Visual delights of metallic proportions.
Hard rock and heavy metal music videos are usually lame. If it’s not live footage, it’s studio footage. If it’s not studio footage, it’s some overly-serious angry men playing in a dark room/cave/forest/warehouse. Or worse, they’re just lyric videos panning over the album art for five minutes. The ones that do try often just end up being a bit lame. However, quality videos do occasionally get made, and actually enhance the listening experience rather than detract from it. Metal is, after all, a very visual genre full of graphic images.
Incensed by Giacomo’s blatant disregard for all this rock and metal in his end-of-decade list of the best music videos, I’ve turned a series of rambling Slack abusage into a visual delight of metallic proportions in no particular order.
Usual disclaimers apply; these are my choices, they are probably wrong, I’m sorry I forgot that one video by that one band you love, don’t @ me. You can check out my playlist of all the videos here.
Ganesh Rao - Empyrean
Djent was the hot new trend in metal at the turn of the decade, and with a new style of music came a chance for a new metal aesthetic. Ganesh Rao is a US-based artist hailing from India, and his 2011 video for Empyrean saw otherworldly beings grow from plants and play a crushing soundtrack on a warped sitar.
It’s far from the only video with haunting painted figures – see Baroness’s A Horse Called Golgotha or pretty much anything by Polish death metallers Behemoth – but Rao does it better, and without the help of record label backing.
Rao has previously said that the video’s narrative revolves around birth within an alternate world, where the human body is intertwined with plants and visually seeks to combine Hindu imagery with the aesthetics of Butoh performance.
Lamb of God - Ghost Walking
Richmond, Virgina’s Lamb Of God have created some seriously heavy music over the last 15+ years and grabbed a Grammy for their efforts. No stranger to po-faced videos, LOG also aren’t afraid to inject a bit of humour into their videos; Ruin and Redneck see the band crash an old people’s home and kid’s birthday party respectively to thrash out a gig.
2012’s Ghost Walking, however, saw the band take a more creative step than usual. The lead single off their Resolution album was developed by Pennsylvania design studio MoreFrames, and portrays animated post-apocalyptic dystopia, complete with deadly militia and a man on the run.
Storm Corrosion - Drag Ropes
Who knew shadow puppets could be cool? Storm Corrosion, a one-time project between the prog-metal titans Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree and Mikael Åkerfeldt, was a collaboration fans had been clamouring for, and 2012’s Drag Ropes is a nine minute folk horror story of a man forced to execute the love of his life and his vengeance in the aftermath.
Created by Owl House Studios, the story is told using eerie shadow puppets, and was filmed in a garage, all to the soundtrack of mimimalist progressive rock.
Mastodon’s Seabeast is another metal vid that uses shadow puppets for uneasy storytelling.
Dethklok - The Galaxy
Is the best metal band in the world one that doesn’t really exist? Created for Adult Swim’s Metalopalypse animated series, Dethlok are a fictional death metal band featuring members with names like William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, and Nathan Explosion.
Unsurprisingly, they are the most metal band to ever exist and their music videos are the most brutal to ever be created. The Galaxy, taken from 2012’s Dethalbum III sees our intrepid heroes take to space and use their powers of sick riffs to fight off an alien hoard.
What if Batman fronted a metal band made up of the various Robins throughout the years and made some sick tunes? Moscow-based Red Mudusa studio decided to take it upon themselves to answer that conundrum, taking songs from the aforementioned Dethlok and just deciding that an overweight, fulsome-lipped Batman should be singing them.
It’s ridiculous, hyper violent, over-sexualised, and frankly weird. It makes no sense, but it’s funny and extremely well done. For the really adventurous, check the studio’s bizarre attempt to combine Tenacious D’s Jack Black and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Belzebubs - Blackened Call
If Dethklok are the most brutal animated metal band on the web, Belzebubs are the most freaking adorable.
Born out of a webcomic created by Finnish artist J.P. Ahonen showing a black metal family just trying to get by in their own special satanic way, 2019 saw the ‘bubs take the jump into a more noisy medium. Blackened Call, taken from their 2019 debut album, sees the band playing their brand of quality black metal in front of a blazing fire, because that’s metal as fuck.
The Beards - Got Me a Beard
How many albums can you make solely around the premise that having a beard is great? According to Australian band The Beards, five.
Got Me a Beard, taken from their third album Having A Beard Is The New Not Having A Beard, tells the story of a man asked to shave his beard by his love and leaving his beard-shaming town as a result before eventually finding redemption.
Created by Australian artists Chris Edser, Bill Northcott, and Jarrod Prince, it’s a truly uplifting story about how beards are great.
Not strictly metal, and barely hard rock, but it’s my list and it’s staying there.
Devin Townsend - Why?
Across a 30-year career spanning everything from industrial death metal to new age ambient via pop rock and country, Canada’s Devin Townsend has accrued something of a cult following for simply just being his weird little self. Never being one to take himself too seriously, Heavy Devy has created more than his fair share of oddball metal vids; whether that’s dancing in his garden, dancing in a graveyard, or creating a series of concept albums and video series about an alien sock puppet bent on destroying the Earth if he doesn’t get a decent cup of coffee.
Taken from 2019’s Empath, Why? Tells the story of a man being sucked into a black hole. Created by London-based artist Dc Turner, imagine Interstellar on acid while listening to a Disney soundtrack. Evermore, from the same record, sees a cute kitty get up to some hijinks in space.
We've featured Dc Turner's space-themed work before, working with Bowie-in-space singing astronaut Cmd Chris Hadfield.
Wonk Unit - Kings Road Sporting Heroes
Videos don’t need to be super polished and high budget to be good. London punk outfit Wonk Unit have a refreshing DIY feel about their video output.
A dig at the posh boys of west London, Kings Road Sporting Heroes is a collage of absurdity that combines local scenes with photos of the band and cartoonish creatures to create something low-fi and basic but very effective.
Nekrogoblikon - No One Survives
All good metal bands need a mascot: Iron Maiden had Eddy, Motorhead has Snaggletooth, Megadeth had Vic Rattlehead. And LA’s Nekrogoblicon? They have John Goblikon, a green, hunchbacked goblin in a dirty suit with a receding hairline.
Their breakout video No One Survives is still their finest moment, telling the story of a stoner goblin in a dead-end job down on his luck and unable to get the girl who goes on a gory bloody rampage. Truly a fairy tale for the modern age.
Russkaja - Energia
Hailing from Vienna, Turbo-folk rockers Russkaja sing in Russian, English, and whatever other languages take their fancy. 2013’s Energia was one of the most fun rock records released that year.
The mix of soviet aesthetics and boogie dance moves in the title track and lead single meanwhile, as created by London-based artist Juppi Juppsen, makes for an irresistible combo.
Gojia - The Cell
French progressive metallers Gojira have gone from strength to strength over their near-20 year career, culminating in 2016’s magnum opus, Magma. And all good progressive bands need an edgy video, so with The Cell, the band create a cacophony of black and white negative shots.
It’s unnerving, visceral, and the kind of stark imagery you’d expect to see in brainwashing videos à la A Clockwork Orange.
Meshuggah – I Am Coloussus
Sweden’s Meshuggah are essentially a genre unto themselves. While frontman Jens Kidman’s angry face is so metal that it has become a meme, they’re no stranger to videos that match their unrelenting sound. But with 2013’s I Am Colossus they reached a new visual high.
Directed & animated by Magnus Jonsson of Filter Film and produced by Owe Lingvall of Dream Day Media, the video shows three witches flexing some evil powers and torturing some poor souls before becoming the eponymous Colossus, all through the medium of black and white stop motion.
As with everything attached with Meshuggah it is evil and clearly the work of Satan. But also very cool. Another band known for combining stark visuals and stop motion is of course the mighty Tool.
Mastodon – The Motherload
Mastodon have cemented their status as one of the most creative and important metal acts of the 21st century. As time has gone on, the Georgia four-piece have seemingly becoming increasingly happy to subvert the usual tropes of metal videos.
With their early videos the band were guilty of the usual over-serious grimacing, but in recent years seem happy to take the piss and not take themselves too seriously. The best example of this is The Motherload, off 2014’s Once More Round the Sun; starting off with the usual fair of serious men conducting some sort of ritual, it culminates in a kaleidoscopic celebration of asses and twerking.
Lightning Bolt – Blow to the Head
Despite a long history of making wild music, Lightning Bolt don’t have much previous form for music videos. Aside from 2015’s chaotic The Metal East, the Rhode Island noise duo hadn’t really bothered with them at all in their 20-year history.
With Blow to the Head, however, the Bolt have created a belter. Animated and directed by US-based animation artist Caleb Wood, the striking collection of visuals sync up to the rampant beats of Brian Chippendale’s drumwork. It’s frantic, relentless and almost anxiety-inducing in its intensity.