It’s been about 4-5 years since we last heard any music from musician/animator Brendon Small, the mastermind behind the animated cult hits Home Movies and Metalocalypse. Following the release of the Army of the Doomstar special, he’s kept himself busy with some television appearances here and there, while lobbying hard for the production of a final run of Metalocalypse episodes to wrap up the series. Unfortunately, despite the enthusiasm of fans and industry figures everywhere (and the offer of an outside investor to help fund the project), the series has been more or less cancelled. But thankfully, Small’s musical endeavors are still going strong, as he’s now graced us with Galaktikon II: Become The Storm, the much anticipated follow-up to his debut solo album from 2012.
While the album is billed as a solo effort, the start of the album makes it clear that this can also function as Dethalbum IV. The intro track “Some Days Are For Dying” is much heavier and aggressive than the previous solo release, starting with grand guitar harmonies and some thrashing double-bass drums alongside some particularly brutal vocals. The song moves at a pretty fast pace, and the chorus has a much more operatic feel amplified by great use of synthesizers and vocoder effects. This mix of heavy and theatrical elements is key to what follows, as the album almost functions as a successor to The Doomstar Requiem, especially once “The Agenda” comes on. The fast driving tempo with rapid-fire guitars and drums bring the heavy, and the over-the-top chorus has the dramatic vocal declaration of “just follow the agenda. Nobody gonna feel no pain,” all while using a swelling guitar melody that drops out for a beat during each loop, which definitely commands your attention. The heavier vocals are a little subdued at parts, but when they do come out, there’s a great deal of menace with lyrics like “Just lock the door. Just flip the switch and light the fuse.”
The perspective of the album seems to jump back and forth between the alien civilization on the defense (I’m not entirely sure of Triton from the first Galaktikon record is involved) and the outside attackers looking to annihilate the innocent. “My Name Is Murder” is the album’s heaviest banger, with the drums and guitar riffs at a constant driving tempo, complimented with some hard pounding tom fills and a swelling slower break near the end. The climax of the album has the finest mix of these heavier and theatrical digressions, especially the last two vocally-driven tracks “To Kill A God” and “Exitus.” The latter is initially characterized by a thrashy tempo akin to the start of all-out war, and while the heaviness persists through much of it, there’s a ballad-esque break near the end driven by some mournful pianos that bring the battle to an end. The former of these two knows how to ramp up to this inevitable conflict, as the drum work locks into an ominous marching beat as the two sides prepare for the inevitable final battle. The actual rhythm is rather tight, and the guitar work in the solo section is insane, and a testament to how skilled a musician and songwriter Brendon Small is.
The musicianship on display across the whole record is once again something to behold. Despite being a comedian and writing music with a tongue-in-cheek bent to it, Small and metal drumming legend Gene Hoglan prove that they take music incredibly seriously. Hell, with as storied and prestigious of a career as Hoglan’s had behind the kit, this album represents what is easily some of the best work he’s done this decade. The blistering double-bass runs across the record are of course a masterclass of endurance, and the intricate tom fills in spaces are tight as ever, but he also knows how to hold down some slower grooves here and there. The standout example is on “Nightmare”, a more mid-tempo song driven by a 6/8 groove that features one of the more off-kilter and almost polyrhythmic sticking patterns he’s ever performed. It’s a testament to his skill that even a slower tune like this has layers of detail in the playing, and his performance combines with Brendon’s vocals to create a track that almost kind of has a Slipknot vibe in spots.
Speaking of Brendon, if there was one complaint I have with the record, it would have to be the vocal mixing. The performances themselves are of the quality we expect by now, with his deep bellowing growls being some of the best in the game right now, and the clean vocals mixed with soaring operatic highs also help drive home the theatricality of the whole affair (seriously, he’s a pretty solid clean singer as well). Unfortunately, it seems like his vocals are all over the place as far as the actual mix is concerned. Perhaps it’s a result of how densely composed many of the songs are, but it seems like a lot of the heavier vocals get kind of buried by everything, especially on songs like “The Agenda” or “Become The Storm.” The latter is much more focused on the digitized vocoder vocals than anything else, and that leaves the gruffer vocals almost at the level of a mouse’s whisper. “My Name Is Murder” is the only track that doesn’t seem to have this issue, perhaps because it’s a more straightforwardly heavy tune than the rest of the record, but I do wish that the heavier vocals were allowed to be much punchier and more pronounced in the mix.
Galaktikon II: Become The Storm is worth the 5 year wait since the last solo/proper Dethklok albums and a stunning display of Small’s musical talents. It takes all the elements he’s toyed with across his musical career (the well-constructed guitar harmonies, the power metal-ish digressions from the first Galaktikon, and the theatrical opera elements from The Doomstar Requiem), and effortlessly fuses them into his most ambitious release yet. In fact, I’d say it’s on par with Dethalbum III as the single best thing he’s ever recorded, so this is absolutely a release that should not be skipped.
Verdict: Buy it. If this is what he has to bring on Galaktikon II, then I eagerly anticipate what he has in store for the future.
Galaktikon II: Become The Storm is available from MegaForce Records on CD, vinyl, digital download (iTunes, Google Play, etc.), and streaming services. Check out Brendon Small/Galaktikon on Facebook, Twitter, and the official website.