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I love Dethklok. I just can't get enough of the idea that a balding, middle-aged man can put out multiple albums' worth of solid death metal whose main purpose is to lovingly make fun of death metal. I'm endlessly impressed at how appropriately the band can employ the same cliches they're lampooning. But The Dethalbum II is the butt of its own joke.
From the very beginning, something seems amiss. The pseudo-tribal hand drumming that opens the record doesn't blend well with the guitar that soon appears. And when the guitar does appear, it seems odd too: the lead line sounds a lot more metalcore than metal. Some crossover is understandable; metalcore as we know it would not exist without Dark Tranquility or At the Gates. But here, it's strike two against an album that manages to deny its roots in the first ten seconds.
The record doesn't improve much from here. Boring palm-muted riffs feel remarkably out of place compared to earlier Dethklok tunes. Prominent keyboards and clean guitars attempt to soar in interludes, but the songs do nothing to earn such drastic shifts. And though Small is no longer using the god-awful breathy vocals of the first album, he hasn't exactly perfected his style. All his growls sound weak and forced, like Johan Hegg on life support.
The whole ordeal sounds a little more phoned-in and a lot less thought out. This is only worsened by the average track length of four to five minutes. That may not be especially long for some metal bands, but when the song consists mostly of the same riff played over and over, listening to the album can become an exercise in patience. Even the verse-chorus-verse structure gets irritating. Death metal is known for its abandonment of traditional song formats, and the dismissal of that hallmark does not serve Small and company well.
The middle of the album, however, features two of its best songs and makes the wait worthwhile. "Dethsupport", clocking in at 2:41 and full of aggressive riffs, is a sigh of relief amidst keyboard-lead dirges. The repetitious "pull the plug" chant is supremely irritating, but forgiveable. Even the guitar solo is enjoyable here; it's not too much better than any other solos on the album but this one doesn't overstay its welcome. Soon enough, a time signature bending outro gives way to "The Cyborg Slayers". What makes this song interesting is that it doesn't try to be death metal. Instead, it sits comfortably as an alt metal/metalcore hybrid, full of groove sections and melodic rhythm guitars. It's marred pretty severely by a full-on breakdown and Small's mind-numbingly poor high screams, but it's a welcome change of pace.
Unfortunately, the album's brief improvement turns right back around. Side B is even more boring than side A, and includes one of the most cringe-worthy moves a band can make: track 9 is a sequel to an earlier song. There are plenty of artistic avenues for telling multi-part stories, but extreme metal albums are not among them. As if the concept itself weren't enough of a misstep, the track is nearly six minutes long - Dethklok doesn't know how to handle a song half that length without repeating the intro riff nineteen times. To call it 'drawn-out' would be a gross understatement; the track seems tailored to torture its every listener with directionless shredding and obnoxious chugging.
The real saving grace of the album, and indeed its best track, is album closer "Volcano". Everything that didn't work for the first eleven tracks works perfectly here. The keyboards and choral vocals add drama and mystique. The guitar solo manages to sound impressive instead of masturbatory. The metalcore breakdowns actually fit the riffs that soar above them. Even Small's high screams sound infinitely better on "Volcano" than anywhere else.
But this is almost tragic - if Dethklok was capable of writing material of this caliber, why must the rest of the record be so drab? The album doesn't sound artistic, it sounds like there was a deadline. It's a final project; they'll pass the class, but the professor's red pen will leave no spot unmarked. With The Dethalbum II, Dethklok has produced some perfectly acceptable metal, but it's a shame to see such a drop in quality.
After the popularity of the first album with fans of the show, Brendon decided to take it a notch up for the second album. While the first album was a simple soundtrack of the songs featured in the show, this one shows a lot more promise. Some of the songs included wouldn't be seen until season 3 long after, and any songs there were in the show were greatly improved from the original. The first album marked Dethklok as an "intro band", and it's clear here that Brendon Small was seeing how people would react to him trying to change that.
Probably the most notable change in this album is the vocals. Brendon scrapped the deeper growls filled with vibration for a more higher pitched growl with slightly less vibrations to them. Some like the new sound, some don't. Dethklok fans most likely won't mind it too much, but others might be turned off by it. It truly is a unique sound, and was an essential step to Brendon's mastering of his vocal skills.
To start with, the guitars are significantly better in this album. The previous album had some solos here or there, and a lot of them in Thunderhorse, but none of them were really that unique or spectacular. This album disagrees with the first. It takes on a much more unique, melodic sound and features some really interesting and original solos and riffs. Notable "melodic" songs are "Black Fire Upon Us" and "I Tamper With The Evidence At The Murder Site of Odin." Some other songs keep the original Dethklok sound, such as "Symmetry" or "Volcano." While the guitar work here is great, it's just the lack of good licks at times that really bring the album down. The sound can get old. I have personally had periods of time where I wanted to hear the album every other day, and times where I didn't want to hear it at all. I have to admit, however, that the break downs are pretty brutal int his album. Regardless, the guitar work in this album marked the rise of Brendon's songwriting and guitar playing prowess.
The drum work is phenomenal. In the previous album, Brendon originally used a drum machine during the process of writing songs for the show's first season. The original "Thunderhorse" uses a drum machine, for example. Later, however, he adopted Gene Hoglan, dubbed the "Human Drumming Machine", into the band. Gene Hoglan is a drumming god, being able to kick away pedals at incredible speeds never seen or heard before. He does an even better job on this album than he did on the first Dethalbum. Probably the most impressive is his drumming work on "The Gears."
The bass work is very subtle in this album, especially when Gene Hoglan is hammering away at his drums. People have done covers without the use of a bass and the song sounds essentially the same. However, I argue that the bass, done by Bryan Beller (who never played death metal before Dethklok) is just as essential here. If you need convincing, simply pop the album into your CD player (or vinyl or digital file) and turn the bass on and off. It really does add a layer of atmosphere that we often take for granted, assuming your speakers are of good quality. There is no better feeling than cranking up the bass on this album while in my car, being able to feel the music rush through my body.
The album is a big step up from the previous, and the sound truly is unique. It's worth a shot for people who don't like the really guttural sounding melodic death metal bands, and for those who do, give it a listen before you decide. This is a must have for Dethklok and Metalocalypse fans alike, or newbies to the genre, but everyone else can easily live without it.
Worthiest Songs: The Gears, Black Fire Upon Us, I Tamper With The Evidence At the Murder Site of Odin, Murmaider II: The Water God
Dethalbum II is the second Dethklok album, and in many ways, they have improved greatly, but overall I do not find this album to be as good as the first. Let's start with the good stuff. Creatively I think this album takes more chances than its predecessor. The songs don't all follow the same format, intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, there are more variations which makes it more satisfying when something unexpected happens. Another thing that is good is that the stakes seem much higher in a lot of these songs. They give more time to build, and give some bone-crushing climaxes (Laser Cannon Deth-Sentence, Black Fire Upon Us, Bloodlines). The songs are also darker and more aggressive, which can both be a positive and a negative, because while you can take the songs more seriously, they aren't as fun, and they lack the simplicity that gave The Dethalbum its charm.
Now the bad stuff. First, the production. The production is really bad. The vocals are often too quiet, the guitars are usually too digital sounding, the bass can scarcely be made out and the drums sound too fake. And this is personal preference, but I find the keyboards really distracting. They don't seem to fit the rest of the music, and they are put too far in the foreground. I also don't like the vocals. they are really thin and weak. They lack power, though to be fair, they are a lot more expressive than the vocals on The Dethalbum, which tended to stick to a few notes and had little to no emotion.
There are some really good stand out songs on this though such as Bloodlines, Laser Cannon Deth-Sentence, Black Fire Upon Us, Comet Song and Volcano. So I don't think this is as good as The Dethalbum, but I do still think you should listen to it, especially if you liked the first album, there is some really good stuff here!
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.