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LEGENDS OF THE SMALL: Brendon Small writes the music for fictional death-metal legends Dethklok on Adult Swim, and has come out from behind the curtain to play it live.

Secret of The Klok

Dethklok mastermind loves metal, hates comedy

By Steve Palopoli

LED Zeppelin's shark sex legend. Axl's riot in St. Louis. Burzum's church burnings. Ozzy biting the heads off bats and doves.

Two words: child's play. How could any of these supposedly controversial masters of the dark metal arts compete with a band that drew 300,000 fans to the Arctic Circle to hear them play one song, made them sign "pain waivers" releasing the group from liability, then dropped from the sky in a giant spiked metal box, killing untold numbers of audience members, before pouring giant vats of scalding hot coffee on the rest, melting off their faces?

Now that's metal! And it could only have been pulled off by one band: Dethklok. Of course, they're a cartoon. But then, so's Ozzy. If you don't remember hearing about the Arctic Circle massacre, it's because it happened on the Adult Swim show Metalocalypse, set in a world in which metal truly rules. Just starting its third season, it imagines Dethklok as not only the most popular band on Earth, but as the world's seventh largest economy. Rich and powerful beyond any group's wildest dreams, they're treated more like superheroes, though they lack the ability to do anything besides bring the metal. Even preparing a single meal on their own is a disaster. Meanwhile they are targeted by a shadowy Bond-villain-type organization while they rerecord their albums over and over (including in the Marianas trench), because they're not heavy enough.

On Saturday, Dethklok (vocalist Nathan Explosion, guitarists Toki Wartooth and Skwesgaar Skwigelf, bassist William Murderface, drummer Pickles) will open for Mastodon at the San Jose State Event Center—despite being fictional animated characters. How this is achieved is a Gorrilaz-like live presentation put together by Brendon Small, the co-creator of Metalocalypse who writes the music and provides voices for three members of Dethklok, including the Cookie Monster–style death-metal vocals of Nathan Explosion. While the characters are projected onscreen, he and his band are onstage playing.

This is the second time Small has attempted to take his imaginary band on the road. The thing is that the songs for the show, even when they're funny, are fairly perfect death-metal numbers. And something strange seems to be developing at these latest shows: people want to actually hear the music. "Something happened between the last tour and this one," says Small. We've gotten an influx of guitar nerds. That's really the audience I wanted to attract, because that was me when I was 15. I was a nerd."

The shift in perception of a Dethklok show from a place to see a Spinal Tap–like comic satirizing of extreme-metal stereotypes (especially the idea that nothing is "brutal" or "heavy" enough, even if everyone and everything in sight is being wiped out) to a place to go simply to hear that extreme metal suits Small just fine. Because surprisingly enough, he claims to not care too much about being funny. "It's an excuse for me to play guitar," he says of the tour. "I kind of hate comedy."

That's a pretty metal thing to say, isn't it? Small admits to growing up obsessed with guitar stardom while learning how to shred in suburbia. But by the time he got good, metal was completely uncool, so he went into standup comedy. He previously created the show Home Movies, which ended on Adult Swim in 2004, after four seasons. Besides lending his voice to shows like the The Venture Bros. and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, he developed Metalocalypse with his friend Tommy Blancha, producing 11-minute episodes that began airing in 2006. In 2007, the second season began in conjunction with the release of the first Dethklok album, The Dethalbum. Small has just released The Dethalbum II, which figures into his desire to not make people laugh. "I don't think the second record's that funny," he says. "I didn't actually go for jokes on the second record." Well, it's kind of funny. A death-metal album with a song about the health-care crisis? That's pretty much what "Deth Support" is, though its solution is, of course, "pull the plug, pull the plug, pull the plug." Small does admit that's pretty funny. He also admits he still likes to tweak the genre. Its obsession with death, for instance. "There's stuff that's worse than dying," he says. "If your pants don't fit, that's fucking brutal. That's a death-metal song."

As for his vocals, he says they're achieved with a combination of "chocolate milk and Cooler Ranch Doritos." And his list of favorite Cookie Monster vocalists isn't limited to, say, Cannibal Corpse's George Fisher or Napalm Death founder Nic Bullen. "Tom Waits has got a great death-metal voice. Fat Albert had a great death-metal voice," he says.

As for what's in store for Metalocalypse after this Dethklok tour, Small admits that after several dozen episodes in three years, he's burnt. "If I don't get a break, the show's going to end very quickly," he says.

DETHKLOK opens for MASTODON on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 6pm at SJSU Event Center, 290 S. Seventh St., San Jose. Tickets are $34.50; 408.924.6333.

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