An extremely rare, but high profile sub-set of Metal releases are comedy albums. A few rare bands decide to release and record albums of metal that are strictly based on humor. Are these parody acts loving tributes or a tongue in cheek, kick at a genre that at times takes itself very seriously? Are these bands worthy of the definition of metal for bringing a new face to the genre, or to be shunned for crude and mean-spirited attempts to make fun of something they don’t understand? Metal comedy. Worthwhile or worthless?
Is there a place for comedy in metal? The short answer is yes, but the longer answer involves some exploration of the context around it. Is it satire, parody, or a pointed jab at the metal scene? Is there substance behind the shtick or is the band a one-trick pony that relies on image or a gag to persist?
First, there are comedians who use music as a medium for their act.
In 1974, Cheech & Chong released the single “Earache My Eye” under the guise of the comedy duo’s glam rock alter ego, Alice Bowie. With a rockin’ main riff and lyrics about condescending adults and the perks of the rock star lifestyle, the single was a spot-on satirical take of the early 70’s rock scene, where a big sound was countered only by an even bigger image. Arguably the first instance of mixing comedy with hard rock/metal, the song is still instantly recognizable more than 30-years after the fact and still puts smiles on faces. Why? Cheech & Chong were already an accomplished comedic team and understood the idea of “funny.” They also understood music; before comedy, Tommy Chong was an accomplished blues guitarist with recording credits. They understood their talents, they understood their audience, and trusted that they would get the joke. Fast forward 30 years and look at the parallels with the whole Dethklok phenomenon. A satirical take on a particular sub-culture, where presentation and image are as much a part of it as the music, peppered with all kinds of nods to their fan base. Coincidence?
Spinal Tap is probably the example that comes to mind first though when discussing comedy metal. As with Alice Bowie, Spinal Tap was conceived by an already accomplished comedic troupe in the form of Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest. They built Spinal Tap around a comedic foundation and incorporated their own musical prowess into the persona. The band was complete with decades of back-story and fictional history, allowing the concept of Spinal Tap to exist beyond the 1984 film. The 1992 follow up album, BREAK LIKE THE WIND, took the joke one step further by featuring both new material and supposed re-recordings of some of the songs from the “legendary” Spinal Tap archives. The album was even supported with a full tour, which fully brought the gag to life. Beyond the subtle (and not so subtle) humor, Spinal Tap songs are generally regarded as strong rock/metal tunes in their own right. Sure they cater to the basest of rock clichés, but they do it well. But sometimes, even the creators forget why their brainchild was funny to begin with, as evidenced on 2009’s completely unnecessary and unfunny BACK FROM THE DEAD.
And then there are metal bands who try to be funny.
Remember Scatterbrain? For the five of you that do, you’re likely to only remember a couple of singles from the first album, HERE COMES TROUBLE. Do you remember their less funny, more straightforward major label follow up album SCAMBOOGERY? Probably not. Born out of the ashes of crossover thrash icons Ludichrist, Scatterbrain mixed their edgier roots with a more mainstream, humor infused approach. Musically, the album wasn’t bad and their admittedly humorous videos had the benefit of heavy rotation on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, but Scatterbrain quickly became pigeonholed as a goofball comedy metal band. A victim of their own success, by the time the second album came out, nobody cared anymore. Even if SCAMBOOGERY hadn’t been the awful, unfunny mess that it was, Scatterbrain’s steam still would have run out eventually. The band didn’t have any other identity besides being the guys with the funny videos. The band was dropped from their label, followed up with an indie EP saddled with a re-recording of their biggest hit (a sure sign that a band has run out of gas) and unceremoniously faded into obscurity.
Though it’s never been outright “comedy metal,” GWAR’s twisted sense of humor is as much a part of the band’s mythos as the band itself. GWAR started out as an art project where image was first and the music was an afterthought. But by 1992’s AMERICA MUST BE DESTROYED, the Slave Pit gang had made some noticeable improvements in both the performance and songwriting departments, a trend that continues to be evident with each successive release. Today you can strip away the GWAR visuals and still find some great metal tunes underneath. The image and humor complement the music, and vice versa. The same can’t be said for the Slave Pit spin-off, X-Cops. With the cast and crew of GWAR trading instruments, X-Cops was to law enforcement officers as GWAR was to intergalactic space barbarians. Not as funny when you lay it out like that, huh? Despite a mediocre one-off album and some decent live performances opening up for none other than GWAR, fans were left scratching their heads. Apparently aliens are funnier than cops, just ask Alf.
Green Jello started out much the same way, but never got the message about musical quality. A more intentionally comedic GWAR knock-off, Green Jello was a novelty within a novelty. Surrounded by puppets and nursery rhymes, the band’s debut CEREAL KILLER was originally intended to be a video-only release (i.e., you needed the visuals to make the music palatable), but was eventually released on CD. The band followed up with the Grammy nominated (seriously) 333 and their most recent MUSICK TO INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE BY. But without the schlocky eye candy, the music becomes even less funny and you quickly begin to realize how little there was to start with. Whereas GWAR took the time to create personalities and quirks for each member of the GWAR universe, there wasn’t anything for Green Jello fans to connect with except for silly sight gags. Aliens are funnier than cops, but just about anything is funnier than Green Jello. Just ask Alf.
Somewhere along the way, S.O.D. turned into a comedy act. The same band that gave us the stinging social commentary of SPEAK ENGLISH OR DIE returned with another unnecessary follow up album, BIGGER THAN THE DEVIL. Featuring tunes like “Celtic Frosted Flakes” and “King at the King” (the latter being a skit about King Diamond at a fast food joint), the album hardly had the bite of its predecessor. S.O.D. released one more single before Billy Milano decided that he hated Scott Ian, the equally unfunny “Seasoning the Obese.” It’s supposed to be funny because it plays off of Slayer’s “Seasons in the Abyss.” No, not funny? I didn’t think so either. I don’t know exactly whose fault it was for turning S.O.D. into a lounge act at the Passaic, NJ Holiday Inn, but somebody should be held accountable.
And some artists/fans have embraced the union of comedy and metal with a sub-genre all of its’ own – HUMORCORE.
Funny for the sake of funny. At least with a concept like Humorcore you know what to expect; cheap laughs and hopefully some decent riffs to carry you through to the next song. Psychostick are one of the bands leading the Humorcore charge, with their latest full length, SANDWICH, paying homage to all things food related. Unabashedly juvenile and entirely self aware of just how ridiculous their music is, Psychostick succeeds by not pretending to be anything more than what they are. The end result is a collection of tunes directed at getting their audience to laugh within the context of a metal album. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least they’re honest in their approach.
There’s certainly a place for comedy in metal – just ask Jim Breuer or Brian Posehn, but the bottom line is that puppets, costumes, and jokes don’t mean a thing if the songs aren’t there to back it all up. But that’s true of any genre – just because you wear corpse paint doesn’t mean you’re shitty black metal band will be touring with Cradle of Filth. And just because Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer dress like Ace and Peter doesn’t mean it’s KISS.
But before I go…
Two nuns walked into a bar, the third one ducked (queue rim shot)…Thank you folks, you’ve been great! I’ll be here all week, try the veal and don’t forget to tip your waitress!
It’s strange to think musicians think there’s a lack of comedy in metal and waste time, money and talent developing comedy acts such as Steal Panther.
KISS’s long term commitment to metal comedy with multiple final tours (Farewell Tour and Sorry We Had Our Fingers Crossed Behind Our Backs When We Said The Farewell Tour Was Our Final Tour), symphonic concert downUnder and Gene Simmons’s speaking tour would keep me chuckling for years if it wasn’t for the money being sucked out of poor, naïve, loyal fans forking out hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars in fear of missing something mediocre. The best KISS music was produced in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and they should have called it a day when the makeup case was put in storage.
Then there are the bands that take their musical creativity or brutalness to the extreme that provide good laughs. Versailles from Japan are lavish in their philharmonics, costumes and manga touched up photographs. Although Versailles take themselves seriously you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t stop laughing. Theatrics to the other extreme are just as comic like the 2008 Gorgoroth shows complete with fresh goat heads on stakes and naked, hooded, crucified people on stage. Maybe Gaahl planned to have the last laugh on us all when one of the father’s of Norwegian black metal came out of the closet in 2008.
All jokes aside metal CDs in Australia are about AUD$30 for a new release and with so many serious bands competing for my money and listening time, I’d rather pay attention to people who take their talent seriously.
The topic of comedy in metal can be pretty open ended. Some people find Obituary’s THE END COMPLETE a laugh riot thanks to the over the top cookie monster vocal sounds of John Tardy…reportedly he didn’t even write lyrics for the album, he just went for it and cookie-monstered his way through the album like they were a bag of chips ahoy! Then there is those that find songs about ancient forests of elves, enchanted emerald swords, dragons, the shire, etc. to be just too much to handle. However, rather then poke fun at things that are not trying to be funny (even if they are), I will focus on a few of the successes from the comedy metal realm who set out to be funny, and in most all aspects succeed.
While I do prefer metal to be serious, there’s also a side of me that appreciates things that are completely over the top and far beyond retarded. When you couple that with some great musicianship, it’s a win-win. Three of the bands who do this the best are GWAR, Steel Panther, and Austrian Death Machine.
GWAR have been around forever, since before time itself. Their costumes, humor, back-story, and lyrics have always been funny. I won’t bother giving a history of the band, just read their wiki if you need to know more. GWAR’s 2009 album, LUST IN SPACE with its Kiss LOVE GUN styled album cover art is funny in and of itself. It is the band’s best work in years! The song “Metal Metal Land” stood out for me on that album with it’s great riffing and hilarious lyrics such as “Here in Metal Metal Land, every day is night. Except of course when night is day, but then there is no light.” Ha!!!
Other of metal comedy bands who get it right are Austrian Death Machine. I love the old Arnold Schwarzenegger films – and have always found them to be both brutalll and funny. The lines in the movies lend themselves so well to metal…I mean, the “Riddle of Steel”? ha! What escalates this into such a special place is the voice actor who does the Arnold voice. For the band’s 2009 DOUBLE BRUTAL album, they got the best Arnold impersonator on the planet, Josh Robert Thompson . An interview with Josh, in character, is here.
With lyrics like “If You’re Going To Sound Like Cookie Monster Then We Might As Well Write A Song About Cookies!” and song titles such as: “I Need Your Clothes, Your Boots, And Your Motorcycle”, “Hey Cookie Monster, Nothing Is As Brutal As Neaahhh”, “Who Told You You Could Eat My Cookies?”, “Come On Cohaagen, Give Deez People Ehyar”, “Come On, Do It, Do It, Come On, Come On, Kill Me, Do It Now”, you know this has to be funny!
The last of the “real” bands I’ll mention here is Steel Panther. The member’s of the band are Michael Starr (vocals), Stix Zadinia (drums), Satchel (lead guitar) and Lexxi Foxxx (bass). This band is so far over the top with their sexually explicit humor that I can’t imagine they will ever get any radio play. The vocal range of Starr is very impressive. He can also sound like many other singers when it’s called for, the best being his Jamie’s Crying-styled David Lee Roth yelps, squeals, a-ha’s etc. He is also able to feign what sounds like real emotion within the ballads with retarded lines like “Hair on your nipples, zits on your box. In Oklahoma City you’re considered a fox. What did you have to do for that backstage pass, ’cause I found a Poison laminate inside of your ass.” Other lyrics on the album are much more vile and perverted! The other thing that shines about this band is the lead playing of Satchel (Russ Parrish – known to most of us metallers as the dude from Rob Halford’s band Fight). When you combine comedy genius with musicianship of this calibre, then Steel Panther are easily the best metal comedy band EVER.
Comedy Metal Honourable Mention not for musicianship, but for its humour alone must go to “Impaled Northern Moonforest”. Just the song titles alone are enough to crack me up!
Side 1 (Demo #1):
- Grim And Frostbitten Moongoats Of The North
- Forlorned Invocations Of Blasphemous Congregations Of Lusting Goat Sodomizing Sathanis
- Gazing At The Blasphemous Moon While Perched Atop A Very Very Very Very Very Very Very Forsaken Crest Of The Northern Mountain
- Bloodlustfully Praising Satan’s Unholy Almightiness In The Woods At Midnight
- Nocturnal Cauldrons Aflame Amidst The Northern Hellwitch’s Perpetual Blasphemy
- Transfixing The Forbidden Blasphemous Incantation Of The Conjuring Wintergoat
Side 2 (Demo #2):
- Masturbating On The Unholy Inverted Tracks Of The Grim & Frostbitten Necrobobsledders
- Awaiting The Blasphemous Abomination Of The Necroyeti While Sailing On The Northernmost Fjord Of Xzfgiiizmtsath
- Lustfully Worshipping The Inverted Moongoat While Skiing Down The Inverted Necromountain Of Necrodeathmortum
- Awaiting The Frozen Blasphemy Of The Necroyeti’s Lusting Necrobation Upon The Altar Of Voxrfszzzisnzf
- Summoning The Unholy Frozen Winterdemons To The Grimmest And Most Frostbitten Inverted Forest Of Abazagorath
- Entranced By The Northern Impaled Necrowizard’s Blasphemous Incantation Amidst The Agonizing Abomination Of The Lusting Necrocorpse
- Grim And Frostbitten Gay Bar
The music is almost as funny, but in smaller does since it’s not well played, written, or produced at all…and that was the point. The drums sound like spoons on a cardboard box….and while that is funny, it doesn’t make for a listenable album…but it is hilarious.
In my review of the Steel Panther album of Jan 2010, I suggested that humour is pretty subjective. Coincidentally the topic of humour in metal have been on my mind with the release of recent albums by GWAR, Green Jelly and Spinal Tap.
Bands that have comedy their main thrust, lyrically and visually are extremely rare in metal. There are perhaps a couple dozen bands in the entire 40-year history of metal. Because of the rarity of these bands they stand out immediately in the mind, because they are so unique and different in a genre that generally prides itself on being dark and serious. Less than one-tenth of a percent of all metal bands specifically specialize in comedy. There have been many, many bands that inject comedy or humour into their songs, the list is quite huge but those bands are generally serious artists and the comedy is very minimal, relegated to bonus tracks, novelty covers, EP’s, concerts and so on.
I personally enjoy comedy bands and seek them out. For the most part I feel these bands are a pleasant distraction and an amusing take on our beloved genre. Some bands, like Spinal Tap, are a bit of a light-hearted spoof of metal, created by comedians that are not really metal fans. Other bands such as Zimmer’s Hole are created by very serious and well known metal musicians as a fun project.
I think that is the key word: fun. If the joke isn’t funny or well done in the taste of the listener, the album/band/project will have little value. Most of these comedy projects have a notoriously short shelf-life which may indicate that the genre (if you can label it that) doesn’t have much staying power. Bands like Haunted Garage, Scatterbrain, Skrapp Mettle, Bloody Stools, etc came and went quite quickly. Other ‘side-project’ bands like S.O.D. and Zimmer’s Hole are still around but not necessarily very productive over the years.
The most recent and perhaps controversial example of metal-comedy is the band Dethklok. Some observers, myself included, have grumbled that it is sad or perhaps even embarrassing that a comedy band that spoofs Death Metal, can rapidly become the best-selling band in the genre, based on a television cartoon and an audience that normally would not buy a Death Metal album.
History has shown that these humour-based bands are an anomaly and generally not accepted and/or successful, but the artists who are brave (or crazy) enough choose to express themselves blending metal and comedy will have my attention.