Friday, November 1, 2013

Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem - A Klok Opera

Since first listening to Metallica in high school, my experience with the Heavy Metal genre of music has expanded greatly to include the plethora of sub-genres in some form or another. One of the flavors of metal that I’ve come to love is Death Metal and a number of its permutations, one being Melodic Death Metal (think Death Metal crossed with the melodic elements of Iron Maiden). The interest in this particular sub-genre came about a couple of years ago when I finally discovered Dethklok, a band promoted by the use of its music and associated imagery via the Metalocalypse cartoon, created by Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha, on Adult Swim. I have since watched all four seasons of Metalocalypse and own Dethalbums I-III, both of which are among my favorites in their respective mediums. On October 27 of this year, Adult Swim aired a one-hour special for the cartoon called The Doomstar Requiem - A Klok Opera (sometimes shortened as simply The Doomstar Requiem), a rock opera which counts as a movie for the purposes of this blog (as alluded to by co-creator Brendon Small’s original plans for the show). Interestingly enough, I was completely unaware of the special until my TiVo began recording it on the night it aired, but, nevertheless, I watched it at the earliest opportunity and found myself impressed by the end result in more ways than one.

Spoiler Note: The Doomstar Requiem takes place directly after the events of the Metalocalypse Season 4 finale “Church of the Black Klok”. As such, there will be unmarked spoilers regarding its placement in continuity and it is suggested that you have at least seen “Church of the Black Klok” before continuing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As per the events of “Church of the Black Klok”, Dethklok guitarist Toki Wartooth (Mike Keneally) and band producer Abigail Remeltindrinc (Raya Yarbrough) have been kidnapped by Magnus Hammersmith (Brendon Small), a former Dethklok guitarist who seeks revenge for being kicked out of the band. At the same time, a star known as the Doomstar has been born in the sky and the only way to harness its power is for Dethklok to reunite by locating and rescuing Toki; according to the prophecies of the Church of the Black Klok, someone is also supposed to die in the process. However, remaining Dethklok members Skwisgaar Skwigelf (Brendon Small), William Murderface (Brendon Small), Pickles (Brendon Small) and Nathan Explosion (Brendon Small) are too busy partying to care about the safety of their kidnapped brethren. With continued failure by the band’s manager and CFO, Charles Foster Offdensen (Brendon Small), to locate Toki, he and Church of the Black Klok leader Ishnifus Meaddle (Brendon Small) try to convince the band of the importance of their missing member. As this happens, Toki tries to make the best of his situation by reminiscing about the time he joined Dethklok.

The members of Dethklok (Left to Right: Willaim Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf,
Nathan Explosion, Pickles the Drummer, Toki Wartooth)

While some may not care so much about the plot of The Doomstar Requiem because of the music, more on that later, I felt that the story of this rock opera was actually executed pretty well. There is quite a bit of setup and recapping going on at the beginning, including some of the band members introducing themselves, but I found this necessary as it not only allows The Doomstar Requiem to be a stand-alone feature, but also lets the audio-only CD version function entirely on its own with a self-contained plot. Regarding the rest of the special, it felt afterwards as though they had made the plot of what would normally be a double-length episode (Metalocalypse episodes are usually 11 minutes long) be extended to fit a 47-minute (quadruple length?) one. If one were to look solely at the plot and nothing else, it might seem like the special contains quite a bit of padding, though this didn’t matter to me because a rock opera requires that they use songs, and only songs, to move the plot and describe the emotions of the characters.

With that said, I found the story, which is also to say the music, to be very well-written. Not only did the opening set the stage for what was to come, but questions introduced are answered in a way that is satisfactory for longtime viewers and help tie up the loose ends of the plot. As I watched and listened to each song, written and composed by Brendon Small plus an accompanying 50 piece orchestra composed by Bear McCreary, I felt a dynamic range of emotion. I found myself genuinely moved one moment (such as with the song “Abigail’s Lullaby”) and then laughing the next, with some major revelations serving to act as both a major source of suspense and shock. There was absolutely nothing that didn’t keep me watching until the very end in the hope that Dethklok could accomplish their goal before it was too late. As a bonus for those that are watching the special, there is a cliffhanger created during the credits which seems to set up a potential fifth season of Metalocalypse, which I am now highly anticipating. However, I must say that even without taking other parts of the canon into account, there still remain some lingering questions brought up by the special, such as what the Tribunal will do next, so if you choose to only experience this special, you will find yourself confused.

On its own, the music is also some of the best that Brendon Small has ever written; it is also performed by Dethklok’s studio lineup, which includes Gene Hoglan on drums and Bryan Beller on bass while Brendon Small does everything else. The number of different styles present, including a couple of ballads and a Thriller parody, does nothing to detract from my enjoyment of The Doomstar Requiem, since each new track flows very well into the next for seamless storytelling. There is a good balance of both dark and upbeat tones to keep things interesting and break up what would otherwise be a completely serious special; this is a good sign that comedy is still an important element to Metalocalypse. One of my favorite moments in fact is watching a two-minute guitar duel between Toki and Skwisgaar in the past, which contains both some epic shredding by Brendon Small and a small section of Baroque style guitar work; this song, known as “The Duel”, seems to perfectly encapsulate what The Doomstar Requiem is like: A serious project presented with a fine comedic edge.

There are also some guest vocals from Jack Black and George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (lead singer of Cannibal Corpse), the latter of whom is the Metal Masked Assassin, among others. This introduces some good variety into the vocals, though Brendon Small did show an incredible ability to distinctly voice 13 different characters on his own.

The Metal Masked Assassin, voiced by George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher.

Visually, The Doomstar Requiem contains the best animation I have seen from Metalocalypse. The animators at Titmouse still have it in them, with dynamic visuals and a great range from a mostly dark color palette (though when the colors get super bright such as during “Partying Around the World” it’s played heavily for laughs). When Titmouse isn’t showing off how well they can synchronize virtual guitar playing with what’s actually being played, they manage to animate the story in such a way that if someone were unable to understand the lyrics for one reason or another, they could still follow along with the story (I have yet to find what happens when the situation is reversed), so I never found myself lost by what had happened.

This is even more metal in context.

When all is said and done, The Doomstar Requiem is an amazing rock opera. Though some may find fault with the amount of exposition needed to make this production a stand-alone effort, I felt impressed by what I had seen. With some of the best visuals and music that Metalocalypse has to offer, fans of the show who have been anxiously awaiting a continuation of the show after 15 months may find themselves pleased. Those who end up enjoying the special regardless of any flaws may also find themselves in the same boat as me, waiting (im)patiently for the possibility of a fifth season to be fulfilled thanks to the still-lingering questions the mythology of the show has created. In any case, I applaud Brendon Small’s efforts and can’t wait to see what he has in store next for Dethklok.

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