I'm sitting in a chair with a black bag pulled tightly over my face. I can't see or hear anything; there's no way to tell where I am. My hands and feet remain free, but I've been told in no uncertain terms what will happen if I get up. All I can do is wait, but with nothing to indicate the passing of time, I can't say for how long I'm sitting there. Then a door opens, and I hear an unknown number of people shuffling in. Are they like me, senseless and nervous? The door closes with a bang, and I jump in my seat.
A moment later, I hear the unmistakable sound of someone opening a beer bottle, followed by intent gulping. There's a noise like a plastic bag tearing, and I smell something cloying and tangy. Crunching fills the room. Then a deep voice says, "OK, take it off."
The bag is yanked roughly from my head, but I'm still blinded, by a bright light shining in my face. There's a table in front of me, and on it is my tape recorder, notepad, and pen. I glance behind me and see two men, both wearing black, hood-like masks. They're holding assault rifles, and I can hear their short, sharp breaths; they don't like me, and I'm certain they'd enjoy killing me.
I hear the crunching noise again, in front of me, and I squint against the light. Just barely, I can see the unmistakable outlines of three men: Nathan Explosion, singer. Skwisgaar Skwigelf, lead guitarist. Pickles, drummer. Three fifths of Dethklok, the biggest band in the world.
I can understand the security—the hood, the armed guards, the undisclosed location. Some sort of mad terrorist group attacked Dethklok not too long ago. Details remain sketchy but it's known that the band's base of operations, Mordhaus, was destroyed and numerous people were killed. Now, no one's taking any chances, and even members of the press are subjected to rigorous background checks, and not a few unpleasant probings.
I'm here to talk with the melodic death-metal group about their new record, Dethalbum II. Mostly about why it took so long to come out; the delay plunged the world's economy into ruin and caused worried nations to build up their stockpiles of nuclear weapons at alarming rates. On live TV, anguished over the absent record, the President of the United States put a shotgun in his mouth and attempted to commit suicide. Fans across the globe rioted. They were dark times—brutal times, to use the band's favorite adjective. But they also help to illustrate just how popular Dethklok, which also features rhythm guitarist Toki Wartooth and bassist William Murderface, have become. It's no exaggeration to say that they dominate not only the record charts but also the hearts, minds, and maybe even the souls of heavy-metal fans everywhere.
"I try not to pay attention to the media when I'm in creative mode," says Explosion, as he pulls another chip from the bag of Cool Ranch Doritos sitting in his lap. Crunch, crunch, crunch. "People will bring things to my attention, as in, 'Hey, the President tried to kill himself, because there's not a new record,' but you know, I can't let that affect me because I've got Transformers on the Blu-ray player right now."
REVOLVER Blu-ray? That's what delayed the record and sank the world into a year of pain and chaos?
NATHAN EXPLOSION It's inspiring to see a movie like King Kong on Blu-ray. You can't rip an artist away from that and make him record an album.
King Kong was only three hours long, though...
EXPLOSION Well, The Dark Knight came out on Blu-ray. Iron Man came out, too. Wall-E came out. I go nuts for Pixar stuff. Um, you don't have to print that.
PICKLES Anyway, once we do get in the studio, we still don't feel like working. Working's not fun, working's not cool, and working's definitely not metal.
Look, you have to waste a certain amount of time before you can get your job done. We'd say, "Skwisgaar, tell us that story again about when you went to school and you ripped your pants." And even though we know that story by heart, that'll eat up about six or seven minutes of studio time. And then we'll go, "We've been here for four hours and we haven't done anything, but it's break time." And that's how we do things.
It's amazing the record was ever finished at all. What finally motivated you?
PICKLES You have to do a lot of cocaine to really get motivated and focused about your art. That's my secret little trick, and I'll tell all the kids out there: Probably the best thing you can do if you want to become a great musician is find a good drug dealer. A trustworthy drug dealer. Spend the extra money on good drugs.
A lot of people might say that's not the best message to send to kids…
PICKLES Who? Who would say that? Probably people who aren't professional musicians. People who haven't experienced the same things I have. So I throw that question back at you: Who would say that?
PICKLES If he's a doctor who's also in a successful death-metal band, he would have my attention. But he's not. He can't play drums, so it's hard for me to take anything he says seriously.
EXPLOSION The things that get me excited about going back into the studio are Cool Ranch Doritos, blowjobs, and, you know, good, old-fashioned hard drinking. That's the kind of stuff that'll get me excited about, you know, art. My art.
SKWISGAAR SKWIGELF You're asking us whys we don'ts finish this records, but it's finished. It's outs theres now. You want to know what makes us takes a lots of time? It's that we don'ts eats right. That's what our dietician says. We has, like, for breakfast nothings. For lunch, potato chips. Maybes we'll send somebodys outs for Cinnabons. Then we move on to pretzels. And then a pizzas. And then, you know, it's a bunch of salts and bread doughs, and its makes you fall asleeps.
EXPLOSION Yeah, we need to factor in napping.
Eventually, the band did finally finish the record, and many would argue that the results were worth the ravaged nation. Dethklok worked with legendary producer Dick "Magic Ears" Knubbler to craft an album that delivers the kind of punishing death metal their fans expect ("Bloodlines," "The Gears," "Burn the Earth," and, well, to be honest, every other song on the record). The band expands their sound a bit, however, like on the song "Black Fire Upon Us," which creates powerful hooks by laying a bed of epic, melodic chords underneath Explosion's grinding vocals.
To capture their music, the band's R&D department created an astonishing new recording medium that delivers sound as pure as a mountain spring: Water. Recordable water, to be exact. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the process isn't easy or cheap. "When you record on water, you spend a lot of money, and you ruin a great amount of natural resources," says Pickles. "The machine that makes the water recordable, to run it, you need to burn fossil fuels, redwood trees, endangered species. But you know, you can really hear it in every track."
PICKLES It brings an energy. When you fuck up you realize that's a couple animals right there. Or that's our oil reserve. And it makes you think a little harder about missing notes or coming in at the wrong part.
SKWIGELF I try to practice my parts before I's goes in, so they ams played pretty wells the first times. And when Murderface and Toki comes in, we do a lots of "pretends recordings," when we act like they're recordings and then when they leaves the rooms, I actually record their parts.
Wait, you record Murderface and Toki's parts?
SKWIGELF I only say this because they're not in the rooms. But late at night I have been known to come in with our producers and I does the majorities of their parts. For Toki, just to make it sound more like hims, I'll sits on my hands and makes them fall asleep a little bit.
Nathan, how did you prepare for the new album? Didn't you mention something about Pixar?
EXPLOSION Yeah, you've got to balance stuff out. I'd usually hang out with some buddies who are CSI investigators. I'll tag along when they go to crime scenes. You're always looking for a new way to die when you're writing these records.
But you've got to balance the dark with the light. When you think about the magical kingdom of Disneyland and then you go back and talk about fucking dead bodies, it's like, "OK, now I see the difference."
The difference between...um...Disneyland and dead bodies?
EXPLOSION Right. You need to know they're not the same thing.
It's three months prior to my high-security meeting with the band, and I'm standing in a parking lot surrounded by thousands of Dethklok fans. The band is at a Duncan Hills coffee shop opening, a contractual obligation they entered into with one of their biggest sponsors. As usual, Dethklok are surrounded by some of their Klokateers, the armed, hooded men that provide the group's security, and also fill such day-to-day roles as drivers, pilots, maintenance, stage crews, and whatever other jobs might be required.
The day begins quietly enough—considering the size of the crowd—but then a popping noise comes from somewhere among the fans. It sounds like a pistol shot, though authorities still haven't confirmed this. Regardless, the Klokateers respond immediately to the perceived threat, firing their assault weapons into the crowd and killing dozens of people in an instant. Throughout the massacre, Dethklok look distracted and bored.
Orgies of violence are nothing new to the band, and they require concert attendees to sign pain wavers. Fans have had body parts shot off by lasers; they've been crushed when airborne stages landed in the middle of mosh pits; they've had their flesh seared off by giant vats of scalding coffee; they've been eaten by Finnish lake trolls.
And yet, for all that, they keep coming back in droves, drawn to Dethklok despite the low survival rates. "You know, this is out of our jurisdiction, officer," Pickles says, back in our secret bunker. "We have nothing to do with that—that's what our lawyer told us to tell you. But having said that, after a show, if we find out that some of our fans are no longer with us, well, we have to say, 'OK, that's not the worst thing in the world.'"
"We hate the fans," elaborates Explosion. "We find them disgusting. I mean, God bless 'em if they buy our records. But then, you know, we wish they'd go kill themselves."
You want your fans to kill themselves? Aren't they the ones who keep you in business?
EXPLOSION We say, "Buy our stuff, preorder the stuff that's not out yet, and then go kill yourselves." But a lot of them don't. They'll go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," but then they chicken out at the last second. We actually find that a little disappointing.
You've said that it's not about the violence; it's about the brutality that comes out of the violence. Has that changed at all with your continued success?
EXPLOSION I think being successful affords us the opportunity to bring a brutality to wider stretches of the world. For example, Murderface wanted to build a resort in El Salvador, and he evicted about 60 families from their homes. He built a rollercoaster for himself, and I think that teaches those people in El Salvador a new kind of brutality. That's something Dethklok does.
How does that brutality differ from the brutality they might have experienced under abject poverty, oppressive regimes, or rebel violence?
PICKLES OK, egghead, we don't have a crystal ball. All we know is that we took something that was natural and we ruined it to make the world worse. And who knows? Maybe they'd have been better off with rebel violence and rape and abject poverty. But I think knowing there's a rollercoaster right there that they can't ride under any circumstances makes their lives a little bit shittier. And I think that's the brutality you need.
That's an answer I'm happy with. See, at first I got all mad at you, and then I really became insightful towards the end.
You've achieved so much—do you still experience brutality in your own lives?
SKWIGELF We experience a new kind of brutalities thats happens to peoples who lives in a bigger tax brackets. So, I mean, we now experience that brutalities of, "Does our landscapers have a green card, and can we be helds accountable for that?" That's brutal.
Or, "Will our butlers, you know, if we don't pay hims his health benefits, ares we held accountable?" That's brutal.
Or, having a multi-billions dollars companies and not really knowing how to runs its and trusting some guy with glasses? That's am pretty brutal.
That inspires us to be violents—to our employees, to our managers, to random fans. It's a very empowering feelings to grab the fans by the face and to push him when all he wants is your autograph. That ams brutal for hims—and it's brutals for mes to even looks at that fans. You get sicks of thems, because they're like a lot of little birds, chirpings and waitings for you to feeds them and regurgitates in their mouths. And sometimes you don't wants to feeds the birds. You wants to crush its with your fists.
Why is that so gratifying?
EXPLOSION You want to ask me questions about the human condition—I'm not a psychotherapist. All I know is it feels good to destroy. At the end of the day, I like to see people get hurt, I like to see people fall down, I like to pick up a brick and put it through a stained-glass window. That's who I am. I'm simple. I like French fries. That's where I'm coming from.
And then, all of a sudden, a pair of hands grabs my shoulders from behind while someone else pulls the hood back down over my head. "Interview's over," hisses a voice just behind my right ear. A moment later, I feel my skull explode in pain while stars flash behind my eyes, and slowly, serenely, I slip into the deep, black waters of unconsciousness. The last thing I remember hearing is the slow, deliberate "crunch, crunch, crunch" of Nathan Explosion and his bag of Doritos.