Dec 092013

(In this guest post, our friend Booker both features some of the metal videos he has enjoyed most during 2013 and offers opinions about the evolution of music videos generally and about their proper use — and misuse.)

Okay, so I’ll warn you up front, I don’t know where I’m going with this post. Also, it contains some NSFW imagery. Blind leading the blind through the land of boobies? Or probably more likely: a rambling fool preaching to the much more knowledgeable choir? Sound good? Okay, let’s go…

This all started with a few videos I’ve seen that stuck with me recently, which set off that dangerous process called “thinking”; particularly hazardous in the hands of the uninitiated. First up, there’s somewhat of a process of déjà vu here, in that Andy Synn has previously posted a foray into the art of the music video about 2 years back which is still just as relevant today:

Let’s get into some of the video goodies that perked my interest – some of these have featured on NCS before.

One is Rotting Christ’s “Χ Ξ Σ”:

If I were to make a list of favourite music videos for the year, this would be right up there. A great visual accompaniment to the song. When you break it down there’s actually some simple elements at play here: the stripped-down black and white pallete, allowing some neat metaphorical use of light; the variation on the “storyline with band also playing” theme (which Andy talks about in his post), but with the twist that the only “band” on show is the vocalist’s mouth and chin (hell, he could be Islander!); the religious imagery of Gustave Doré and the like — all that religious artwork is twisted stuff, which ironically makes it great material for metal videos. Also, the strange psychological element of the video where nothing happens per se, and there’s only ever a lone guy in the shot with no human interaction, but you get the feeling he’s just gone through some profound realization, and having no idea what that is leaves an unspoken mystery in the air. Simple elements done well that add up to a great video.


Another video that stuck with me was Uneven Structure’s “Frost/Hail” video:

Now, on the one hand, this video is quite formulaic: band playing in place X + strange/profound/disturbing storyline Y, finishing with reveal/conclusion Z = music video. Where X = castle, desert, clifftop, warehouse, forest, etc. The music in the video consists of tracks 2 & 3 from their excellent debut album Februus, and the video storyline actually follows from their previously released video to track 1, “Awaken” (the whole album is really an album-length musical movement; somewhere I’d heard they were planning videos for each track).

In this video at least, they’ve ditched the band playing in forest in the “Awaken” video and opted for a blackened studio, and the storyline Y forms a much greater part of the video. But what impressed me, and I think would impress most viewers, is just the sheer quality of the visual composition; someone obviously put a lot of effort into those CGI elements, and even the footage of the band playing is a clear head and shoulders above most videos in its production quality. They also work the album cover artwork into the piece, providing some degree of coherence with the album itself, and it filled my heart with warm fuzzy feelings to see the kid from The Orphanage has grown up and got some new threads:

(In case you’re wondering, I’m pegging ‘reveal Z’ as happening here at the wider panoramic shots toward the end of “Frost” around the 5:30 mark)


The other video that has stuck in my mind recently is this one for Septicflesh’s “Sangreal” (note: this one is NSFW):

Septic Flesh – Sangreal (Uncensored) from chor on Vimeo.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and no it wasn’t just the breasts! The thing is, when I first saw this I thought it was the official video from the band – but no! Once I actually bothered to read the accompanying text, it’s actually a fan video. On the one hand, if you’ve seen their video for “The Eldest Cosmonaut” video, or the album artwork for Christos’ side project Chaostar’s first album, you’d know that Septicfllesh are no strangers to the use of breasts in their work. And besides, this isn’t mainstream music, so I guess to me it didn’t seem out of the question that they’d do a video like this. Another aspect that fooled me was what seemed to be a tie-in of the kind of photomanipulation work that Seth Siro Anton does:

But the video actually originates from an art group called Octopulse. One of member of the group, Trëz Orb, produces artworks in a similar photomanipulation style, and according to his website has also shared exhibits with Seth Siro Anton. But even with these similarities aside, the video is certainly high enough quality to easily be an “official” music video, and not at all like the ubiquitous “fan videos” up on YouTube with a simple slide show of images related to the musical concept, or something equally mundane. And it was stumbling across this high quality fan video that got me thinking….


No doubt, there are parallels between the evolution of the music business, as far as recording, mixing, and distribution are concerned, and the progression of the film industry over the last few decades. On the one hand, with advances in computing power, falling price per processing power, and competition in digital music software, we’ve seen something of a revolution, where making music is now in the hands of the masses. There’s been a real levelling off of the playing field where a record company deal to cover the cost of spending weeks in the studio isn’t necessary any more.

If you’ve ever seen the Sound City documentary by Dave Grohl (not metal, but a great music documentary), there’s an interesting development where they set out to make a doco about this studio that had been the site of so many classic albums, only to find themselves covering how the music industry has changed (which is the real reason for the closure of said studio).

Given the key place computers have in our working lives, it’s no surprise that a similar process has been at work with film/video creation: The plummeting cost of video equipment, coupled with increases in recording quality and the availability of software and processing power to manipulate video on an average computer, have certainly changed the landscape of film-making. Neil Blomkamp, for example, landed his break with District 9 off the back of a five-minute short film Alive in Joburg. Similarly, a look around what’s on offer on Vimeo these days (apart from all the soft porn that seems to have proliferated there) shows some seriously classy works up there, with the best sci-fi:

Keloid from BLR_VFX on Vimeo.


This development suggests to me that in fact we’re much more likely to see videos like the one for “Sangreal” in the future, and similar opportunities for a band like Uneven Structure, signed to a small record label, to make a top-notch video for a song off their first album. With sites like Bandcamp and “free” social marketing via Facebook, etc., it’s just as easy to hear a new release from an unknown band as it is to hear one from a big-name band signed to a major label – provided you ever know they exist amongst the mass of material out there. And I would say that a parallel process is at work with videos – there’s been a levelling of the playing field where newcomers can put together something that stands up proudly against the bigger business offerings. I’d go so far as to say that the Uneven Structure video featured above stands up to anything from a major label/band combo, and that really is symptomatic of how the playing field has been levelled.

I’d also add that I think the film industry rule – that a big budget doesn’t necessarily mean a good movie – is equally applicable to the creation of music videos. When it’s done well, a simple music video can really resonate. Take the video from the Russian group Biting Elbows, made entirely with Go-Pro cameras, which Islander featured on the site earlier. And I think putting the ability to do something like that in the hands of the masses is a good thing.

Biting Elbows – ‘Bad Motherfucker’ Official Music Video from Ilya Naishuller on Vimeo.


But another observation made in the Sound City documentary, voiced in some shape or form by various other commentators, is the slightly-smug “looking down from my high horse” observation that with the rise of digital music and home recording has a proliferation of mediocrity. I recall someone even saying that maybe some people are making music who really shouldnt be doing so, interspersed with audio of auto-tuned vocals. I’m much more a live and let live kind of guy – if people want to do it, let them have the thrill of making something, even if it is crap.

When it comes to fan videos, therefore, I think we’ll be seeing more glaringly bad amateurish fan videos, with the occasional gem such as “Sangreal” above, and also ones that occupy a middle ground and aren’t great but do have some flicker of redeeming creativity, the kind of “film school practice video” such as this offering to Rammstein’s “Amour”:


But fan videos aside, even with some simple video equipment practically any band can now put together a “band playing in scenario X”-style music video, and we’ve certainly seen a proliferation of those. Add in a little extra effort and maybe you can also produce a storyline Y and reveal Z. Here’s the rub: With more or less anyone able to make a music video, and worldwide distribution via Vimeo and YouTube, I think this really changes the idea of what a music video is. Strangely, I think most bands don’t ever ask themselves “what are we actually making a music video for?”, or “what do we want/hope to achieve by making one?”. I suspect for many there’s simply a “we need a music video” approach, and so a video is made without the “why” being addressed.

I can understand why, 20-odd years ago with the rise of MTV and similar channels, music videos became a thing, particularly with TV being a medium where you just had to watch what was broadcast without a lot of interactive control, and a crowd effect where, once a certain number of bands were making videos, choosing not to make one could represent a loss of exposure. The potential audience was such that spending huge sums seemed completely justified (see this article and then consider that videos of similar quality can now be made for a fraction of the price).

But in today’s world where we are able to start/pause/switch-off a video at will, I do find myself wondering what the point of the video is. On the one hand, I don’t think a creative endeavour necessarily needs a “point” to exist – we make things because we enjoy the process. But I struggle to believe air time on a TV channel amounts to much at all these days, which leaves the online environment. Despite writing this rant about videos, in all honesty most of the time when watching a video I find myself thinking “I’m a music lover, really I’m just here for the audio”. A band could easily just embed audio or create an audio-only video showing the album art, and then focus their creative efforts on making more music. Maybe some bands feel the need to create some moving images to go along with the sound, and I’m guessing it’s from this need that the lyric video has proliferated to the widespread use it has today (although, it seems to be something limited to the metal genre).


Probably the only real benefit to having a music video these days is the potential marketing effect of a well-made video. A well-crafted piece is certainly the only time I watch a video and actually watch the video. When a band produces something that stands out, and in turn it gets shared around or highlighted in posts like this, then the social marketing aspect kicks in and can expose the band to new potential fans. How many people ever would have heard of Biting Elbows were it not for their Go-Pro video, for example? Of course, people also have a habit of sharing not only the good, but also the shocking (so videos like Rammstein’s “Pussy” and Cattle Decapitation’s “Forced Gender Reassignment” get exposure) and the hilarious (e.g., Seth Rogan and James Franco’s recent parody).

When the ability to make music videos is in the hands of the masses, it seems to me the real “point” of the video changes: A band can make whatever they like simply for their own enjoyment, a visual accompaniment they feel fits the music and is a worthwhile endeavour in itself; a “we’re doing this because we want to” approach. Or they can take a “video as marketing” approach, and attempt to create a truly noteworthy video in order to stand out from the crowd. But now it seems to me that the alternative — the mediocre “band playing scenario X” video, and even the “plus storyline Y” theme — has become over-saturated, and it’s potential as a marketing tool sapped. But then again, I’m just a fool rambling on the internet….

  11 Responses to “AND VIDEOS FOR ALL…”

  1. That Biting Elbows video is feckin prime. That said I rarely put much stock in videos anymore; even the ones that seem more interesting than most can seem unnecessary. That said, Red Fang always puts out AWESOME videos, and I’m really psyched for the new one they’ve been teasing

    • “That said I rarely put much stock in videos anymore; even the ones that seem more interesting than most can seem unnecessary”. That’s precisely my feeling, and one of the things that got me writing this post! You’ve obviously put it much more clearly though, and shorter 🙂

      After seeing so many videos I couldn’t help think that there’s so much effort involved, and I kind of got to thinking about why bands do it at all – the direction I was heading in towards the end of the post. Especially with metal bands, I find it hard to believe the band would pick up many viewers who weren’t already into the band in the first place?

      So I figured I’d put some thoughts down and see how everyone else felt. Your reaction at least gives me some affirmation that I’m not the only one who feels a bit indifferent to them. Unless that is, they happen to be awesome! (which I guess was also part of the convoluted argument I was trying to make)

      • Definitely. A music video, especially considering what I would think is a rather high cost, should have really have a good reason to be made, especially if it’s being used as a promotional tool. If it’s being made purely for the art of it, then by all means make the video. However I find it strange that bands still make them routinely as part of a marketing scheme; the only ones that really will leave enough impact on a viewer to warrant their production are videos that are jarringly extreme (a la Forced Gender Reassignment), or those that are truly innovative and captivating as films themselves, like the Biting Elbows video (the song almost feels like background music to the video). Yet even then, in both cases, though the songs may stick in your head a little better, I would think that that would still not predict a purchase. A video like Forced Gender Reassignment could in fact dissuade a viewer from purchasing the album, and even that fantastic music video probably isn’t going to get me to buy Biting Elbow’s passable music.

        The entire reason for the creation of the music video was as a marketing and promotional tool in an age where marketing and promotion weren’t as open-sourced (I won’t say easy; self-marketing isn’t always the answer). Back then getting your music video slotted into MTV could easily pay back the investment you made on that video, and in fact probably garnered you significant revenue. I highly doubt a music video posted on Youtube is going to garner 99.999% of any artists, let alone metal bands, much of any revenue.

        As you also pointed out, the lyric video has also taken shape, something that can be done at much lower cost – often by just an intern – while accomplishing the same goal as a full-blown music video (promotion).

        The concatenation of all of these factors – lack of originality, low probability of increased revenue (if not some incurred debt), and the presence of a more practical alternative – make it so that I truly don’t understand why music videos still exist, at least from a purely rational stance (There are obviously a few notable exceptions, like those listed above and in the comments). I won’t argue against an artist’s pursuit of art (though I would argue many music videos aren’t aiming to make artistic statements), as that is the artist’s prerogative. I suppose some degree of nostalgia, or a resistance to change could be blamed, though at some point I would think that red ink could incite this kind of change.

        Sorry if I ended up completely copying what you said above, Booker. This was meant to be a shorter comment, but logistical failures get me ranting easier than most other things.

        • “logistical failures get me ranting easier than most other things”. You and me both 🙂

          Also, I should have just asked you to write this post, because you just put that way better than I did!

  2. Behemoth’s new one is great, as usual. Also enjoyed Turisas with “Ten More Miles”.

  3. Two of the best Music videos of the past decade or so has come from the musical world of Tom G Warrior. I’m thinking of course of Celtic Frost’s “A dying God coming into human flesh” and Triptykon’s “Shatter”. They are of course both high on the pretentiousness-scale, probably good examples of the “Making art for arts sake”-category of music videos. And with high budgets.

  4. the Biting Elbows video is freaking awesome!

  5. How can this list exist without the Meshuggah-I Am Colossus music video and Portal-Curtain!

    • I might add Kvelertak’s “Blodtorst” to that. Love that video.

    • I haven’t actually seen that Portal video, obviously something I should remedy! And indeed Leperkahn, I would rate Blodtorst as one of the best animated music videos I’ve seen.

      But I didn’t mean for this to be a comprehensive list of ‘video awesomeness’ – but just get the ball rolling with a few examples of videos I thought stood out, in order to continue the blurb while still being able to have some videos in the post that I could use to make points and refer back to. Though I guess it would be interesting to see what came out of the woodwork if we did try to put together such a list.

      • I’m sure such a list will informally appear in these comments. We metalheads seem to be good at comprehensiveness, and never want a fellow metalhead missing out because of unfamiliarity of lapses in memory (especially in year-end retrospectives and lists).

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