Heavy Metal Music Videos That Don’t Suck, Vol. 2
Hopefully, the first wave of pandemic holiday happenings is treating everyone well - whatever your circumstance or location, this is the part of the year I think we all dreaded the most (if we let our minds even consider that it'd last this long -- which, of course, it did). Winter returns, and our options for entertainment dwindle further still.
We've prepared another round of music videos for you, all of which show vastly different ways of making a good music video -- the first step is probably writing a good song, but that only gets you so far. Understanding what makes a band so appealing and tailoring the video to their strengths is a bigger challenge, but as these picks show, it makes all the difference.
Celtic Frost -- Monotheist
"A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh"
Celtic Frost, a band who already won their status as legends in the history of metal, returned to the world of flesh after a 16 year studio absence with their sixth album Monotheist, a work that showed they could stand firmly alongside the heaviest of modern bands and could also be claimed as one of the most important albums in metal this century. Such rejuvenated promise was cut short only two years later when the band imploded, ultimately resulting in guitarist/vocalist Thomas Gabriel Fischer channeling the forward momentum from Celtic Frost’s finale into his new project Triptykon. Any hope of an eventual cooling of emotions for a further resurrection was dashed in 2017 when Fischer’s long time collaborator on bass, songwriting, and general brother in arms Martin Erich (Ain) Stricker passed away from a heart attack at the age of 50. Now, anyone who read my blurb for this column last time might feel déjà vu right now, but I assure you this isn’t a planned theme on my part. Rather the pure coincidence of my fancy demands such calculations be thrown to the wind in service of praising a truly timeless album, accompanied by a masterful piece of art: this music video.
Previous music videos for Celtic Frost were either live performances or essentially lonely warehouse playing for the camera with a bit of aesthetic flair thrown about. The video for “A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh” still features the band performing their instruments, but the cinematic element shines blindingly this time. The song’s light and shade dynamics, moving back and forth between soft yet tense passages and quick-paced doom metal bludgeoning, are given a literal visual counterpoint as the video fluctuates between settings of darkness and light, the same subjects/objects depicted like a photo negative from what was introduced before. During the soft passages the band members are initially dressed in black against a similarly toned background, accompanied by bodies wailing under sheets like worshippers at bay to the band’s spell, faces caked with mud that somehow bridge corpse paint and horror movie demonic makeup. When the heavy part hits everything shifts to harsh white, drowning everything from the walls to the band members' entire appearance. A small detail one might fail to notice as well is that during closeups you can see the reflection of an illuminated inverted cross in their eyes. One of the only things not subjected to the black and white wash is the brown rotted fruit, worms, and maggots lined about the satanic altar set piece, providing the symbolic visual flesh for the song’s lyrics.
Special praise has to be given to Martin Ain who sings through most of the song and, rather than only playing bass, is often situated alone, dressed like a mad priest in full cassock with arms stretched out intoning a ritual between chthonic spirits and we, the viewer. Ain’s gestures, both facial and ligament, combine into a bubbling of emotion below the surface that bursts out in force during the heavy segments. When he growls, “frozen is hell”, with arms quivering forth with energy I’m always stunned in awe by the scene as I am by his maniacal headbanging near the end where his mud and makeup caked long hair lashes out a storm of dust. All in all, Celtic Frost’s video for “A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh” is a triumph of artistic vision and will that has and hopefully will continue to inspire legions of metal performers.
(Note: Century Media’s YouTube upload of the video, which is provided here, is in standard definition. However, high definition versions by fans can be found as well with a simple google search, providing a much better look at the video’s intricate production)
Lo! -- The Tongueless
Lo!'s video for "Orca" has been living rent-free in my mind ever since the first time I saw it — and I've rewatched it plenty of times since then. It’s a mind-breakingly amazing twist on your bog-standard “band plays the song in a room” music video, and I’ve yet to see another interpretation on this theme that’s as cohesive or original in both concept and execution. It was this video that first brought Lo! to my attention, and fortunately, I fell in love with the band’s aggressive sludge-driven progressive post-metal right away — so much so that I declared their 2017 full-length Vestigial as my very first album of the year for Invisible Oranges.
I’ll refrain from discussing the content in detail so as to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but in short: black hazmat suits and a pool of pink goop make for a truly memorable combo. The anonymizing sterility of the full-face gas masks and and murdered-out hazmat suits (and instruments) are such a potent background for the video’s convulsing, shockingly pink centerpiece in the form of bald goo-beast and vocalist Sam Dillon. After you’ve given it a watch, take a look at the band’s short “making of” documentary and learn why playing drums for eight hours in a sealed rubber suit isn’t the greatest idea for your health or personal hygiene.
Clutch -- The Weathermaker Vault Series, Vol. I
"Passive Restraints" (ft. Randy Blythe)
Though "Passive Restraints" originally came out in 1992 as part of a rare EP, this version comes from the band's ongoing "Weathermaker Vault Series" project that sees them re-recording classic songs -- likely just for the hell of it, given how stir-crazy the tour-centric rockers must be going this year. Interestingly, Randy Blythe of Lamb of God features on this song and in the video, apparently a longtime fan of the song. Weird mashup, maybe, but it works -- old Clutch material is a favorite of mine, and despite the band having crossed genre after genre in departing from this sound, they still pull it off excellently.
This video really just is the band playing the song, and though that might seem to be a "suck"-tier music video when described that way, Clutch is one of those bands that's simple entrancing to watch perform -- every member of the band is just that goddamn good at their instruments, and Neil Fallon is a one-of-a-kind performer. Crammed into a dinky practice space and neatly arranged to give Randy and Neil some stomping ground, it's a tight, three-minute jam where every note matters.
Meshuggah -- Chaosphere
"New Millenium Cyanide Christ"
It wasn't recently that a serious truth was uncovered: you don't need to spend a ton of money to make a really entertaining, honest, and fun music video, especially in heavy metal. So, here's Meshuggah, the most cutting-edge metal band of all time, again cutting edges with this song from their not-most popular release Chaosphere. The video features the band downright nailing this song… in a tour bus… with air instruments. But! If you pay close attention, you'll see that everything is synchronized unusually damn well for the nature of the video.
And, if I'm honest, there's much more value in a "fun" video like this than some more serious and budgeted piece, but that doesn't necessarily decry those types of high-budget videos (Meshuggah has done them too of course, especially later in their career), but instead points to the idea of both styles living in one unison. They definitely show both dimensions of a "bigger" metal band, one with the funds to achieve higher production values but one with the guts and grit to still do it old-school and real.
Damn, still can't get over how well the Meshuggah dudes nailed their air instruments here.