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Could a death metal band ever be the 12th largest economy in the world (just above Belgium)? If so, is it conceivable that a secretive think tank known as the Tribunal, made up of high-ranking military and religious leaders, would seek to destroy such a band? And could that band, the one that’s pulling in billions of dollars a year despite having murdered hundreds of its fans (mostly by mistake) be called Dethklok?

The answer is yes, and it can be found on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block. Metalocalypse, an 11-minute romp through the grisly underworld of death metal superstardom, is for death metalers today what Hee Haw was for hillbillies. The story of Metalocalypse follows the exploits of Dethklok, an all-powerful band of fierce metal warriors led by singer Nathan Explosion, a burly fellow who howls, grunts and speaks in the Cookie Monster death metal voice favored by all singers of the genre. The band’s two Scandinavian guitarists are Skwisgaar Skwigelf, “fastest guitar player alive,” and Toki Wartooth, whose somewhat goofy manner and Barney-like innocence have caused him to be adored by children the world over. William Murderface is the band’s moody, lisping bassist sporting tattoos on his stomach that read “Pobody’s Nerfekt” and “This Mess is a Place.” Pickles the Drummer was once the singer of glam band Snakes and Barrels (modeled very humorously on Guns N’ Roses), which has instigated more than a little derision from his fellow bandmates.

Though hailed as the most successful band ever, the members of Dethklok are incredible numbskulls, even by metal standards. Thus, it’s somewhat amazing that they’re so nuanced and appealing, even the drummer. It’s hard to watch the show and not have a favorite member of Dethklok.

Much of the humor centers around the band’s accidental slaughtering of its devoted fans. In one episode the rockers attempt to apologize to their Scandinavian fans after leaving a path of destruction through Finland on a past tour. Instead, they mistakenly summon a rampaging lake troll and are recruited to lull it back to sleep by playing traditional acoustic Finnish instruments (mocked as “grandspa’s guitars”). The episode features the voices of Metallica members James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, who have appeared in several episodes of the show along with a slew of famous metalers like King Diamond (of Mercyful Fate) and Cannibal Corpse’s George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher.

In another episode, Dethklok’s plans to host the United States Pornography Awards are thwarted by Nathan Explosion’s celebrity girlfriend, who forces him to wear a pink Izod polo shirt and drags him away from important band meetings to shop at Bed Bath and Beyond. The rest of the band feels it has no alternative but to chain Nathan to a chair and torture him until he agrees to break up with her.

Not every death metaler will find Metalocalypse funny. The show parodies a genre of music that almost never laughs at itself, as if any humor would spoil the music’s gloomy, carcass-strewn mood. However, fans with a sense of irony have embraced the show, leaving comments on Dethklok’s MySpace page like, “If only the real world was as metal as the one you guys have created.”

Another reason why Metalocalypse is so funny is that it parodies a sub-genre of music that’s hardly mainstream. The humor pokes fun at metal minutia such as instructional guitar-playing infomercials, humongous lake trolls that seem to appear only in Scandinavian mythology and metal lyrics, and lucrative endorsement deals. Pickles, for instance, endorses nickels for the United States Treasury called Pickles’ Nickels. Nathan has his own barbecue sauce, and even Murderface endorses a brand of doorknobs called Murderknobs.

Ironically, the show’s success has led to a few merchandise deals of its own. In its second season of mayhem and wanton slaughter, Metalocalypse spawned “The Dethalbum,” which features all the music on the show, written and performed by creator Brendon Small. Metalocalypse writer Tommy Blacha wrote two tracks on the album, and Gene Hoglan (of Strapping Young Lad) played drums. On Oct. 2, a DVD of the first season came out, and limited edition action figures came out in February. Despite its relative success, the show must overcome a brutal programming slot, currently 11:45 p.m. on Sundays.

There may never be another TV show about death metal for heshers to adore, but for now, thank Lucifer there’s Metalocalypse.

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