ATLANTA, Ga. – It was a night of brutality at the Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta as Dethklok took the venue by storm on Saturday, Dec. 8 along with fellow metal bands All That Remains, Machine Head, and The Black Dahlia Murder.
Dethklok was previously scheduled to play at the Tabernacle on Sept. 5 as part of a co-headlining tour with Lamb Of God. Those tour dates were cancelled due to Lamb Of God singer Randy Blythe’s ongoing incarceration in the Czech Republic as he awaits trial on manslaughter charges. Fans were disappointed, but Dethklok quickly organized a new tour and made sure to bring their multimedia live experience to Atlanta.
Dethklok began as a fictional death metal band on the Adult Swim animated comedy series Metalocalypse, created by Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha in 2005. The show premiered in 2006 and has since produced four seasons, the most recent of which aired in summer 2012.
The virtual band consists of Nathan Explosion (vocals), Skwisgaar Skwigelf (lead guitar), Toki Wartooth (rhythm guitar), William Murderface (bass), and Pickles the Drummer (drums). Small provides the voices for Nathan, Skwisgaar, and Pickles, while Blacha voices Toki and Murderface.
All of Dethklok’s melodic death metal music is written by Small. He has released three albums through Williams Street Records featuring songs from the series: The Dethalbum (2007), Dethalbum II (2009), and Dethalbum III (2012). Small performed all of the guitar and vocal recordings for the albums and acclaimed drummer Gene Hoglan recorded all of the drum tracks.
To promote these releases, Small assembled a real-life band in 2007 to tour as Dethklok. In addition to Small on lead guitar and vocals, they include Hoglan on drums, guitarist Mike Keneally, and bassist Bryan Beller. Although Small performed bass recordings for Dethklok’s first two albums, Dethalbum III is the first to feature Beller on bass, reflecting the evolution of the band’s working relationship over the years.
Following a video introduction by the mysterious Ishnifus Meaddle, voiced by Werner Herzog, the real-life Dethklok hit the stage in Atlanta’s crowded Tabernacle venue on Saturday night. Well-coordinated animations served as a dynamic backdrop to the band as they powered through an extended version of the Metalocalypse series intro, “Deththeme.”
The night saw Dethklok performing songs from all three albums, from the slow and heavy “Murmaider” to blisteringly fast numbers like “Andromeda.” The crowd of metalheads was completely invested in it, headbanging all around, chanting background lyrics, and occasionally breaking out into violent mosh pits, the heavy metal equivalent of an in-performance standing ovation.
What makes Dethklok’s music connect with its audience so well is how it embodies the approach that Small and his colleagues bring to the material: a passionate dedication to what they’re creating and an unabashed sense of humor and fun about the whole thing.
Small has long mixed musicianship with his other creative outlets, having written and recorded dozens of songs for his first animated series, Home Movies (1999-2003). A series like Metalocalypse could have easily been saddled with a generic soundtrack of cookie-cutter metal noise, but the music is where Small’s enthusiasm for the project shines through the most.
The intricate harmonies and instrumental complexity on display in songs like “Awaken” and “The Galaxy” is mind-blowing. Replicating these songs in a live setting as a group must be extremely challenging but Small, Hoglan, Beller, and Keneally pull it off with nearly inhuman precision. Dethklok’s music is a prime example of how magnificent a listening experience melodic death metal can be.
In addition to the animated music videos projected during every song of the main set, a series of video interludes featuring Metalocalypse characters played between several of the songs.
One video featured Dr. Rockzo, the rock and roll clown, soliciting money from the crowd before being confronted by Nathan Explosion. Another showed the Tribunal, a secretive group led by the cryptic Mr. Salatia, plotting to turn all of Dethklok’s fans obese by pumping the venue full of body-altering “fat gas,” a plan that ultimately backfires.
Facebones, Dethklok’s hyperkinetic animated mascot, appeared to remind the concertgoers that Dethklok doesn’t care whether they are fat or skinny, as long as they buy tour merchandise.
Dethklok’s virtual manager and lawyer, Charles Foster Offdensen, greeted the crowd in another video interlude. “I hope you’re all enjoying the show. I know I am, even though I’ve seen it a number of times,” he said.
Offdensen called for recruits to join the Klokateers, Dethklok’s full-time army of black-hooded employees. The band then tore into the Klokateer anthem, “The Gears.” In an amusing touch, Dethklok’s real-life road crew wore Klokateer garb during the show.
Dethklok finished their main set with “Thunderhorse,” a song which players of the Guitar Hero II video game would recognize.
During the encore, Small entertained the crowd by performing a one-man, three-way conversation in the voices of Nathan Explosion, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, and Pickles the Drummer. He commented that it was the easiest part of the show. The band then jammed on a metal rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” with Small alternating between the three voices.
Dethklok concluded the show on a heavy note with “Crush The Industry” from the recently released Dethalbum III. Check out their full setlist from the Tabernacle below.
02. I Ejaculate Fire
04. Deth Support
09. Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle
11. The Gears
12. The Galaxy
14. Go Into The Water
16. Crush The Industry
Excited concertgoers were already assembling around the stage by 6:30 p.m. when The Black Dahlia Murder emerged to get the crowd pumping with “A Shrine to Madness,” the opening track from their 2011 album Ritual.
With drummer Shannon Lucas recently having departed the band, Alan Cassidy is serving as The Black Dahlia Murder’s drummer for this tour. The energy he brought had the Tabernacle’s floor thumping on Saturday night.
Midway through Machine Head’s set, lead singer Robb Flynn took a moment to remind the crowd that the night of Dec. 8 marked eight years since Pantera and Damageplan guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was murdered onstage during a Damageplan concert. Flynn recalled the drunken nights members of Machine Head and Pantera shared while touring together in 1997.
“We’re not here to celebrate his death. We’re here to celebrate his life right now,” Flynn said as the crowd cheered in support. The band then performed an explicitly-titled song from Pantera’s 1992 album Vulgar Display of Power in Dimebag’s honor.
All That Remains vocalist Philip Labonte drew the ire of the Tabernacle’s security personnel when he encouraged attendees on the general admission floor to crowd-surf, the act of collectively passing a person around among a crowd that invariably leads to people being either thrown at the stage or dropped on the floor.
“Their job is to keep you safe,” Labonte said of security to the crowd. “Your job is to keep them busy.”