Dethlok plays House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave.) tonight, with Soilent Green and hometown metal heroes Chimaira. The group started as a joke and became the biggest death metal band in the history of the Billboard album chart.
With a simple but esoteric premise, Cartoon Network’s Metalocalypse seemed guaranteed to create a cult hit with a rabid fanbase of hundreds: What if the world’s biggest band -- Dethlok -- was an extreme metal group, who live a reality of guts and gore that the genre’s musicians (usually) only sing about. And what if they had fanatical legions who lived -- and died -- for the group? ...
The show debuted in 2006, and soon became a relative hit with the 18-34 demographic. The ratings led to a soundtrack album, The Dethalbum, which quickly sold over 130,000 copies, and has now moved around 200,000 units.
Dethlok’s music is an oddly catchy mix of thrash music, cookie monster vocals, and lovingly satirical lyrics. Series creator Brendon Small writes the songs, sings, and plays guitar. To make it a real band, he recruited some real aces. The touring lineup is guitarist Mike Keneally (who’s played with Frank Zappa and Steve Vai), bassist Brian Beller (also Steve Vai), and legendary California drummer Gene Hoglan (who plays in Jason Popson’s locally based Pitch Black Forecast).
Soon, the show went on the road. Live, the band plays in front of a giant projection screen, shredding in the shadows, with cartoon footage as a backdrop.
“It pokes fun at metal, from a fun way, because everybody involved in the show are fans of metal,” says Hoglan. “I’d suggest that anybody come check it out, even if you don’t like the show. I think the music is killer.”
The tour has been regularly selling out, so if you don’t have tickets, get them soon. Just as the band was embarking on its second major tour, C-Notes talked to Smalls to learn what we could expect to see when the cartoon band plays live at 7:30 tonight; tickets are $24.50 via Ticketmaster or hob.com. -- D.X. Ferris
C-Notes: What’s the show like?
Smalls: It’s basically a polished-up version of the last [tour]. Just bigger and better. Dudes are playing, the music sounds like Dethlok. There’s a really great light show, really great animation. We’re backlit, there’s smoke and shadows - the thing we want you to see is the kind of movie screen behind us, with animation that’s coinciding with the music. And it’s all very articulately done, because we have a click track that we’re playing to. So everything we’re playing is lining up to picture. All the vocals are lining up to the pictures of the character singing.
Do you ever feel guilty about the cartoon band outselling so many real death metal bands?
Guilt has never, ever been a feeling I’ve felt. We have a TV component that these other bands don’t have, so we’re going to be much bigger out of the gate. We have a bigger audience. As far as guilt, here’s the thing: I went out there, I said I want to do a show, and write all the music. Any other metal band could have done that. I just got there first.
What do fans think of the live experience?
The coolest e-mails we get is from fans who say “I didn’t think I liked metal, but I check it out,” and they’re looking for new music to get into now. So they’re coming in and seeing Chimaira and Soilent Green, checking out people we like a lot.
Is the animation all stuff from the show?
No. It’s all built for the [stage] show. I talked to the network, I said I don’t want to release this anywhere. I don’t want there to be a DVD of the live show. I want this to be something you can only see live. These original songs happened in the show, and [for the album] we went in and elongated them. And I did the same thing with the animation. So some things, you may sort of recognize. Plus, what we’re doing, I want it to be like a Universal Studios ride, where there’s just enough story to hang your hat on.
Come ride the Dethlok?
Exactly. No, seriously. It’s like a Disneyland show, but the rides are built with murder.
How’d you hook up with Chimaira? They’re from Cleveland.
I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time. And it just lined up right. Our tour booker said “These guys from Chimaira are available. Would you like them?” And I said, “Yeah, that’d be fuckin’ awesome.” That was the conversation.
I avoided the show for a long time because music shows and movies generally get it wrong and aren’t funny - would you agree with that?
Yeah. For me, there are only three or four music projects: Spinal Tap, Amadeus. And School of Rock had moments of musical authenticity. But everything else kind of sucked. But there are movies that are so shitty I fall in love with them, like Eddie and the Cruisers 2. When they get it wrong, they really get it wrong.
I’m a metal guy, but I’ve never been a death metal fan, because I’m partial to words and lyrics, and the unintelligible demon-growl voice always seemed kind of self-defeating. Like, “OK, I get it, the lyrics are this secret code, and you can’t understand them unless you’re a real fan and you have the lyric sheet.” With Dethlok, the lyrics are growly, but you can understand them.
I hear both sides of that argument. And it’s a philosophy I’ve had for a long time: I don’t know the words to my favorite songs, like Queen or classic rock. I still don’t know what the words are. For me, sometimes, music is that whole sound the word makes, and where the song is at that point. It’s all that cool thing. And, lyrics, I try to pronounce them. But I don’t give a shit. If you can understand hear, that’s great, if you can’t, they’re printed on the inside.