A music column by David Downs
Eighteen-year-old Josh Strohl winces as a crowd of 500 merciless hecklers boo him tonight.
We're inside the dark, cavernous UC Berkeley MLK Student Union Friday, November 3, 2007 to bear witness the the galaxy's #1 cartoon metal band, DethKlok in real life. Strohl is the opener, or rather, the sacrificial lamb.
The skinny little hessian from the East Bay suburb of Pleasanton, CA. has accidentally won first place in a Guitar Hero III video game tournament. Now his punishment involves mangling Tenacious D's “Metal” before an angry mob.
“I can't believe you won!” male metal voices shout from the crowd.
Strohl hits about 75 percent of the fast, tricky “Metal” riff, but when you flub the buttons on the Guitar Hero controller, the sound goes to shit as though you were missing the actual notes of the song. Strohl starts flubbing, the scary hessians “boo!”, and it spooks him into missing more, and the “Boos!” get louder. He's wincing and choking at the same time, and it's just brutal.
Metal's obsession with the concept of “brutal” comprises the main subject of Cartoon Network's hit metal show Metalocalypse, and its fictional band DethKlok. Now 20 episodes in, former Home Movies creator Brendan Smalls along with Tommy Blancha have created a hit by imagining a metal band that is the 12th largest economy in the world. Each week, DethKlok pursues idiotic levels of brutality, making fun of pretty much everyone involved, including anyone who would show up for a DethKlok tour.
Brendan Smalls brings his cartoon band to life with the help of three other musicians on guitars, bass and drums, as well as three projector screens displaying music videos of Dethklok behind the band as they play. Smalls handles lead singer Nathan Explosion's voice, asking Berkeley, “How the fuck are you doing?” in a barely intelligible grawl. The audience of Pantera fans cheer and throw devil horns as the band launches into “Go Forth and Die.”
But, “Go Forth and Die” comes from the DethGraduation episode, wherein Explosion tries to earn his GED. The parable culminates with a speaking engagement at his commencement ceremony. The billionaire musician commands his debt-ridden peers to “go forth and die.” Though you can't make out the lyrics, they flash on the screen behind Smalls. “Eight more years inside ... back where you started ... move in with your parents ... bachelor of arts ... drowning in debt.” So the joke's on college students, right?
Except the sound mocks all of us. The levels are fucked, and the band just isn't as tight as even your average Nickelback clone. Yet the fans pardon it. Maybe it's part of the meta-joke. ...
“Why did you pick something so difficult?” I ask little Strohl afterward. “Why didn't you just mail in a level one song?”
“I know, I know,” says Strohl shaking his head. “I've done that song before. I just ... I just got nervous.”
"Brutal, kid. Brutal."