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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 I don’t keep up to date on the latest releases and barely get to the theater at all, and my ritual worship of out-of-date video games and B grade Sci-Fi/Fantasy movies from the 80s affords me no time for television apart from the latest South Park episode mocking the decline of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.