Dethklok at the Wiltern, June 6, 2008

Remember how the Blues Brothers parodied soul music, yet strived to be actually kinda good at at the same time? It was making fun of soul music while still aspiring to be soul?

Dethklok is like that for death metal, but far more perfectly. Whereas Dan Akroyd and John Belushi could never really sing to beat the bands they parodied/idolized (or, in more recent times, Tenacious D never attempted to forge their concept rock prog metal into the true eight-album song cycle it deserved), the touring version of Dethklok plays metal more brutal than lots of “real” head-banging bands, who would never be able to match Dethklok’s deep grizzly growl while simultaneously keeping their serpent tongues cemented into their cheeks.

There had been rumors that the touring version of Dethklok looked more or less like the cartoon version, with a raven-haired stocky lead singer, two skinny Swedish-looking guitarists, a balding red-haired drummer and a bassist with a murdery-face. That sounded unlikely to me—I expected a multi-media animated concoction similar to a Gorillaz concert, perhaps five guys playing behind five screens with a corresponding Dethklok character projected on each.

Instead, the stage show itself was neither a costume party nor a clever stage play, but something perhaps a tad too simple: a group of four average-looking, short-haired guys playing in front of one big screen, upon which they projected cartoon sequences recycled directly from the TV show.

That being said, though, the band played pretty damn well. These were fully analog musicians (give or take a digital delay pedal or three) synching themselves up perfectly to animation that normally would have required drum machines or at least a click track to help them stay in sync. We heard and saw all our favorites: “Briefcase Full of Guts,” ‘”Mermaider,” “Birthday Dethday,” “Go Forth and Die,” and of course, “Awaken,” the Necronomic spell-song that caused a Finnish troll to awaken from his slumber. It was nice to hear these songs in slightly longer formats, and often with subtitles, which meant the audience could really delve into the Nathan Explosion lyrics that had made us giggle the first time we heard them on TV.

I really would have liked to hear a song from one of the television show’s side-project bands, e.g. the Guns & Roses-esque band “Snakes and Barrels” that Pickles sang in. Or better yet, if they could have figured out some way to work Doctor Rockzo, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Clown, perhaps with his band Zazz Blammymatazz, into their set, I would have shit my pants with glee. But the vibe they were going for was pure death metal, as if Dethklok was a real band on tour, and there was no room for fictitious hair metal in that construction.

The audience sure as hell treated them like a real band. I expected the crowd to be at least half hipsters who only liked metal as a concept, but there was no smug irony or ironic trucker hats in this audience. I saw almost nothing on the guys but jeans and black t-shirts with various Cannibal-Corpse type metal-band logos scrawled in bony letters across them. And there were very few girls–most of the audience was men or young boys, and a good 30% of the crowd seemed to be under legal drinking age (and 5% under the age of 15). That may explain why the line for booze was way shorter than the line for merch.

I had to admire the dedication this audience felt for their bands–even the people who weren’t really all that metal were trying to look the part. There was one kid wearing corpse paint, and more than a few kids wearing Misfits or SST-era punk shirts (I even saw the real Tommy Lee hanging out with some young Asian girl, seemingly of a non-porn persuasion). But the majority of the audience was made up of true metal fans, who looked like they’d be as comfortable watching Slayer or Venom as watching a Cartoon Network construction.

The presence of Chimaira as an opening band lent credence to the theory of Dethklok as real metal band.This group has been doing their thing for a decade now, and though their more recent songs had too much of a faux-string synth presence (and why use samples? Are you trying to be Puddle of Mudd or some shit?), they had the precision and math-rock timing and sparse yet accurate guitar solos that added up to truly “brutal” metal on a universally enjoyable scale. I will definitely be picking up their music, though I’ve been advised to get their early stuff and “not the new wanky stuff.”

When the show was over, my friends and I wandered drunkenly away from the Wiltern over to one of the many hidden karaoke bars in the Koreatown vicinity. It was shockingly early on a Friday night, and we didn’t order too many drinks, so I was surprised when I learned that one hour singing Iron Maiden and Skid Row songs while drinking Red Bull and sake cost us over a hundred dollars.  Make no mistake, tickets to the Wiltern aren’t cheap, but doing it yourself on a mike at a Mid-Wilshire karaoke bar will cost you a lot more.

Dethklok National College Tour Stops at UCLA, 11/1/07