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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.