The Ten Best Metallica Music Videos
On August 15, Backbeat Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield) will release Metallica: The $24.95 Book by longtime friend of MetalSucks, Ben Apatoff. The tome looks at Metallica’s cultural significance, with chapters devoted to each member, each album, touring, fashion, books, film, influences, fandom, history, and more, exploring the band’s ideologies along the way. It’s the most complete Metallica book to date, covering their career through 2021 and featuring previously unpublished photos, a foreword by Laina Dawes (What are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal), new transcriptions of video interviews and magazine quotes previously unavailable on the Internet, and tons more. You can — and should! — pre-order it here.
To celebrate the book’s impending publication, we asked our old pal Mr. Apatoff to adapt the book’s chapter on music videos into a MetalSucks-worthy list of Metallica’s Ten Best Music Videos. Check out the list below! Then head to the comments section to debate his selections. Be nice to each other please.
“We’ve always been very adamant about shying away from the metal clichés—the whole sexist, Satanist crap…. Not doing a video and then finally doing ‘One’ and everybody going, ‘Wow!’”-Lars Ulrich
“After the whole ‘One’ experience, I just, I feel great about making videos now,” Lars Ulrich states in the short pre-concert movie seen in the San Diego show on Live Shit: Binge & Purge.
The camera cuts to James. “I hate making videos.” He laughs. “They’re boring as shit. But in the end run you kind of see why, you know, you had to stand to there for three hours in the same spot.”
For a band that can seemingly do whatever they want artistically, Metallica’s videos often look like they’ve been made out of obligation. Lars had been talking about making them as early as July 1985, when he told Kick Ass magazine he had a director lined up for an “Escape” video, until Cliff Burnstein talked Lars out of it. The next year he told Metal Forces, “If Metallica finally does one it has to be so much better, simply because we’ve said so much shit about videos before.” He cited Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” video for doing a good job of showing what the band is about. But Metallica’s reputation would be more or less unchanged without all but a few of their videos. On their MTV Icon special in 2003, Metallica performed a medley of six songs for the music video channel—only one of which had been filmed for a video. Despite arriving at the dawn of the video era, Metallica didn’t release an official music video until their fourth record. Even on the Black Album, three of Metallica’s five videos were cobbled together from band footage, which were cool if not artistically inventive. But who doesn’t expect Metallica to be inventive? You’ve heard “Sad but True” and “Nothing Else Matters” hundreds of times—quick, what happens in the videos? Metallica gifted the world some of the most striking, iconic imagery in all of rock music, from their logo to their album art, but for the most part those artistic sensibilities haven’t quite crossed over into their videos.
That said, Lars’ businessman sensibilities include quality control, and his band has made a few remarkable videos, several good ones, and at least thirty that are worth watching. Here are ten of the best.
10. “Fuel” (1998, Dir. Wayne Isham)
“Fuel” is a grindhouse-worthy video for a grindhouse-worthy song, as enjoyably mindless as the action-packed movies it pays homage to. White captions flash across the screen (“QUENCH THIRST with gasoline” . . . “on they BURN” . . . “WHITE KNUCKLE TIGHT!” . . . “They live . . . TOO FAST!”). Maybe historians will mark “Fuel” as White Zombie by way of The Fast and the Furious, before Rob went solo or Vin Diesel won his first seven-figure check. More likely they’ll throw their horns up, bang their heads, and give that man his dabajabaza.
9. “Sad but True” (1992, Dir. Wayne Isham)
Metallica are in their element here. Not since Cliff ’Em All had a video release so effectively captured Metallica being the most exciting live band in the world. If showing live Metallica footage in their Black Album videos wasn’t the most creative idea, it still depicted the best thing about Metallica. Stage lights illuminate James’ face like he’s telling horror stories around a campfire, the fans go into hysterics, and the band throws themselves into every second of the song, on the last tour where they’d all have the hair to show it. Keep your eyes peeled for a fan in a sling, banging the arm that doesn’t bang.
8. “Hardwired” (2016, Dir. Colin Hakes and the Artist)
Metallica released videos for every Hardwired…to Self Destruct song, in an era when streaming videos replaced cassingles. The videos were a mixed bag, but the record’s first release, “Hardwired,” best depicts Metallica at their pulverizing powers. Playing in darkness with a strobe, Metallica gives a taste of the opening number for the Worldwired tour, just a breakneck heavy song with a dizzying spin. Not much by way of bells and whistles, but Metallica doesn’t need any.
7. “Until It Sleeps” (1996, Dir. Samuel Bayer)
This surreal video was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch paintings, with characters from Ecce Homo, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and The Haywain Triptych all appearing. Director Samuel Bayer had been working with David Bowie and the Smashing Pumpkins, and “Until It Sleeps” matches both artists’ decorative extravagance in ways one wouldn’t expect the guys who made the Black Album to pull off. Still, the band seems at odds with itself—Kirk and Lars wear makeup, Jason and James do not. Jason is literally “in the dirt,” agonizing on the ground while reflecting the exact words he’d use to describe how he felt about …And Justice for All’s bass mix. Lars looks like he raided U2’s Achtung Baby photoshoot closet. It’s the first Metallica video to cast more actors than musicians. Yet “Until It Sleeps” is potent, thanks to Bayer’s Bosch visuals, an emotional James performance, and an Ecce Homo Christlike figure whom some viewers believe resembles an iconic bassist, who once came back from New York’s Met Museum with a Bosch book for his girlfriend Corrine.
6. “Master of Puppets (Live)” (2013, Dir. Nimród Antal)
Twenty-seven years after its release, Metallica’s masterpiece gets a video. In 1986 it was too hard for a video (plans for a “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” were considered but scrapped), but by 2013 “Master of Puppets” was beloved enough to be the promotional video release for Metallica’s major motion picture. “Master of Puppets (live)” is practically an ad for Metallica Through the Never, albeit no more so than any music video is an ad for the artist. Like the film it accompanies, “Master of Puppets (live)” expertly captures the excitement of a Metallica show, along with clips from “. . . And Justice for All,” “One,” “Ride the Lightning,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” If you’re new to Metallica, this will show you why they matter. If you’ve seen and heard it before, you’ll want to go back—who couldn’t be thrilled by “Master of Puppets”? Notice how instead of “Fix me” James yells “Pancakes!” before Kirk’s solo. According to Anthrax’s Charlie Benante, Cliff Burton misheard the lyric as “pancakes” and mouthed it from the stage to his friends in the audience. Charlie told James this over twenty years later before the first Big Four show in Poland, and James was charmed enough to sing it onstage and onscreen in Metallica’s big movie.
5. “The Memory Remains” (1997, Dir. Paul Andresen)
Director Paul Andresen would go on to helm Insane Clown Posse’s 2010 straight-to-video prequel Big Money Rustlas, but “The Memory Remains” is his peak as a video director. Shot in a Van Nuys Airport hangar, the filmmakers created a stationary room in a two-story spinning box to give the illusion that Metallica themselves were being swung around, presumably controlled the street organ guest Marianne Faithfull is playing. Metallica pays Faithfull—“buy the ticket, take the ride”—before jumping onto the platform and menacingly thrashing out the song, though behind the scenes the band was reportedly all on motion sickness drugs. Look for a bear rug on the wall in tribute to Faithfull, who was infamously wearing only a fur rug when the cops found her during a drug raid at Keith Richards’ home in 1967.
4. “St. Anger” (2003, Dir. the Malloys)
“Welcome to San Quentin,” the guard tells the band. “We’re all excited you’re here, staff and inmates alike…. In the unlikely event that you are taken hostage, the state will not negotiate your release in exchange for the release of an inmate.” They all sign. One of Metallica’s worst singles gets one of their best videos, culling footage from Metallica’s 2003 San Quentin performance with some original shots. James has cited Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” song and video as an early influence in matching rebellion with creativity, but the “St. Anger” video is more like Johnny Cash’s live “Folsom Prison Blues,” a sea of angry men banging their heads in appreciation of an artist entering a system they’d barely evaded (years earlier James spent a night in jail in London for property damage—he’d drunkenly climbed on top of a movie theater marquee and kicked out the lights). The video ends with the message, “For all the souls impacted by San Quentin, your spirit will forever be a part of Metallica. —James, Lars Kirk and Robert,” worded to include victims and families, as well as the prisoners. The video does not mention that Metallica donated $10,000 to the San Quentin Giants, the prison’s baseball team, or that they played a full set for the prisoners the day after their “St. Anger” shoot. According to the Some Kind of Monster DVD commentary, one of the inmates used to mow Kirk’s mother’s lawn.
3. “The Unforgiven” (1991, Dir. Matt Mahurin)
“The Unforgiven” is as vivid as the Morricone score it evokes in its introduction. Like “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven” depicts an old man and a boy, only this time they may or may not be the same person. James has revealed that “Yest” being scrawled on the wall is part of “Yesterday,” but the video’s ambiguities make it effective—is that ink or blood he’s writing with? Who’s that on the old poster? What’s with the keyhole in the foliage? The four members appear almost entirely separate for the first time in a Metallica video, echoing the song’s loneliness and perhaps adapting for an era in which all four members were becoming individually recognizable on a major level. Mahurin would keep helping express Metallica’s anguish—he illustrated the wretched angel that appears in both the St. Anger booklet and the Some Kind of Monster cover art. Be sure to also watch the equally haunting eleven and a half minute “theatrical” cut of “The Unforgiven,” which introduces more characters, excludes the band, and opens more questions.
2. “Enter Sandman” (1991, Dir. Wayne Isham)
Metallica’s only video as iconic as “One” was a bigger hit and maybe their only other video as visually innovative. Each member spoke with Isham about their nightmare ideas (James: “There were some pretty wild night- mares that came out that should not ever be seen by anyone”) to consolidate into the clip, which sets a series of dream sequences against obscured, flashing shots of Metallica’s performance and the most terrifying Sandman this side of E. T. A. Hoffmann, courtesy of character actor/Sam Peckinpah mainstay R. G. Armstrong. TV static-like sand pours from his hands while a boy falls into snakes, drowning, vertigo, an intruder, and a runaway semi-truck. “Enter Sandman” won 1992’s MTV Video Music Award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video, beating out Def Leppard, Ugly Kid Joe, and even the night’s Video of the Year award winner, Van Halen’s “Right Now.” But its greatest MTV prestige was inspiring a parody on The Ben Stiller Show, casting Stiller as James, Bob Odenkirk as Lars, and Janeane Garofalo as the host of “Headslammers Ball.”
1. “One” (1989, Dir. Bill Pope and Michael Salomon)
Had Metallica stopped making videos after “One,” they’d already have earned a place in music video history. Metallica introduced themselves to MTV audiences by making metal stranger, scarier, and more cinematic than before (Lars: “It turned out there were many, many, many disenfranchised kids who wanted their music heavier and darker”). According to Lars, Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun was given to the band by Cliff Burnstein, and Peter Mensch in turn tracked down a tape of the film, which in 1988 had to be sent from Italy and transferred from European to American format (these days it’s readily available, the 2009 DVD release including the “One” video among the film’s special features). Metallica bought the rights to the film and hired two directors with no metal video experience, picked over bigger directors whose egos might’ve tampered with Metallica’s vision (Elektra agreed the video wouldn’t get released if Metallica didn’t like it, and James agreed to not show his “EET FUK” guitar onscreen). The story, intercut with a fierce Metallica performance in an almost empty warehouse, can’t be told in seven and a half minutes, but “One” shows just enough dialogue and grainy footage to convey the protagonist’s helplessness and confusion. You’ll never hear “Keep the Home Fires Burning” the same way. James has said he liked that people didn’t know what to say when they saw it, although Kirk was in tune with the media’s reaction. “I saw ‘One’ on MTV at like, 11:30 in the evening,” he recalled. “The VJ said ‘Wow, that’s a real bowl of rainbows!’”