The translation of music into a visual medium is difficult to say the least. A great song usually evokes all sorts of images in the listener’s head…but asking that listener to define, organize, and depict them is usually like asking a snake to juggle. Add to this the rules of platforms like MTV and YouTube, and the commercial aspects that come with promoting a record, and you’ve got yourself a Sisyphean feat. That’s why we’re so excited when a band we love puts out a great music video — because we can see their art come to life in ways we understand, but could never imagine ourselves.
That said, it’s also why so many bands have awful music videos. And it’s not even bad artists, either — great songs by great bands can easily end up with clumsy, absurd, and painfully embarrassing music videos. To showcase this phenomenon, we put together a list of awesome songs that are cursed, be it by label pressure, poor creative choices, or the technological limits of the time, with bad videos.
Here are 11 tracks that are hard on the eyes but kind to the ears…
Slayer, “World Painted Blood” (World Painted Blood, 2009)
Here’s the thing about Metalocalypse: you can tell a solid amount of work goes into making the performance animation look cool. But Slayer seemed to want to go Dethklok without putting in the effort, and the result is this clunky, choppy, poorly-animated video. The band literally look like they have Terrence and Phillip mouths – but even those move more smoothly than this animation style (Dave Lombardo’s depiction is definitely the most shameful). And that record was such a big one for Slayer, too! Man, what happened?
Arsis, “Forced to Rock” (Starve for the Devil, 2010)
Now, with this video, we know exactly what happened! Arsis, a band who makes elaborate death metal, was seeing some mainstream recognition and, fueled by their Bodom-ish love of hair metal, thought they could break through to a broader audience and straddle genres. The result is a Mötley Crüe video with no sex, or a death metal video with no darkness, or just an exhaustingly bad music video. Really, guys — classroom? ‘E = MCROCK? The pink guitar? Who didn’t say ‘No’ along the way to this?
Disturbed, “Voices” (The Sickness, 2000)
Hate on Disturbed all you want, but “Voices” was a solid way to kick off The Sickness. It let the listener know that this album was here to fucking bounce. And the video features…office supply torture? Blowing off a blonde chick? Sadly, this was during MTVs heyday, so actually murdering someone wasn’t yet allowed in a music video (like when Disturbed made that video implying that you should shoot newscasters who you dislike). Still, this one does a disservice to its song, which is already fighting to be better than every other nu-metal track.
Meshuggah, “Shed” (Catch Thirty Three, 2005)
Oh man, you can tell that at the time, this video was a huge win for Meshuggah. We’re sure this crappy CGI animation cost the label a shitload of money. But the band were just too big to go scrappy and too small to really go for it, so instead we get that kids’ TV show Reboot, but EDGY. The result is a lot of iTunes visualizer-looking-ass prog metal bull shit. Woof.
Satyricon, “Mother North” (Nemesis Divina, 1996)
See, most early black videos are just funny. Witch hat, park in the woods – fuckin’ hilarious. But Satyricon‘s “Mother North” isn’t even that bad, it’s just solidly Not Very Good. You have the band cutting down crosses and gingerly leading Mother North herself around, but it feels like a lot of this was filmed at a by-the-hour rental space near a Norwegian mall. What a killer black metal song – and then, man…
Slipknot, “Left Behind” (Iowa, 2001)
It’s amazing how cinematic the camera work for this video looks, given how dumb its narrative is. Slipknot meat boy lives in a literal broken home! There are bullies, but they, uh, don’t really do anything? Not even meat boy’s egg-water cereal brings him comfort. And then, ho boy, it rains? As with Disturbed, Slipknot’s need for MTV acceptance did a dirty to this track’s ripping, anguished power. Sleep forever, sweet Slipknot meat boy.
Rob Zombie, “Living Dead Girl” (Hellbilly Deluxe, 1998)
Look, silent films are rad, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari especially so…but they’re just not very exciting. Rob Zombie’s music, on the other hand, is all about high-octane, pelvic-thrusting, hard-rock thunder, especially on this track. Instead, we have this stripperific song’s protagonist swaying about in a white dress with eyes pointed to heaven, and the whole thing feels like a pulled punch. And with Zombie, the punch is really why we’re here.
Cryptopsy, “The Pestilence That Walketh In Darkness (Psalm 91: 5-8)” (Once Was Not, 2005)
Oh man, Lord Worm’s back – we better pack this video with literal worms! Let’s see what exciting shit he does! Oh, wait, Lord Worm’s a great big fucking weirdo, so he spends the whole time hunched over a bible with a pained look on his face? Wow, it’s almost like this was not a song that needed a music video! It’s almost like this was a waste of Cryptopsy‘s precious time!
Pantera, “Revolution Is My Name” (Reinventing the Steel, 2000)
Hell yeah, Pantera represent the progression of American history! Wait, what the fuck? This bizarre time-jumping video for a song where Phil sings from the point of view of Revolution itself is, well, wack and confusing. More than that, though, it feels extra-tame in the post-9/11, post-COVID, post-George Floyd, post-2020 election world. Oh, yeah, Pantera, did you know all about revolution? Cause of fuckin’ groove metal?
Akercocke, “Leviathan” (Choronzon, 2003)
So the big deal with Akercocke was that they were satanists dressed in three-piece suits, but then they made extremely cool occult-imbued death metal. But holy shit, does the “Leviathan” video only care about one of those things. The video’s premise is that these satanic gentlemen have their drinks poured for them while watching a tasteless “striptease” from a sexy libertine Matrix lady in an abandoned public school. These guys look like their boners are chafing against their expensive pants. Stick to the shadows, boys.
Testament, “Practice What You Preach” (Practice What You Preach, 1989)
The end of the ‘80s was a confusing time to be a thrash band. You wanted that MTV exposure, but you didn’t want to associated with glam, and you couldn’t be insane like those gnarly fuckers in Germany and Switzerland were. The result is so many videos like Testament‘s “Practice What You Preach” video, where the story is kind of that Testament are a band, and boy do they move fast when they play music. Worth it for young dreamboat Chuck Billy alone.