Heavy Metal Music Videos That Don’t Suck, Vol. I
Well, we're all still stuck at home with nothing to do. I've come dangerously close to exhausting the streamable content on Netflix, Hulu, and whatever host of other services I got trials for (and forgot to cancel) in the past six months. Some of you, depending on local ordinances, may be in the possibly worse position of having things you can do but then feeling guilty for doing them. The solution? Watching random music videos on YouTube, of course, and we have some suggestions.
The vast majority of metal music videos suck -- hence, the title of this post. They suck not because the bands in them suck, but because those bands thought that watching a rotation of close-up shots in black and white of band members playing their parts was sufficient for four minutes of footage. In some rare cases, that might be the case, but there's zero chance anyone's ever watching that video more than once. What's worthy of rewatching are videos that resonate with us in the same way that the band's music does, providing a compelling experience in their own right. Here's three picks for heavy metal music videos that have stood the test of time.
Red Fang -- Red Fang
I don't know if it's the over-the-top substance abuse or the LARP mockery that's just a little too accurate, but the video for "Prehistoric Dog" marks the first time I can remember laughing at a music video for heavy metal... at least, at a video that was intentionally funny. Between extremely well-synced shots of the band riffing away at the monstrous song where the beer cans pile up and the alcohol dependence multiplies, the video puts together an entertaining saga of metal nerds bullying fantasy nerds... and paying for it with their life/limbs. The special effects straddle the sweet spot between completely terrible and believable, right at home with the rough, drunken glee the whole piece cultivates.
Red Fang is honestly one of the smarter-sounding stoner rock bands, which makes the dumbassery on display in this video that much more tongue-in-cheek. Even back on their self-titled (which is actually a compilation, but I didn't know that until writing this blurb) they had mastered the art of effortless stoner-prog. Pentatonics and simple rock stomps became something more, subtly nudged towards complexity through clever change-ups and the occasional production tweak, such as the scooped-out mid-song breakdown on "Prehistoric Dog" that sees our antiheroes, decked out in trash-tier beer can armor, charging into the fray. My favorite song on the album has to be their cover of Dust's "Suicide," but hands down, the video for "Prehistoric Dog" will always be my favorite visual distillation of stoner rock's inebriated brilliance.
Negură Bunget -- Om
Negură Bunget was a name that became revered within my mind back in the mid 2000’s. A black metal band from "exotic" Romania that orchestrated music not too far beyond the realms of the genre, but had enough unique flair to stand out as something truly distinct. With each subsequent album, a wider variety of instrumentation was used to further expand their musician expression clearly meant as a love letter to their native land and the natural beauty found within. That spiritual connection to the land is what ends up so majestically depicted in the video for “Cunoașterea tăcută” from 2006’s Om. The video gives a grand view of misty mountain peaks, deep old-wooded forests, and churning streams rolling into waterfalls. Amidst it all, obscured shots of the band members walking by like the spirits of the forest given momentary flesh to serve as shamanistic guides for us, the viewers. A particularly emotional high point for me in the video is when a doom laden riff over pounding percussion showing one of the members crouched near a waterfall gives way to epic synths and clean vocals that literally soar as the camera shifts to an aerial movement over the woods. Our souls have been pulled from the ground and ascended into the sky like a bird.
Om would turn out to be the band’s final album under their original line-up as three years later they split up, leaving drummer Negru the sole member to carry on the name. Some of the primordial magic of the group seemed lost after the split yet I had hope for a possible reunion that unfortunately withered on the vine when Negru passed away in 2017 from a heart attack at the far-too-young age of 42. Negură Bunget may well be laid to rest forever now, but it’s an undying credit to the original three piece band who created over a few albums together a majestic sound and visual presentation that communicated so deftly the spiritual joy they experienced in the natural beauty of their home.
Arckanum -- Fran Marder
"Gava fran trulen"
Okay, so a video of a guy dressed as a cloaked troll with a giant walking stick doesn't seem like a "music video which doesn't suck" to a lot of people, but to me, this music video is black metal. As Arckanum project mastermind Shamaatae wanders through the woods, a great sense of atmosphere is created. This video is all about the ambiance created by this lo-fi VHS adventure through the Norwegian countryside, and Shamaatae, too, becomes part of a greater idea of black metal's pastoral atmosphere than an artist himself. This is the death of the artist in favor of a larger sense of black metal identity -- Shamaatae is a mythical creature and the forests through which he wanders are a mythical place rather than a simple wooded area he happened to know well.
Though this music video is widely known for being goofy and corny, I find Arckanum's representation of myth and lore to be earnest -- it's not like Shamaatae went into this video looking to make a caricature of himself or his music. This is a grander representation of black metal's misunderstood nature: though these people are taking themselves a little too seriously, there is an art to how they destroy the human element of their music in favor of something more legendary and, ultimately, misanthropic.