UG Articles Archive

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Do music videos have a place in metal?

Tonight I'm looking into the issue of the heavy metal music video.  Are they necessary?  Memorable?  Do they contribute anything to the genre and the scene?  Answers to all this and more in tonight's post.

In my experience spending long hours on Youtube and occasional viewings of MTV2's Headbangers Ball at frickin 2 AM on Mondays or some ungodly hour, metal videos tend to be one of two things: trippy as balls, with no real story being told whatsoever; or  imagery-driven videos primarily featuring the band as they play the featured song, making sure to cut to a new shot every 2 seconds. 

For some examples of what I'm talking about, here's one that pretty much fits the first description, and might haunt you for some time after watching it:

That song is about Captain Ahab's hunt for Moby Dick.  Confused?  I was too.  The video is set in a circus for some reason, and the clown with the green beard is going to haunt my dreams.  The video has no relation whatsoever to the lyrical content of the song.

For a video that fits the description of the second kind of metal video, the straightforward, "here's the band playing this song featuring lots of camera angles" check out this video by Amon Amarth:

This one's about the viking warriors departing to Europe to do some raiding and shit, but the video is set in a decrepit shack and the band is just rocking out and doing lots of hair windmills.  Not to discourage windmilling, it's badass, but the video just doesn't contribute much to the music.

I suppose there's also a third kind of music video, the kind that really tries their best to capture the song's intent.  This one tries, though the end result is kind of cheesy and feels half-assed, which is a common theme in metal videos:

Clearly, professional actors were not required for any parts in that video, and the fight choreographer appears to have called in sick on the day of the shoot. 

All of these songs are kickass tunes, but the videos to go with them are pretty weak when compared to some of music's more memorable videos.  I won't say the videos detract from the music itself, but they definitely don't do any favors for the artists when they're done poorly.  I first saw the Blood and Thunder video when I was about 16 or 17, and I was convinced upon my first viewing that Mastodon wasn't for me, though it was probably due more to my crippling fear of clowns than anything else.  Since then I've come to love Mastodon, they're one of my favorite bands, but if someone tried to introduce me to them by showing me one of their videos I'd probably just shrug and move on.

I really don't think metal needs music videos.  The labels probably feel compelled to produce them so that the bands can get more exposure and so that people can get familiar with what the band looks like, but is it really worth it?  Metal music has always been experienced with the ears first; it is loud, nuanced, and rhythmically complex music.  It is an aural experience first, and a visual experience second.   

Pop music, on the other hand, has a definite visual aspect to it.  Pop singers and artists are generally considered to be young, attractive, and photogenic.  A major part of the pop artist is their personal image, and being good in front of a camera is as important, if not more important, than actually being a talented musician in the superficial world of mainstream pop.  Lemmy Kilmister would not get far in this genre: 
Holy shit.
Occasionally, very rarely, a metal video will come along that lives up to the song it is set to.  The best example that comes to mind is Metallica's 'One,' which features footage from Johnny Got His Gun, the film that the song was inspired by, about a wounded, tormented soldier in a hospital.  The video actually adds to the song's message, reinforcing the images provided by the lyrics with footage and sound clips from the film, further illustrating the horrors of war:

Summarizing - metal videos generally suck, are unnecessary in a genre where superficial shit like personal appearance doesn't matter, and though a diamond in the rough is found every once in a while, metal artists should spend more time on tour playing for their fans than in movie studios making music videos.

Agree?  Disagree?  Have a music video so awesome that it destroys my entire argument?  Post in the comments below.


  1. It's almost as if metal bands make videos for their singles because they feel compelled to and the subject matter of the video is almost like saying "FUCK YOU WE'RE METAL! WE'LL DO WHATEVER THE FUCK WE WANT!!! ARRRRGGG METALLLLLLL!!!!!" To me the genre represents a lack of compromise, and that's why in addition to all of the new talents and amalgamations of the genre you get you still have bands that sound like Celtic Frost and Slayer and Judas Priest. Because although metal is dynamic there is at its heart a sort of timeless stasis that defies all logic. Metal flows underground and when it does surface back into a mainstream world that has long since moved on the results are bound to be a little strange. But that's just my take... either way that second video blew my mind, that was more windmill than a mortal man should ever face!

  2. Iron Maiden - Holy Smoke gets my vote for most essential metal music video, because while it doesn't add anything to the song (the song is fairly weak to begin with), it dispels the seriousness around the band and shows others that they're not afraid of their reputation, so they'll let their lead singer wear a ridiculous pink shirt and jump around in a corn field and play a guitar solo in a creek.