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It's been a decade since metalheads heard from Dethklok, a literally killer death-metal act and eighth-largest economic superpower on Earth. In their last loveable caper, 2013's rock opera The Doomstar Requiem, the band learned the true meaning of friendship and metal by rescuing shredder Toki Wartooth from the clutches of their longtime nemesis and Mustainean former guitarist. Now, in Army of the Doomstar, Dethklok are forced to fulfill their part in the centuries-old prophecy that has chased them for the entire original series — and in classic fashion, they fuck it all up, bringing about the end of the world and causing the deaths of millions. That's right, kids, the Metalocalypse has arrived, and it's all Dethklok's fault.
The film picks up right where Requiem left off, with a newly reunited Dethklok announcing a tour and album — until frontman Nathan Explosion has a nervous breakdown, his romantic aspirations are crushed, the tour and album are canceled, and the world slips into economic hell. As Dethklok's organization shifts from entertainment franchise to global church, the band go into hiding so that Explosion can write the Song of Salvation, the performance of which will prevent the rise of the demonic Mr. Salacia and the fiery destruction of the society as we know it. But it wouldn't be a Dethklok gig if everything went right (and everybody lived), and without giving too much away, let's just say the boys are forced to navigate a terrifying new world of their own creation.
Two aspects of The Army of the Doomstar stand out immediately. First, this isn't an ironic goofball comedy like so much of the original Metalocalypse series. Sure, there are laugh-out-loud jokes throughout, but overall, this is an epic sci-fi action flick, similar to 1981's Heavy Metal and the boob-laden magazine on which it was based. Second, to that effect, holy shit, the quality of animation this time around is phenomenal and worlds above where director and show co-creator Brendon Small started. Whether the serious tone spurred better animation, or the possibility of cooler visuals inspired Small to go all out, or a little of both, the result is awesome to behold, a rolling boil of jaw-dropping imagery and psychedelic darkness that die-hard metalheads will salivate over.
That said, in the words of William Murderface's stomach tattoo, "pobody's nerfect," and the film's single-minded focus on Explosion might be its biggest, uh, imnerfection. Many of the show's most beloved characters feel consigned to the background, especially band manager Charles Ofdensen and guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf, two of Metalocalypse's more interesting figures who don't have much to do or say in the movie. Along those lines, the band culture also feels thin — we don't get to see much of Dethklok rehearsing or playing together, with Nathan's writing process taking up the main narrative. The choices make sense — a movie doesn't offer the same amount of time and continuity as several seasons of a show — even if they are a little disappointing.
So, is Army of the Doomstar a knee-slapping, meme-ready romp like Dethklok's earlier exploits? Not so much. But what it lacks in laughs, the film more than makes up for with a visual feast of extreme, ultraviolent, melodramatic proportions, complete with an over-the-top ending that will have fans pumping their fists in the air. And maybe in 2023's algorithmic world full of Pickle Ricks and Bojack Horsemen, metalheads deserve something this lofty and monumental and fucking brutal. Maybe they deserve something worth dying for.