The Plastic Beach Award for Exemplary Cartoon Musicianship
By Dom Sinacola | 17 December 2013
Dethklok :: The Doomstar Requiem
Before we go any further, I should probably preamble this award by pointing out that the album Plastic Beach (2011), like Gorillaz’ other two studio albums, was released within a fictional world by a fictional band, and the album written by Damon Albarn is a real-world representation of that fictional album, while The Doomstar Requiem, unlike Dethklok’s three LPs before it, is a soundtrack to an hour-long episode of the show Metalocalypse, which is about a fictional band who released said previous albums within their own fictional world, but not this album in particular, because, as I said, it’s a soundtrack, and not a real-world representation of what was released in a fictional world by a fictional band. Which means that The Doomstar Requiem is mostly the work of Brendon Small, who should both be celebrated for his impression of a singing Werner Herzog and applauded for conceiving of the most cartoonish guitar solos I’ve heard all year.
Doomstar is pitched as an opera, and as far as my understanding of the form goes—which is so paltry I may even regret the rest of this sentence—it seems to fit well enough. Recitative passages share equal space with arias; there is no formal dialogue, only sung couplets and plot-movers; there isn’t a libretto, because it’s TV (unless you accept closed captions as such, and that’s surely your right), but there is a chorus, the so-called Church of the Black Klok, which, without going too far in depth into the show’s mythos, is a group of cultists devoted to a prophecy surrounding Dethklok and the part the (fictional) band will play in the coming Metalocalypse, which is…I’m not entirely sure? Because mostly Metalocalypse is a show about the seventh largest economic entity in the world, which is also a heavy metal band, who are also five guys who inexplicably became the biggest band in the world, even though they desperately adhere to the worst of metal tropes, which are literalized to the point of, as happens in practically every episode, killing large swathes of their fans at each live performance.
Up until this point Small’s released a steady stream of metal albums behind the Dethklok name, each exploring pretty rigorously his love for a genre that too often wanders into hilariously dumb, even anachronistic territory, so the output has its diminishing returns, given your particular appetite for double kick drums and growl-sung cock rock about whales. Throughout the show’s four seasons, it’s indulged a musical number every so often that’s dipped into the shallows of a bunch of other genres, interludes which have pretty brilliantly developed the five members of the band while highlighting the typical dynamic between any members of any band by setting up each character as the epitome of a single archetype. The bass player is a useless, physically ugly jerk-off, whose parts the lead guitarist always has to re-track in the studio anyway; the rhythm guitarist is a secret sweetheart, only wanting to help; the lead singer is like Andrew W.K.‘s shitty older brother; etc. That the fourth season introduced a spoken word prelude from Werner Herzog at the beginning of each episode—Herzog playing the Head Priest of the Church of the Black Klok, if you’re keeping track here—only deepened the awesomeness of the world Small’s been skewering. Think of Wolves in the Throne Room scoring that 3D documentary about ancient cave paintings. Just for a bit…OK, you can stop.
One would probably enjoy The Doomstar Requiem a lot more with foreknowledge of the events leading up to it, or with a libretto that helps to clarify some of the more indiscernible passages, which go a long way to explain the show’s basic premise. But the real joy behind Doomstar is its ambition, which gobbles up almost every popular musical form from the last 25 years of Top 40 radio, and synthesizes these genres through one unifying theme: hubris. Because Dethklok is defined most by their arrogance, but that could also be said for every major pop star or group they imitate. Rock, R&B, soul, even folk: each genre’s biggest names are probably, at the end of the day, unqualified, solipsistic assholes, and there was no shortage of unqualified solipsistic assholishness among 2013’s biggest names. That’s what it takes to be a star in 2013: being a huge cartoon-y dickbag.
“How Can I Be a Hero?” sounds like Honus Honus trying his hand at an Elton John ballad and proving himself up to the task; plus it also features the line “How can I be a hero when my dick’s as big as a shoe?”, so it pretty much had me at “dick’s as big as a shoe.” Later, a little folk ditty—“Abigail’s Lullaby”—erupts into an unexpectedly touching coda considering its mostly straightforward discussion of torture techniques. “I Believe” may be one of my favorite songs this year, if its worming into the very fabric of my quotidian is any indication of how well it splices new wave bloat with whatever a unicorn probably sounds like when it’s crapping out rainbows, and “Givin’ Back To You” begins as a solid Thriller homage, but ends as an even solider Backstreet Boys send-up. And Jack Black makes an appearance here somewhere. The effect in total is delirious, catchy to say the least, but—whatever—inspiring at its best, and this isn’t taking into account the less overtly anti-metal song suites, which, with the added proverbial brass of a full orchestra, are as epic and ingratiating as Small, it seems, would hope his songs to be. That he’s made something as ballsy as the music he lambastes isn’t exactly a success in itself (check Childish Gambino’s because the internet to hear how someone can successfully imitate the music they love without actually understanding it), but that The Doomstar Requiem is so endlessly enjoyable despite its breadth is what makes cartoon bands worth tuning in to every time they venture out into the real world.