Dethklok is a group so mired in brutality that one must sign a “Pain Waiver” releasing the members from liability if you are crushed, de-boned, or eaten alive during a performance. The band is so big that it is considered one of the world’s largest economies. Dethklok is also a total fiction. The members are the “heroes” of Metalocalypse—a new series on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim created by musical director Brendon Small and comedy writer Tommy Blacha.
What prompted you to expand the “Spinal Tap” concept into animation with Metalocalypse?
Blacha: There is nothing like the modern, electric-guitar god. Nothing in history has ever compared to the fanaticism it creates. Guitar players are extremely communicative, creative artists who can move huge numbers of people. They’re also among the weirdest individuals on the planet. We’re just fascinated with the guitar, and we want guitarists to see something funny on the show, and really get it. A joke about a pickup so strong that it’s receiving whale songs, or the horror of a meddling producer may be a little lost on you unless you play.
Small: We take a lot of pains to nail the nuances. If you watch the guitarists’ fingers on the cartoon, you’ll see that the animation matches pretty closely what is being played. They actually filmed me playing the parts, and copied it verbatim. To duplicate the physicality of the stage movements—such as the knee bends and hair windmills—we studied films of bands like Behemoth. We even took the whole [animation] staff to a Century Media label showcase to see some metal bands, and study the aesthetics of the genre. We wanted everything to be as authentic as possible.
Speaking of authenticity, I love how you guys got actual endorsement deals for Dethklok.
Small: As soon as the Cartoon Network gave us the green light, the first thing Tommy and I did was contact manufacturers for endorsements. Gibson said “yes” right over the phone. The Gibsons always sound great. The first time I played a Les Paul—that was it. I never looked back. They even sent us 3-D computer models of a Gibson Explorer for Dethklok lead guitarist Skwisgaar, and a Flying V for co-guitarist Toki Wartooth. It turns out that guitars are really hard to draw. We had Krank amps and Line 6 onboard almost immediately. It was only after we got the gear that we developed the characters, and made up these accents that don’t really exist.
It must be big fun doing the soundtrack for the series.
Small: Yeah! I’m always experimenting, and I love to shred. For Dethklok, I envisioned a blend of Norwegian black metal and American death metal, so I just put my Line 6 Pod on the “Metallica” setting, and invent one crazy thing after another. I use a lot of different tunings, and I can’t play without my Dunlop Jazz III picks. I like both D’Addario and Ernie Ball strings, and I usually go for a light top and a heavy bottom. Everything is recorded in my house using a Digidesign Digi 002, and if you go to the Adult Swim Web site, you can pull up a clip where I demonstrate how to play the Dethklok theme song.
Blacha: Brendon is the shredder, but I contribute melodies, and I help with the lyrics. It’s fun writing for a fictitious band, because we can write a song and declare it a hit!