Brendon Small brings cartoon death metal to life
“You have to care about the stuff you’re talking about; otherwise, you might have a one-off and half the episodes stink,” he says. “Nine times out of 10 the show is about ‘celebrityism.’ I’m saying, ‘What if the Kardashians played death metal?’ And you have celebrities with all these handlers who don’t know what time it is or how to get out of a room or how to change their underpants. It just so happens they’re a death-metal band, and then I get to throw out references to all the hardcore fans, if they see them.”
Small graduated from the Berklee College of Music before turning to comedy and co-creating the animated UPN show “Home Movies,” which later moved to the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup. The show found greater success after its cancellation than during its four-season run, thanks to its DVD sets, but it immediately established Small’s pedigree.
After a false start with another network on a show called “The Barbarian Chronicles” (conceived as a geeky, postmodern take on Lord of the Rings), Small sold Adult Swim on the idea of “Metalocalypse.” The 15-minute cartoon features a death-metal band, Dethklok, whose songs and Brobdingnagian spectacles are notable both for their macabre, blood-laden morbidity and for applying the same strict engineering standards witnessed in Acme’s rocket-powered roller skates and other products.
In the world of “Metalocalypse,” Dethklok’s popularity and relentless merchandising have made them the world’s seventh largest economy. This has prompted the same kind of clandestine government shenanigans the CIA might consider if America found itself beset by millions of headbanging, cash-spewing zombies who follow without fear or question. Now into production of its fifth season, the show is drawing to a close that Small has envisioned from the beginning.
“I had an ending in mind, and the arc would kind of change and shape-shift as I went from season to season,” he says. “But from the third season on I had an idea how this thing was going to go down. I don’t want to say exactly how much time that is going to take, but I do know exactly how much story I have to tell before I think the big finish happens. It’s getting closer.”
From the beginning, the show has courted fans with its credibility, from insider guest stars (Metallica, Steve Vai, Cannibal Corpse) to the band’s many equipment sponsorships that scroll by at the show’s end.
“[Metal people] are persnickety. They want to make sure that you’re not shitting on them and you’re not making fun of them and that you’re not full of shit,” Small says. “So I thought if I can get people to be on my show, they may accept that we’re not making fun. You get some credibility. It’s like when Dr. Dre vouched for Eminem.”
Small claims the entire show was “an excuse for me to play guitar”—and the instrument still offers a nice break from the grind of animation.
“I get to not think about story or character or anything and just sit with my guitar and play stuff, which is really nice,” he says. “When you’re making a TV show, you need 30 to 40 people to help a stupid character drink a glass of water. But I can go into a room and program drums and come back with music and be finished and I don’t need anyone else’s help with that. So that’s really nice.”
Metalocalypse: Dethklok plays the Rave on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 6:30 p.m. with Machine Head, All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder.