For something as purposefully abrasive and extreme as metal, it makes perfect sense that those who poke fun at this style of music are often met with a flurry of criticism. Few other genres of music have gathered such a cult following and a “lifer” mentality, so there’s no surprise that plenty of fans are willing to go to incredible lengths to legitimize and justify this music no matter what. After all, metal has been downright gaudy and ridiculous for its entire existence (Pantera’s early album art, Poison music videos, power metal as an entire subgenre), but websites the world over are still flooded with impressionable listeners that may not see the same humor in grown men who call themselves “Necrobutcher” or write multiple albums about The Silmarillion. After all, metal is often a safe-haven for fans from any race or background who take pride in the bands that they have supported, so mocking it may be a bit too much to ask.
So where does comedy and the need to poke fun at oneself come in? Does metal need to be unabashedly serious to work? Is it actually possible to take King Diamond 100% seriously? What makes a good comedic metal band last? And can we just all admit as a people that Seth Putnam’s black metal parody band Impaled Northern Moonforest was flat out hysterical? Comedy has clearly worked in heavy music a lot over the years, but what have been some of the best examples over the last thirty years?
First things first, no other band of goofballs in underground music has broken the same amount of ground and gathered as loyal of a cult following as Richmond, Virginia’s Gwar. Their uber-offensive take on punk-infused thrash and comically-gory stage shows have been captivating audiences the world over for three decades now, and despite the loss of founding member Dave Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus), the band is still touring as tirelessly as ever. Brockie was an underrated comedic genius whose insane vision for the band never seemed to tire or run out of material. He was constantly developing new stage shows, constructing costumes, or writing incredible novels like Whargoul, he was always incredibly sharp and unquestionably unique. Few other comedians out there have a character as developed as Oderus Urungus, which is pretty damn commendable…even if he sported and was buried with a giant codpiece named “The Cuttlefish of Cthulhu.”
For those who may have not looked into this band already, a night out at a Gwar show will typically consist of ritualistic and topical celebrity sacrifices that will then shower the audience in whatever body fluid is necessary at the time. Pair this up with frequent sexual acts, irreverent political humor and the near-certainty of audience members being fed into an inflatable dinosaur, and you’ve got yourselves one of the finest live shows you’ll ever see in heavy music. The idea of infusing a Slayer concert with The Rocky Horror Picture Show shouldn’t work, but Gwar have found their niche and still pack in crowds night after night. You’ll never see a sillier-looking mosh pit in your entire life.
While the band has often been slagged off by many as simply a novelty act, Gwar’s tireless work ethic and tunnel vision approach to their art is as focused and methodical as anything you’d hear from one of their hometown discoveries like Lamb of God. The band’s dedication to underground artists within their community has led to multiple Gwar-BQ festivals that get bigger each year, and there’s no denying that they’ve influenced plenty of imitators like Lordi, Ghoul and A Band of Orcs. You could also argue that without Gwar, you’d probably have a very different version of Dethklok. What bands like Gwar have consistently understood better than most of their imitators though was the level of dedication they had to everyone involved with heavy music and counter-culture at the time, and that’s what truly solidifies a dedicated audience in metal. Metal has always had this “us against the world” mentality to it, and Gwar’s actual appreciation for artistry is the real reason why they’ve lasted so long. They’ve championed countless bands across essentially every subgenre of extreme music at this point and accumulated one of the most diverse and accepting fanbases in metal at the moment. The sense of inclusion has always been the band’s key to longevity.
Maybe it was the drinking water in Richmond, but that scene has pumped out some of the best tongue-in-cheek metal bands around, the second biggest probably being Municipal Waste. While their stage shows are as vicious and aggressive as they come, their sets often turn into the most chaotic stage diving contests ever performed, occasionally featuring boogie boards provided by the band. Their riffs pack more of a punch than damn near any of their peers, but the subject matter and vocal stylings of Tony Foresta are frequently hilarious and give the band a much stronger sense of identity. When their great songwriting is paired with equally great music videos like the one for “Wrong Answer,” it’s one of the best things to come out of the thrash genre in ages. You can really get the same enjoyment out of a Municipal Waste album as you can watching something like Evil Dead II or The Toxic Avenger.
As if their extensive discography wasn’t already sufficient enough, members of the band have gone on to form equally-hilarious and equally-talented bands like Iron Reagan and the weed-themed death metal band Cannabis Corpse. With albums like Tube of the Resinated and Cannibal Corpse-themed parody titles like “I Cum Bud” and “Mummified in Bong Water,” the listener is guaranteed more than a few good laughs. It just happens to be paired with amazing throwback riffs that plenty of much more “serious” bands would give their right arm for. That right there is where comedy’s place in metal feels at its strongest; when the fans can feel as attached to the group as someone portraying a more traditional message. The musicianship on From Wisdom To Baked is as competent and technical as a band someone like Malevolent Creation or Monstrosity, it just also happens to be about giant weed monsters smoking people.
There’s a myriad of comedy-metal bands out there today, the biggest of which being Dethklok from Metalocalypse and the best glam band on the planet right now, Steel Panther. While their concept was a great way to poke fun at the extremities of death metal and black metal, there have been plenty of other tremendous parody acts that are primed for viral internet exposure. If you’re looking for a few choice acts, look into the parrot-fronted death metal band Hatebeak, the redneck rebel metal heads from hell Hatestomp, and the amateur-wrestling/deathgrind hybrid that is Eat the Turnbuckle. Should any of these bands venture into your neck of the woods, make it a priority to see them and try not to snort beer out of your nose.
Another incredible example of merging comedy with very serious concepts in metal successfully is a blog and personal favorite, the ever-changing Devin Townsend.. Should a one-man metal project about a coffee-addicted alien overlord summoning beings from other dimensions work? Or what about a 70-minute prog-metal album about deconstructing the universe into a cheeseburger? Absolutely not, but both Ziltoid The Omniscient and Deconstruction are some of the most interesting pieces of modern metal that have emerged in the past decade. While they’re definitely self-indulgent, Devin’s tireless self-awareness and constant overanalysis of his personal flaws really tie the whole thing together. These albums aren’t afraid to be incredibly juvenile, but these moments feel as genuine and passionate as any of his much softer material. A lot of Devin’s humor can just as easily be construed as ironically depressing, which can make for a really emotionally-ambiguous experience. As long as the humor is as calculated as the music should be, its place in metal is completely welcome.
Using irony, dark humor, and quirky lyrics has certainly seen a spike in metal over the past fifteen years. While a lot of it may have missed the mark and has since faded into the ether, a few bands were really able to make it part of their arsenal and make their overall presentation that much more interesting. Lyricists like The Red Chord’s Guy Kozowyk and Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley built a huge portion of their style around self-deprecating material and quirky ways of approaching very dark subject matter. It’s never felt contrived or overbearing when listening to either of these bands, which is the perfect way to incorporate a good laugh into a song that’s chock-full of blast beats and monstrous growls. Any member of a stand-up comedy audience can probably tell when the performer doesn’t feel natural up there, and the same can be said with metal fans. The overlap between these often separated crowds is the desire for originality and authenticity, which is where the best material can ever come from. As long as the audience is being provided with a fresh and authentic listening experience, comedy is more than welcome to come along.