What makes a band a “band”? Can the same band exist in two different universes? Take über-metal band Dethklok, for example: In the world of the Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse, Dethklok isn’t just the ne plus ultra of rock brutality; it’s the beginning and end of all pop culture. Not only is the band responsible for one of the largest economies in the world—so much so that a delayed release of one of its records spirals the rest of the globe into a “dethcession”—its billions of rabid fans happily sign “pain waivers” legally relinquishing the band from all liability should someone be killed or maimed at its concerts.
In the real world, though, Metalocalypse is the brainchild of Brendon Small, who co-created, co-produces, and co-writes the show. (He also voices three-fifths of Dethklok’s members, including lead growler Nathan Explosion). But seeing how the show is so steeped in the realm of heavy metal (albeit in an outrageous parody form), Small writes and records all of Dethklok’s songs with the help of real-life drum-master journeyman Gene Hoglan. After the show became a cult hit in 2007, Dethklok began to tour, with the human band playing, Gorillaz-style, behind projections of the animated members. On top of all that, two real-life collections of tunes from the show (The Dethalbum and Dethalbum II) became the highest-charting death metal albums of all time, bringing a whole new audience to the genre. In these respects, Dethklok is as real a band as any.
The band’s latest volume, Dethalbum III, features some of Small’s best melodies and instrumentation to date. “Crush The Industry” features an intricate hell-and-back intro and a squealing solo from Small (or lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf, if you prefer), while “Andromeda” features a sliding riff that most “real” metal bands would kill for. Originally appearing in Metalocalypse’s season-three finale, “The Galaxy” is Dethalbum III’s highlight, ranking among the band’s best and most epic tracks. As superbly talented as Brendon Small and bassist Bryan Beller are, it’s Gene Hoglan’s hammering double-bass work at the song’s climax that really does the animated band proud.
Since the release of the first Dethalbum in 2007, Dethklok’s album output has focused more on the serious side of the band’s musical talent and less on making fans laugh. That isn’t to say that Metalocalypse itself isn’t as funny as it once was, but rather a sign that the band—both cartoon and real-life—has evolved. Small and the rest of the crew could have given fans a disc full of the funniest moments from the third and fourth seasons, but they continue to make albums that are way better than any cartoon has to be.