Mustaine than a death metal vocalist.
Dethalbum I had sections where the band members would talk, and these too are gone now. You also won't be hearing any outright comic songs like the coffee jingle or Birthday Dethday. It all feels less like a spin-off from the series and more like Small taking the basic idea of Dethklok and making an album based around it. While the first album had to be looked at within the context of the show, this one is the inverse. And in that new context, it still works quite well. It keeps things varied, provides that same kind of catchy melodeath, and musically it’s definitely both more ambitious than the last and reasonably successful in that. The first half of the album is firmly the best, with solid atmosphere in Black Fire Upon Us, intensity of a sort within The Gears and the catchiness aplenty in Burn the Earth and Laser Cannon Deth Sentence. Alas, the second half suffers from some overly long songs that just become boring. I Tamper With Evidence and Murmaider II are prime examples that just don't build up any real momentum. Volcano feels too much like a recycling of The Gears, and Symmetry is fairly wishy-washy, so the album starts strong but unfortunately ends up bogged down with weaker tracks, though there are plenty of good offerings too.
The problem is that in trying to stand on it’s own, it loses the safety net of the show: heavy metal musical criticisms suddenly gain validity. Small is sticking his neck out with more of a genuine musical endeavour, and I don’t know how well it will be received. Fans of the series may feel it’s “not Metalocalypse enough”, and non-fans may still feel it’s “not death metal enough”. This one can’t be judged on how well it converts the series into songs, but more simply, “How good a metal album is it?” It's fun and catchy, but still basic and reliant on such hooks and catches. The core sound of Dethklok is ultimately quite shallow in that respect, and though this was fine when it was a spin-off from a TV series, can it sustain interest for more of a stand-alone album? In some songs the fairly simple and sometimes rock-rooted approach works well, crafting something that is catchy even if it isn't particularly impressive (Burn the Earth and Laser Cannon Deth Sentence being good examples), but sometimes it results in a song that's just too frail and simple (Symmetry or The Cyborg Slayers). Ultimately, I find it an enjoyable listen for the most part, and that's the important thing, but if Small is committing himself to making more of a genuine metal release as opposed to a TV spin-off album, he still has a way to go.