It’s been more than 15 months since the last episode of Metalocalypse, which brought an especially pell-mell, mythology-heavy fourth season to a close with a cliffhanger ending: The members of Dethklok were faced with the challenge of rescuing rhythm guitarist and endearing idiot man-child Toki and Abigail, the mostly unrequited love of Nathan Explosion’s life, from the clutches of embittered former bandmate Manus Hammersmith. (Despite the magnetic, crazy glint in his eye, Hammersmith is but a pawn of the Metal Masked Assassin and the Revengencers, and whatever dark forces would conspire to bring about the Metalocalypse.) The climax made it seem as if the heroes were stoked and ready to dive right into whatever craziness would, in all likelihood, take them through to the end of the series.
Maybe that was an optical illusion generated by the hallucinatory fevers that Metalocalypse can stir up in a viewer’s skull. The Doom Star Requiem, a one-shot, hour-long rock-opera special that some fans once speculated might be the series finale, comes riding in on a wave of anticipatory excitement: What a great way to get the ball rolling again, after the fans have been left hanging for so long! The excitement is quickly dispelled when it becomes clear that the characters can scarcely bear to shake the cobwebs out of their heads and get the blood circulating. The bandmates’ first reaction to Toki and Abigail’s abduction is to try to forget their troubles by partying harder than ever, in an overextended number that includes a lyric that rhymes “Slurpees” with “herpes”. When they do address the situation, it’s in a song about how they can’t be expected to be heroes, because they’re Everyman figures—but also about how they can’t be expected to act selflessly, because they’re so awesome.
Lyrically, it’s the funniest thing in the episode. Nathan sits at the piano and croons, “I’m a simple multi-platinum rock star/ Leading a simple multi-platinum life/ I don’t know about this crazy world… How can I be a hero when my dick’s as big as a shoe/ There ain’t no all-access pass that will help me break through/ So many items on my backstage rider/ But there ain’t no bravery/ I’m just the seventh top financial power/ But I’m li’l old me!” This two-faced poormouthing is a sharp take on self-exculpatory rock star arrogance, but’s its followed by an endless sequence in which Toki, trying to find his “happy place” and shore up his spirits while in captivity, remembers the audition that won him a place in Dethklok. It’s presented as a majorly revelatory puzzle piece in the history of the band’s development—it seems that Dethklok’s star guitarist, Skwisgaar, was not enamored of the idea of hiring an additional guitarist, and was using the auditions to add notches to his belt by mercilessly wiping out the applicants, one by one. But when he played with Toki, he was astonished to discover that the generous, supportive Toki actually made it possible for him to play better than he did when he was showboating by himself. By the time the flashback is done, the show is more than half over, and the plot hasn’t budged a fraction of an inch.
There are major developments in the second half, such as Dethklok’s irreplaceable manager, Charles Foster Offdensen, and the death of a character who’s not quite major enough to justify all the heavy breathing in the first half about how the death of a major character is imminent. But these incidents aren’t given as much weight as the image of Toki and Skwisgaar communing through their guitars while soaring through the air in mythological-beast form, presumably because the actual story developments didn’t seem like fun inspiration for songs. (For the same reason, the appearances by the leaders of the Tribunal and Dr. Rockzo, who pops up at the end of a lame spoof of the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video, are slapdash and feel obligatory.)
Metalocalypse is a parody of macho heavy metal sci-fi power fantasies, but, like Buckaroo Banzai and The Venture Bros., it’s a parody that has been doted on so lovingly by its creators, and laid out in so much detail, that it’s a genuinely enthralling work of thickly plotted, Bizarro-world pulp. But it’s also a vehicle through which the show’s creator, Brendan Small, and his collaborators play at being a real metal band, and this show, which includes vocal contributions by Jack Black and George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher of Cannibal Corpse, guitar work by Frank Zappa acolyte Mike Keneally, and a 50-piece orchestra, is the ultimate fruit of that fantasy: It’s the basis for a record that’ll be released October 29. Much of the music itself is inflated in the wrong way—it’s drippy and ballad-oriented—and I doubt that it’ll be any more enticing without the visuals. It’s a shame that what might have been a key piece in the ongoing story of Metalocalypse-the-TV-show is instead Dethklok’s answer to Deep Purple’s Concerto For Group And Orchestra.