Throughout the decades of arguing over metal — everything from the encroaching commercialism of extreme music to whether blast beats should be played with one foot or two — there is one undeniable constant: metal videos are usually pretty dumb bullshit.
As I mentioned in this article on Megadeth’s failed experiment with 360 degree technology, metal videos have long been accepted as necessities because if Pat Benatar made some, then everyone else probably should too. But that crucial next step of making them actually good is rarely factored in.
While I’m sure you think there are plenty of videos out there to prove me wrong, keep in mind that we are looking at 35 years of Mtv. 11 years of Youtube. Cameras and video-editing software get cheaper by the day and people are still holding up Metallica’s “One” as a highwater mark instead of just a long-ass, spoiler-filled trailer for Johnny Got His Gun.
That video isn’t “Thriller.” It’s no “Sledgehammer.” And despite there being some killer footage of bands just being cool as fuck, there’s no grind band working on their own version of “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai right now. But why not?
And this isn’t a budgetary or personnel issue. Slayer’s “Repentless” trilogy clearly had money behind it and yet the entire conception and execution was something high school kids would put together. Hardwired… to Self-Destruct has videos for all thirteen songs, and despite input from some visionary artists the highlights are few. When Jonas Åkerlund — one of the seven directors that put together Beyonce’s critically-acclaimed Lemonade film — shits out a black metal parody for Metallica’s “Manunkind,” it gives weight to the belief that there is something systemic in metal culture that leads to such tedium.
Inscrutable plots, empty moralizing, trite imagery, shallow critiques of society, obvious twist endings and superfluous violence cover the vast amount of metal videos that ever move past live footage (oh, and the woods; they’re always in the fucking woods). Sure, there may be slight deviations and a polishing of the form, but the overwhelming majority of clips seem to come from one guy who keeps pulling from his hat filled with seven pieces of paper, at least two of them reading “Film in that old warehouse.” It’s unfortunate that some of the best metal videos in the last few years have been oddball comedy, since it shows that there is potential for creativity out there — it just must involve jokes about role-playing or be a bunch of gross cartoons.
The music, above all, is what’s most important. That is why we’ve shown up in the first place. So maybe metal bands are too focused on honing their songs that the video accompaniment becomes an afterthought. Maybe there really is something about metal that requires this specific, consistent approach. Or maybe metal bands need to realize that playing unplugged guitars in a desert for six minutes is stupid and they should try harder.