Ten years ago almost to the day, comedian-musician Brendon Small completed recording The Dethalbum. It was the first official record from Dethklok, a fictional, animated death-metal band he co-created along with fellow comedy writer Tommy Blacha for the Adult Swim series Metalocalypse. The surprise popularity of the television show ballooned into a musical bonanza for Small, who served as guitarist-songwriter-vocalist for the real-life iteration of the band through three Billboard-charting records and live performances alongside other metallic heavy hitters such as Iron Maiden, Disturbed and Mastodon.
It has now been two years since Adult Swim canceled Metalocalypse, cutting short a story arc Small had envisioned for what was to be the show's fifth and final season. After the unexpected dissolution of Dethklok, Small began pouring his musical energy into a sequel to a solo album he had released in 2012, titled Galaktikon.
The first Galaktikon record was a metallic space-opera that contained elements of a conceptual story similar to the Dethklok universe, but it had reigned in the more brutal elements of the animated band's core sound. Small's newest record, Galaktikon II: Become the Storm — also recorded with fellow Dethklok musicians Bryan Beller (bass) and Gene Hoglan (drums) — is a more sprawling beast, serving as a solid middle ground between the first Galaktikon record and the pummeling brutality of Dethklok's heavier work.
“[The first record] existed in response to Dethklok,” says Small during our conversation earlier this month over coffee at Modern Eats in Silver Lake. “It was more melodic musically and vocally. What happens now though is that all bets are off. I'm not going to be contained by compartmentalizing what I can do with Dethklok and what I can do with Galaktikon.”
Opening track “Some Days Are for Dying” begins by bombarding the listener with fast-paced, hard-driving riffs that could have easily opened a Dethklok record, with Small alternating between guttural death growls reminiscent of fictional Dethklok frontman Nathan Explosion and harmonized, vocoder-assisted, melodic choruses. This balance remains throughout the record, backed lyrically by a concept Small describes as a intergalactic war story.
“I knew that I wanted to do a grandiose, overproduced metal record,” Small says. “If it's done well, metal can evoke emotions that no other music can: grandiosity, rage, frustration and fun! Heavy metal is extreme theater.”
The sense of heavy metal as extreme theater has always loomed throughout Small's musical work. Dethklok's live shows featured Small and his live band performing under a giant screen depicting their fictional counterparts in grotesque animated scenarios. For Galaktikon II: Become the Storm, Small is complementing his music with a six-issue comic book series; he'll soon be debuting the first chapter in what he hopes will be a series of live-action shorts inspired by Roger Corman–esque knockoffs of Star Wars that flooded the market in the wake of that film's success.
“I've realized that I can't just put out a record,” Small says. “When I was a kid going through my friend's record collection, his parents had Styx's Kilroy Was Here. I saw all of these still shots on the back cover. and was wondering if it was a movie. It seemed there was something bigger here than just the music. That's the feeling I want to go for with my work.”
One element that is still in the works in the Galaktikon universe is a live stage show. Small shows off concept art, handcrafted costumes and molded props he and his brother Jeff Small (whose makeup and special effects credits include Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) have designed for Galaktikon's live-action videos — but he is hesitant to rush Galaktikon onto the stage until all the elements have come together.
“I'm only going to do it if I can do it right,” Small says. “With Dethklok, it was easy to play around with network money. I would love for Galaktikon to feel like a Universal Studios stage show with smoke, robots and badass shit, but now I have to raise money like Ed Wood to do the show I want to do live.”
While Small has remained busy in the two years since the 2015 cancellation of Metalocalypse, with other potential television projects, live stand-up and a monthly music/comedy show at the Improv with fellow comedian Steve Agee, the process of channeling his musical energy into his newest solo record has been especially satisfying for him on a personal level, in the wake of how everything went down with Metalocalypse.
The final episode that aired in 2013 was a one-hour, stand-alone rock opera titled “The Doomstar Requiem,” which was bizarre and absurd even by the standards of the series. It was meant to be a stop-gap until the following season, when Small could fully wrap up the stories he had left to tell in the Dethklok universe. But that final season never happened.
“I think the era of Metalocalypse was the golden age of Adult Swim,” Small says. “Their ethos at the time was, 'Fuck it, let's do it.' If I'd known there wasn't going to be more, I wouldn't have done the rock opera the way I did.”
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Many television writers become bitter when the rigors of network boardroom politics bring to a premature end a series with a devoted following. But Small's outlook on the whole experience is surprisingly positive.
“I knew Metalocalypse was going to end,” he says. “Show business doesn't have real laws of logic and rules. But I sat back and looked at the last 10 years of my life. I got to become a working musician and fulfill every one of my heavy metal dreams. I got to befriend and perform with some of the coolest musicians in the world, from Mastodon and Cannibal Corpse to Joe Satriani and Billy Gibbons. How could I possibly complain about anything here?
“Dethklok's fans got fucked. I didn't get fucked. I'm the luckiest guy in the world.”
Brendon Small's Galaktikon II: Become the Storm is out now. Learn more at galaktikon.com.