Nov 072011

(Andy Synn ventures outside his usual meat and potatoes with this one. I’m not objective, of course, but this post includes many observations that ring true to me, and maybe will to you as well. Also, this post includes a heavy cargo of highly-worth-watching videos.)

I’ve been looking at doing some shorter pieces on various topics for a while now, spreading myself a little more widely and letting the material do most of the talking for me, and Islander’s sabbatical seems like the perfect opportunity to do so.

So I wanted to bring your attention to a couple of music videos which you may have overlooked, and highlight why I like them and what I think makes them a good example of the video “art-form”. Equally, however, the success (relative or otherwise) of these videos highlights some of the regrettably common failures of most metal videos!

Now bear in mind that most metal videos are a missed opportunity. I’m a fan of a good solid performance video, this is true, be it live footage (purpose-shot or amalgamated) or the traditional warehouse/barren-field performance, as long as it gives you a sense of the intensity and power of a band really getting into their music and their instruments. However, this is where most of them fall down, simply giving us a general shot of “hey look, this is what we look like when we’re playing” rather than any sort of “feel” for the intensity of the experience. And I’m not saying this is easy, far from it.

I do, however, want to highlight the issue that for so many bands (and most recently I’m looking at the plethora of metalcore/deathcore/djent bands) videos become merely a case of being SEEN without actually SAYING anything with the opportunity they’ve been given. Just because you’re moving/jumping/posing does not mean you’re coming across as doing anything more than singing into a hair-brush in front of the mirror.  (more after the jump . . .)

The other issue is one of apparent (and I choose this word specifically) ambition, where a band wants to make a short story or a montage of metaphors which fit with the music. The mistake here is to treat the music video as a film or episode of a tv show – but quite simply, the exact same narrative format doesn’t fit so well, particularly when you consider that, 90% of the time, what you’re dealing with is a 3-5 minute piece of film where a certain amount WILL be dedicated to showing the band themselves performing (thus combining the problems of the performance video with the long/short-form story type) and therefore cut down the amount of time you actually have to tell whatever story you’ve come up with.

Then there’s the fact that, for all this supposed ambition, most videos follow a very similar pattern; how many times have we seen band members attacked/kidnapped/tortured, etc in a video only for the SHOCKING reveal that it’s a hot girl doing the dirty-work? Common imagery is one thing, but these short story-arcs are almost identical for most videos.

So what videos do I love?


I’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s one of the few videos that springs to mind that manages to balance the story and performance aspects of the music video perfectly, probably because the “performance” part of the video is actually made a part of the story itself. Telling a short, conspiracy-theorist tale of how Heaven Shall Burn actually manage their live shows, it also showcases a clever switch between the recorded and live audio of the song that allows it to work on multiple levels.

IN FLAMES“Trigger” and SOILWORK: “Rejection Role”

Similar to the video above, these two short-form stories actually incorporate the performance footage into the story-line of their respective videos. They’re also a great example of ingenuity, with the two videos for the two separate songs being filmed simultaneously, saving money and allowing for the inter-linking of the story between each. Also, points earned for each video subtly altering who is the “aggressor” in each instance, making the story-line as portrayed in each video more a case of he said-she said than anything clear cut.

MESHUGGAH“New Millenium Cyanide Christ”

Perhaps the greatest video of all time? It’s the poker-faced performance by the band that really sells it, along with their frighteningly accurate miming performance. [EDITOR’S NOTE: By sheer coincidence, this is the second day in a row for the appearance of this video on NCS; TheMadIsraeli included it in his rant yesterday about djent.)

THE PRODIGY“Smack my Bitch Up”

Not metal, but certainly the high point of the whole “oh my god it’s a girl” movement of videos. The disorienting camera work, the hold-off on the reveal until the very closing moments, forcing you to re-evaluate the previous judgements you made… this one just works and works well. Also, it doesn’t shoe-horn the band themselves into the mix, but rather lets the story breathe on its own, with the musical soundtrack punctuating some shocking moments of violence and general depravity.

HIMSA“Big Timber”

Puppets. Sasquatch puppets. Playing bad ass new era thrash-core. Before getting murdered and absorbed by an angry, carnivorous tree. You can take your big budget and shove it Mastodon.

Honourable mentions:

Dark Tranquillity“Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive)”

– low budget and all the better for it. Limited of course, but unforgettable once watched.

Dimmu Borgir“Gateways”

– well shot and evocative footage matching location with performance. Adds to the overall aesthetic of the song very well.

The Haunted“D.O.A.”

– very good melding of the band playing with their participation in the story. Nice solid and simple story too, with its point gotten across simply and effectively.

Dragonforce“Through The Fire And The Flames”

– successfully made it look like being in Dragonforce was a hell of a lot of fun. Extremely well shot too.

Becoming The Archetype“Magnetic Sky”

– playing with the wonderful conceit of viewing the depth of a rather simple video game (Final Fantasy rules!) through the imagination of a child, allowing the band themselves to get their hands dirty dragon-slaying and potion-quaffing.

Sound off with your favourites below!

  10 Responses to “F#@%!?£ VIDEOS: HOW DO THEY WORK?”

  1. What is this thing that just posts ellipses in brackets?! ^

  2. Dude, no Mastodon – Oblivion. No Skeletonwith – Bringers of Death!?!?!?!?

    • Not a huge fan of “Oblivion” – not that it’s bad, just doesn’t entirely do it for me. Fun though.

      And “Bringers Of Death” got featured pretty prominently in my Skeletonwitch piece not too long ago, so I left it out on purpose! I KNEW someone would mention it though!!!

  3. Have you seen the HSB DVD Bildersturm? In the same way that video twists your perceptions of what a metal music video is supposed to be, the “documentary” part plays with the conventions of tropes like origin stories, behind the scenes antics, and other things that are normaly packed in band DVDs. I was confused, then upset, then impressed with how it unfolded. Somehwere between a trolling effort and…I dunnno, german expressionism or some shit. Messes with your head. The full live performance part was excellent though.

    • I do indeed have it. I was one of the slightly sad obsessive folks who pre-ordered the deluxe edition and everything. That’s just how I roll.

      However I will admit to being a bit confused by the documentary at first, but then it clicked and I think it’s definitely really well done despite how “different” it is initially.

      The live part is devastating though.

  4. Great stuff here and I like the idea of this post. I also came to think of HSB’s ‘Combat’ video.
    Visually powerfull. Near-perfect synergy between the video and the lyrics. Gives me the chills!

    • The original idea for this in fact was my favourite “animated” videos. That was one of them, but I forgot the rest, so it turned into this instead.

  5. Spektr’s The Near Death Experience still one of the best videos ever made:


    Controversial as it is, I happened to like the “War on Terror” video, for all the reasons you stated. Good balance of performance and storry-telling, not trying to go overboard and squeeze a whole damn movie into four minutes, plus pretty high quality visuals.

    • You’ve got to treat it like a (very) short story, rather than a novel. Just a sequence of evocative images that infer the story, rather than enforce it.

      Which is why so many of the kidnap/torture + reveal” videos don’t work is they lack the contextual build up to have you really care about what’s going on, due to the constraints of the medium.

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