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They Will, They Will Rock You

British superstars THE DARKNESS are the most hilarious (and kick-ass) metal act since Spinal Tap. Except they're not joking. Or are they?

WARNING: This story contains references to catsuits, cyclopean dogs, flaming priests, and Foreigner. Read at your own risk.

On this cool November eve, all the hipsters, in their faux-vintage mesh baseball caps and prefaded jeans, have sardined themselves into New York City club Irving Plaza to scope out the latest English rock sensation.

''We are the Darkness!'' bellows frontman Justin Hawkins, sporting a sleeveless tee and liquid-Lycra pants. ''We come from the U.Kaaay!'' With a foreboding ejaculation of fog, his band unleashes an hour-long retro-spectacle involving hands-over-head clap-alongs, a silver catsuit, and dueling guitar pyrotechnics. ''This c -- -ing song is called 'Get Your Hands off My Woman'!'' shrieks Hawkins. The space-time continuum buckles as he executes a spread-eagle, toe-touching kick.

Now here's the weirdest part: The hipsters in the audience go ape-shit.

The Darkness stick out like a skull-ringed middle finger in the face of pop. They draw inspiration -- musical, theatrical, and sartorial -- from AC/DC, Queen, Foreigner, Iron Maiden, and others that time has ingloriously snubbed. The singer often catapults his voice into a register frequented by few folks with a penis. And the group fills its videos with giant crustaceans, laser-shooting guitars, even a pterodactyl humping a spaceship. (Assuming this phrase will never again appear in EW, let's savor it: a pterodactyl humping a spaceship.)

For these sins, this gang of proper rockers has been punished: With a No. 1 album in England (their debut, ''Permission to Land''); with opening slots for the Rolling Stones and Meat Loaf; with airplay on some of America's biggest alt-rock stations; with a celebrity cult following that includes Elton John, Mariah Carey, David Lee Roth, Jack Black, and British prime minister Tony Blair. ''They're a throwback,'' says Black, ''but a delicious fresh breeze in an otherwise stale rock landscape.''

In fact, these guys are so over the top, one wonders if they're cribbing from another bunch of taut-trousered rockers: Spinal Tap. Just how seriously should we take this band? ''Take us seriously,'' says Hawkins, 28, over breakfast at a chic Manhattan hotel the morning of the gig. ''Take us very seriously.'' He's wearing a pink cheetah-spotted hooded sweatshirt.

The Darkness dawned on New Year's Eve 1999. Justin and his guitarist brother, Dan, now 26, were partying at their aunt's pub when Justin started doing ''star jumps'' and karaokeing the crap out of ''Bohemian Rhapsody.'' ''I kind of realized at that point that he was a star,'' says Dan. And so in 2000 they formed the Darkness with Justin as the vocalist and lead guitarist (along with bassist Frankie Poullain, 32, and drummer Ed Graham, 26) and vintage metal as their muse. A&R folks started showing up at their gigs -- and walking out mid-set. But the Darkness refused to throw in the unitard, gradually earning a formidable fan base hungry for their monster melodic-rock sound. ''When I listen to my record collection, I'll pick the most feel-good song from each [CD], and by the time I've finished, I'm feeling f -- -ing fantastic,'' says Dan. ''That's what I wanted our [music] to be like. There hasn't been enough of that in f---ing ages.''

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