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Dethklok - "Metalocalypse Season 1" (DVD)

Dethklok - "Metalocalypse Season 1" DVD cover image

"Metalocalypse Season 1" track listing:

1. The Curse Of Dethklok
2. Dethwater
3. Birthdayface
4. Dethtroll
5. Dethkomedy
6. Dethfam
7. Performanceklok
8. Snakes n' Barrels
9. Mordland
10. Fat Kid At The Detharmonic
11. Skwisklok
12. Murdering Outside The Box
13. Go Forth And Die
14. Bluesklok
15. Religionklok
16. Dethkids
17. Dethclown
18. Girlfriendklok
19. Dethstars
20. The Metalocalypse Has Begun

Reviewed by on January 23, 2009

"It's required watching for every metal fan, but more for the niche it fills than for its actual quality."

It's got to be some kind of miracle that Metalocalypse exists at all. Extreme metal hasn't hit the public consciousness for almost two decades, so you'd think a cartoon about punks or hipsters would be likelier to succeed. Or for that matter a claymation series about wisecracking zebras. Instead we've got two professional quality DVD releases so far with a third season in pre-production. The show has spawned a pair of full-on tours, not bad for a band that doesn't actually exist, as well as “The Dethalbum,” the highest-charting death metal release of all time.

If the protagonists of a cartoon can outsell acts from Xasthur to Pantera, there's got to be some crossover appeal. But it's a mark of the creators' honest passion for metal that the series' user-friendliness really doesn't show, at least not to undergrounders like me and you. One of the show's greatest successes comes from its allegiance to real metal, so that all of the satire comes from an accurate source. None of the references and in-jokes are keyed to Papa Roach fans.

Metalocalypse really is the chronicle of the world's most popular true metal band, but in the world where Dethklok dwell, they're the worlds most popular anything at all. What does a metal band do when they're the twelfth largest economy in the world, having “recently surpassed Belgium?” Well, they're just like the drunken grinders down the road, except they live in a labyrinthine mansion/themepark on a billion-acre estate, and they're a lot better at both shredding and getting screwed up. Aside from being excellent at metal Dethklok don't really do anything well. They bicker co-dependently, seeming to genuinely despise each other, and can't comprehend the simplest human motivations, aside from being as brutal and metal as possible.

No heroes are ever more fun than hulking man-children with more power than brains. Metalocalypse is a wicked, high-concept idea for a series, and it's frequently unable to escape its own sense of “Wow, this is so freaking cool!” The second season takes some steps to give the show depth, but on this first season DVD Dethklok's exploits are rarely as intense or funny as they should be. The handful of brilliant moments in each fifteen-minute episode carries the show, but they don't give it staying power.

The problem is how much Metalocalypse celebrates its own one dimensionality. It's not that the plot points are gory. The plot points are only gore, period. At its worst, Metalocalypse is reminiscent of a band like Venom or Napalm Death: pioneering in the field of insane brutality, but without the fine-tuned technique that their successors brought to the table. So for every iconic moment of hilarious, over-the-top bloody mayhem, there are five or six forgettable scenes that don't measure up for creativity, no matter how many entrails are flying around. In the beginning of “Swisklok,” for instance, an autonomous robot dragon goes haywire and explodes while Dethklok's guitarist is shooting a music video. The dragon's fin shears off half the director's head, while one of its tusks impales a screaming sound-tech through the mouth. It's great comedy as it’s quick, merciless, and unexpected, but nearly all of the visual gags in Season one follow this exact template and they quickly become commonplace.

Most of the time the first season wants to get by on pure metal energy, which means brutally gory sight gags and in-episode performances by Dethklok. But the show is really carried by characterization. The dialogue heavy scenes showing how the band interacts are far more funny, and stand up far better to a second viewing, than the scenes where people get shot, blown up, and set on fire. As any fan of their previous series “Home Movies” knows, writers Brendon Small and Tony Blacha excel at zany, deadpan, and perfectly timed dialogue. It’s arguably the greatest strength of Metalocalypse as well, but Small and Blacha could draw much more from it.

Later in “Swisklok,” guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf is showing off the guitars he's invented. “This one is, um, SwissArmyTar, it's a good guitar for camping trip, it's got a toothpick... this one's an antfarm-guitar... this one's the Gibson Excalibuitar... and this is my guitar made from the wood of Christ's cross.” Bassist Murderface then says “Get ready for a billion emails from offended religious weirdos.” Skwigelf replies “What's so offensive about the most religious instrument ever?” The dialogue frequently works, especially when the writers dig into the characters' personalities, but that doesn't really happen until this season nears its end. The voice acting for each band member is brilliant, and carries the characterization, but the distinctions between the characters take a long time to come together. When the lines are just interchangeable gags, unmotivated by a detailed group dynamic, they tend to fall flat even when they're truly funny.

This double-DVD set should win points for having copious amounts of bonus material, but sadly, most of the extra scenes are definite throwaways. It's fun to watch a montage of every single death scene backed by a sweet guitar solo, for instance, but in the final analysis that's not much for added value. A short scene where Murderface plays an arcade game called “Wheelchair Bound,” where the disabled hero skitches buses and runs over cats for points, is at least giggle worthy the first time, as is the bass solo he plays with his penis. But they're one-joke novelties at best, and more frequently they're just pointless.

The show really starts to take off in the second season, when the writers begin to vary the formula, but Season one is a better rental than a purchase. It's required watching for every metal fan, but more for the niche it fills than for its actual quality.

Highs: Some brilliantly absurd gags and freakishly gory visual comedy.

Lows: The show mostly focuses on simplistic gags that get old fast.

Bottom line: It's metal, and you're metal. You'd better see it at least once.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)