Dethklok | Dethalbum II (Williams Street)

dethalbumii.jpgBut what’s missing isn’t the heavy metal fury: it’s the funny.

Rock music history is riddled with bands—the Ramones, Van Halen, and the Strokes immediately leap to mind—who quickly followed up an amazing first album with a follow-up that’s a carbon copy of the band’s debut in every conceivable way except the most important one: it’s just not quite as good as the first one. And if real flesh and blood musicians can fall prey to the sophomore slump, then why not a cartoon band?

That same fate has indeed claimed another victim with Dethklok, the fictional Norwegian metal band that stars in the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series Metalocalypse. It’s clear from the get-go that Dethalbum II aims to offer the same savage sonic assault as Dethalbum I: opener "Bloodlines" kicks things off with a menacing tribal drumbeat, Slayer-esque guitar histrionics, and a nice proggy harpsichord break, while second track "The Gears" mixes machine gun drums and a wicked guitar riff with more operatic elements for a track that’s equal parts Emperor and KMFDM’s "A Drug Against War."

But what’s missing isn’t the heavy metal fury: it’s the funny. The first Dethalbum walked a fine line between both being a great black metal album and poking fun at the genre’s excesses, but with Dethalbum II, Metalocalypse mastermind Brendon Small (of Home Movies fame) seems content to cast the send-ups aside and chase after the straight-up metal fans that have flocked to see Dethklok on their recent tour with Mastodon. "Murmaider II: The Water God" is a direct sequel to a track on the first Dethalbum, but its straight-ahead approach lacks the ludicrously over-the-top lyrics and stomping, insistent rhythm that made the original such a standout. "I Tamper With the Evidence at the Murder Site of Odin" wastes a brilliant title on generically evil lyrics, and the rant-against-beauty lyrics and repetitive riffage of "Symmetry" go so far beyond parody that the song becomes the very kind of bland faux-angst metal it’s trying to poke fun at. About the only truly funny part of Dethalbum II is the liner notes ("Dethklok would like to thank blood, tits, fire, and guitars."), although "Dethsupport" does bring a few chuckles with anguished pleas to "Pull the plug" because "It’s costing too much."

Musically, Dethalbum II is still very strong, although for the most part it lacks the orchestral touches that gave the first record its Norwegian black metal flavor. Small, who plays virtually all the instruments here, is turning into a real virtuoso of a guitar player capable of superspeed staccato riffing, jaw-droppingly nimble solos, and even a little swing (check out that lurching, Dimebag Darrell-style solo on "The Cyborg Slayers"), while Gene Hoglan (Testament, Fear Factory) is an absolute beast of a drummer. Small’s, er, I mean "Nathan Explosion’s" Cookie Monster vocals are still mostly unintelligible, which isn’t helped by a mix that keeps them buried beneath the guitars.

Taken by itself, Dethalbum II is a pretty wicked little metal album, and isolated highlights (like the epic "Black Fire Upon Us") still stand out. But when played side-by-side with the first record, Dethalbum II really suffers by comparison, making clear how much of the uniquely twisted personality of the first record is lacking here. If the first album was a B+, this new one is a half-step behind it…call it a B-. | Jason Green


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