For most of the ‘80s, Metallica offered a refreshingly raw and brutal antidote to the slick, mass-market rock posturing that predominated on MTV in that decade. When they did enter the music video fray with ‘One’ in January 1989, the astonishing result was a critical and commercial triumph, achieved entirely on their own profound, uncompromising terms. Throughout the ‘90s and beyond, the band worked alongside a string of singular, world-renowned creative talents to plot an artistic course that didn’t always meet with fan approval, but which confirmed Metallica’s hard-won position as one of the biggest rock acts on the planet…
UNTIL IT SLEEPS (1996)
Director Samuel Bayer had already helmed promos for Nirvana, Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Rush and David Bowie when Metallica approached him to interpret the advance single from Load. The result scooped Best Rock Video at the 1996 MTV Music Awards, and also afforded Metallibangers their first glimpse of the new-look, new-sound ‘Tallica. Few were ready for the sight of Lars in guyliner and a feather boa, but the live-action reconstructions of details from Hieronymus Bosch art were superbly (sur)realised.
HERO OF THE DAY (1996)
Perennially hip Dutchman Anton Corbijn – whose aesthetic sense saw him become a trusted visual collaborator with the likes of U2 and Depeche Mode – directed this two-pronged clip for Load’s second single. On one level, it’s just some skinny teenage dirtbag slouching around a shitty bedsit. But the real gold happens on his TV, where James, Kirk, Jason and Lars adopt a variety of cheeky disguises to populate a joyous succession of cheesy game shows, adverts, Western movies, newscasts and boxing matches.
THE UNFORGIVEN (1991)
Director Matt Mahurin’s ‘theatrical version’ needlessly stretches out the harrowing story of a child who grows to old age chipping away at the wall of a stone cell to over eleven minutes, but it also removes the band from the action. So unless you’d rather see a small boy scrabbling about in dust than Papa Het’s friendly mutton chops, you’re better off sticking with the shorter clip.
THE MEMORY REMAINS (1997)
Two compelling features stand out in director Paul Anderson’s The Memory Remains video: ‘60s singer-songwriter (and the song’s backing vocalist) Marianne Faithfull stalking slowly around a corridor grinding a barrel organ, and the anti-gravity ‘rotating band’ scenario, in which the jamming Metallicats appear to continually spin 360 degrees throughout the performance. Turns out it was actually a specially-constructed room which rotated around the stationary band – a fiendishly dizzying effect that reputedly cost £100,000.
TURN THE PAGE (1998)
A song about the rigours of life on the road, you might expect the accompanying promo vid to be a simple, cheap, classic Metallica backstage/tour bus/live show video à la Nothing Else Matters. However, they employed ex-Bathory drummer turned pop video auteur Jonas Åkerlund, who turned the clip into a stark, troubling story – subsequently extended to a fifteen minute film – about a sex worker (played by porn star Ginger Lynn) and her daughter.
ALL NIGHTMARE LONG (2008)
Launched with its own Creepypasta-style hoax backstory – with Kirk gamely claiming he bought this mysterious film in Russia and became obsessed with it – the band-free promo combines mock-historic documentary footage of Soviet experiments in tissue revival with effective stylised zombie apocalypse animation. “It was very nerve-wracking to be a huge fan of the biggest band in the world and to want to impress them,” admitted director Roboshobo to Metal Hammer, “so I was relieved to have their approval.”
THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES (2009)
A strangely moving video, throughout which you’re constantly expecting something appalling to happen, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg was given free rein to interpret Hetfield’s lyric about “the human element of forgiveness,” choosing to relocate the song within tense events during a non-specific war in the Middle East. “This was such a beautiful and epic way to treat the song in something that was really radically different than the specificity of the lyrics,” added Lars.
I DISAPPEAR (2000)
Although arguably Metallica’s weakest single, it’s hard not to enjoy the video for this standalone single from the Mission Impossible II OST (unless you suffer from vertigo, as the band perform atop a towering rock in Monument Valley). All four horsemen have fun with favourite movie references: Kirk runs from a biplane à la North By Northwest; Lars pretends to be Bruce Willis; James recreates Steve McQueen’s Bullitt car chase and Jason, in his last ever Metallivid, essays a more obscure scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, struggling against a vast tide of people walking in the opposite direction. Perhaps symbolic of where he was at in the band? We’d say so.
ST ANGER (2003)
No big-budget cinematic homages for Rob Trujillo: the bassist’s first Metallica video shoot, and they send him to prison. San Quentin to be precise, the notorious San Francisco institution made legendary in rock circles by Johnny Cash’s 1969 concert for inmates. In addition to filming the St Anger vid, Metallica performed a full free concert for all prisoners, during which James admitted that if it hadn’t been for music, he might well be residing alongside his captive audience.
ENTER SANDMAN (1991)
American comedian Hal Sparks once called it “one of those ‘if you have epilepsy, turn the channel’ videos,” and indeed Metallica’s monster breakthrough smash hit single came with a heavy-rotation promo clip that relied on flashing imagery. Extending the song’s theme of bad dreams and night terrors, the constantly-flickering clip focuses on classic childhood nightmare images like drowning, falling, snakes, creepy old men’s close-up wrinkled faces and, of course, lorries smashing through beds.
Bloody brave of Metallica to launch their video career with a suffocatingly bleak, labyrinthine eight-minute war epic about a man destroyed by a land mine; even more brave of them to smother so much of their musical interplay in protracted, opaque dialogue from 1971’s Johnny Got His Gun, the film of the book on which the song was based. Metallica’s bravery payed off; this genuinely affecting, extreme sensory experience somehow gained heavy rotation on late 80s MTV, even reaching number one on the station’s Top Fifteen countdown.