When I was in college I had a friend we all simply called, "Heavy Metal Tim."
Heavy Metal Tim had long curly hair, wore a devil's mustache and goatee, and — you guessed it — was really into metal. One time he invited me over to his house to watch an Iron Maiden video in his basement, which obviously I accepted (despite having about one-tenth as much metal in my blood). About halfway through, he said, "We should get out of the gas mask."
The gas mask, it turns out, was an apparatus that Tim used to smoke weed. And yep, it was made out of an actual gas mask.
There I am, with the gas mask on, watching and listening to an Iron Maiden video in Heavy Metal Tim's basement — and I am transported. I'm climbing icy peaks, slaying dragons, creating chaos alongside grinning monsters — I'm a kid again, watching Wizards, Conan the Destroyer, Heavy Metal, and all the other mystical and wonderful movies a kid probably shouldn't have been watching circa the early-to-mid '80s.
Watching Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar, the new movie featuring Nathan Explosion and Co., I felt like I was back in Tim's basement. And, it turns out, there's good reason for that.
Brendon Small, writer and director of Doomstar, co-creator of Metalocalypse (alongside Tommy Blancha), and the person responsible for all of Dethklok's music, says building a mood that's similar to those classics was intentional.
"I was always interested in trying to make [the show] feel like Filmation," he tells Classic Nerd from his home in L.A., referencing the legendary animation studio that produced Saturday morning cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The New Adventures of Flash Gordon, and BraveStarr — as well as worked on TV films like Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.
"Filmation was a big deal for me as a kid."
Small also points to animated movies of the '70s and early '80s, like those produced by artist and director Ralph Bakshi, that were aimed at adults but attracted young viewers anyways.
"For me, it was [Bakshi's] Lord of the Rings. I remember seeing the rotoscoping as a kid and losing my mind."
There was also a mashup of styles in those movies, "comedy and brutality" Small calls it, that stunned him as a child.
"I remember being like 7 years old, watching American Pop, seeing a group of people getting mowed down with a Tommy gun while there was a song. I'd never seen anything like that before, and it stuck with me forever."
It's clear the animation styles and themes from Brendon's childhood, which also included Disney and Don Bluth, still serve as inspiration today, and anyone who watches the new Metalocalypse movie is likely to pick up on it.
The score, which Small wrote, reinforces the entire vibe — synth-heavy, moody, and reminiscent of dark fantasy films from the 1970s and '80s. He points to influences from composers like Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian), Tangerine Dream (Legend), and Giorgio Moroder (The NeverEnding Story).
That kind of music for a score, he says, "creates mystical moments that kind of open up your imagination."
Having the space and challenge for a movie — particularly one that serves as the finale of the Metalocalypse story — allowed Brendon and the Army of the Doomstar crew to incorporate techniques from the stuff they grew up watching, like rotoscoping. They also used ink tanks, a common technique from the late '70s and '80s from both film and animation. "Basically, gigantic aquariums filled with saltwater and fresh water. You inject ink and can build clouds and skies and other tactile things."
But for fans who have followed Dethklok from Adult Swim staple to a rock opera (Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem) to a movie, it's clear the team is pushing themselves. Small says there was a bigger crew that embraced challenging one another to up the ante.
"We thought, this is a big Viking funeral, let's go out on a high note. Let's have something cool to look at every moment."
Those who have followed the exploits of the biggest band of all time will find plenty to be happy about — but Doomstar isn't a clip show or fan service. Without spoiling anything, there's not a lot of Dethklok music early in the movie. But about an hour in, there's one of those "mystical moments" that is extremely satisfying whether you're a diehard Metalocalypse fan, someone who enjoys old-school fantasy, or a person who has spent time in the basement with Heavy Metal Tim.
"And," Small says, "it's all inspired by the movies that I grew up on in the '80s."
Of course, it's not fair to distill Army of the Doomstar to 1980s fantasy references. There are familiar characters that pop up to tie the story together, a chance to see what the Metalocalypse actually is, deep lore, and the mix of comedy and brutality we've come to expect. There's a big world that Dethklok exists in (big enough that it spills into the real world), and the fact that it includes psychic villains, soldiers with glowing goggles, a few laughs, and the voices of some sci-fi legends (Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell) doesn't hurt a damn thing.
Whether you've been following the story since it all began back in 2006, or you're meeting Nathan Explosion, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Pickles, William Murderface, and Toki Wartooth for the first time, anyone who's a fan of cool sh*t will find themselves "hypnotized into this strange dream" as Small puts it — and find themselves opened up to a bit more imagination when it's all said and done.
We can all only hope for such a funeral.
Dethklok will also be heading out on tour starting in late August.