No declaration has better nailed the perilous edge strutted by heavy metal than that perfect nugget from the 1984 cinematic masterpiece, This is Spinal Tap.
With its devils and darkness, leather and lust, and makeup and fire and blood, heavy metal courts cheesiness with every down-tuned power chord, wailing vocal, and solo break. Naturally, the genre has teetered over into campy overkill most often via music videos.
Just this past weekend, “Let It Roar,” a terribly great/greatly terrible music video by former W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes, kept the tradition alive by going viral. Here now is a salute to Holmes’s unexpected Internet rebirth, along with a collection of other heavy metal music videos so utterly bad, they’re awesome—totally awesome.
1. Chris Holmes – “Let It Roar” (2014)
It’s been a rough-and-tumble 25 years for former W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes and he just dumped a fresh load atop his already bedraggled legend. The music video for “Let It Roar”—the lead single from Holmes’ poetically titled new album, Sh-ttin’ Bricks—recently went viral, eliciting bugged-out eyeballs and busted guts worldwide like nothing he’s done since his monstrously uncomfortable drunk-in-a-pool interview (with his suffering mom nearby) in 1988’s The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years.
“Let It Roar” showcases Holmes stomping around his adopted homeland of France. He growls, squints, repeatedly flips the bird and bellows “F—k off!” in between shots of himself sipping tea in his study, sucking down soft serve ice cream, hanging out at a cotton candy stand, feeding leftover chicken to his dog, sticking his face into a Pirates of the Caribbean cutout, catching a fake fish while aboard a boat called “Mean Man,” and lip-synching with his mouth full of half-chewed food. You have to see it to not believe it.
2. Judas Priest – “Hot Rockin’” (1981)
Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford didn’t come out of the closet as gay until 1998, whereupon the general metalhead reaction fell was, “Dude, it’s cool… the leather, the chains, the muscles, the biker gear, the ‘Hot Rockin’’ music video—we all caught on quite a ways back.”
What makes the “Hot Rockin’” clip so enjoyably awful, then, is not its homoerotic content—because that would comprise 100% of its total content—but its comically overstated-yet-unspoken sex being combined with hideously over-the-top early-’80s fitness craze goofiness.
A the single from the 1981 album Point of Entry (hmmm…), “Hot Rockin’” opens with the members of Priest pumping iron while shirtless. Halford’s face enters the frame going up-and-down as he’s revealed to be doing push-ups. After that, the lads hit the showers, singing the whole time, and a climactic concert performance features Rob wailing into a literally flaming microphone (again: hmmm…).
3. Rush – “Roll the Bones” (1991)
From their onset, Rush has kept their ears open to the cutting-edge music of their times and absorbed new influences into their ongoing creative saga. This policy paid off well when Rush discovered reggae and new wave. Such was not the case when Canada’s supreme power trio attempted to tip their toques to hip-hop.
“Roll the Bones,” a single from the group’s otherwise well-received 1991 album of the same name, stops for a rap break at the 3:20. Hearing it happen is one thing, witnessing the primitive CGI rapping skeleton projected behind Neil Peart’s drum kit in the music video is another.
Rush’s boney MC doesn’t just bust his rhymes, he dances, dons wraparound sunglasses, flashes a badge, sprouts a Mohawk, and morphs into a die-shaped jack-in-the-box. For those thirty seconds, the song may as well be titled, “Chill the Bones.”
4. Kiss – “A World Without Heroes” (1981)
Almost since its flop release in 1981, Kiss themselves have joked about their ill-conceived concept album Music From “The Elder.” The Kiss Army has also overwhelmingly embraced the record as such, although some contemporary fans revere Elder so dearly that they’ve launched their own campaign to make it into a movie.
For all the fun Kiss has with Music From “The Elder,” its lead single, “A World Without Heroes” is actually an effective ballad and it’s been a longtime staple of the group’s live set. The music video for the song, however, is very much in keeping with Elder’s overall cornball onslaught.
Shot through a Vaseline-smeared lens and bathed in gauzy spotlights, Kiss performs “Heroes” with mellow solemnity. Gene Simmons floats into the foreground singing lead, his hair coiffed into the first version of the lacquered follicle helmet that would become familiar from his Family Jewels reality show and sex tape.
The video progresses in this straightforward manner until its final moment when Gene intones, “In a world without heroes/there’s nothing to be/there’s no place for me.” Much in the manner of the Native American who wept over pollution in a famous 1970s PSA, Gene ends the clip by looking up into the camera with a single tear streaming down the demon makeup on his face.
In yet another example of Kiss’s good humor regarding Music From “The Elder,” Gene routinely ends concert performances of the song by pressing his index finger to his eye and dramatically tracing the track of that original tear down his cheek. As usual, Kiss gets it.
5. Billy Squier – “Rock Me Tonite” (1984)
The most notorious, career-killing music video misfire in MTV history still manages to elicit shock and awe with each viewing. Just imagine how Billy Squier must feel if he ever catches sight of “Rock Me Tonite” even for a single accidental split-second.
Throughout the first half of the ’80s, Billy Squier established himself as one of music’s biggest and most reliable superstars. His upbeat, foot-stomping hard rock ran parallel to heavy metal while also incorporating funk, new wave, and booming grooves to create a perfect storm of across-the-board pop appeal, particularly among the ladies. All that ended with “Rock Me Tonight.”
To begin with, the song is fine—maybe even one of Billy’s radio-friendly best. So the disaster is all about the accompanying visuals. Billy opens the clip by stirring naked amidst satin sheets and emerging to slink into tight white drawstring pants and an even tighter white sleeveless t-shirt.
Curly-maned Billy then minces, struts, prances, preens, crawls, squirms, and twirls his arms about and tears the tee open so we can get yet another eyeful of his toned anatomy. Not helping matters is when he next slips into a pink tank top. More flailing on the bed ensues, along with further flouncing until Billy grabs a magical pink guitar that transports him to a grossly ’80s pop art set where his band backs him. By then, it’s too late.
“Rock Me Tonite” became an instant legend, in every worst way. Squier frantically regretted the clip straightaway and begged MTV to pull it. They didn’t. The public winced and mocked and moved on, reflective of an attitude summed up by Scorpions guitarist Rudolph Schencker when he said: “I liked Billy Squier very much, but then I saw him doing this video in a very terrible way. I couldn’t take the music serious anymore.”
The best-selling book I Want My MTV devotes an entire chapter to “Rock Me Tonite,” and, to his credit, Squier now deems the whole experience as just “a bad part of a good life.”
6. Candlemass – “Bewitched” (1987)
Swedish doom metal pioneers Candlemass forever deepened and darkened hard rock’s heaviest corners with their 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and its follow-up a year later, Nightfall. The band also broke ground with their music video for “Bewitched”, but only in a literal sense, and upon seeing Candlemass frontman Messiah Marcolin—well, the “heavy” jokes write themselves.
Make no mistake: “Bewitched” musically delivers the doom goods. So, too, in an opposite sort of way does the video’s depiction of the band members, clad in black top hats, carrying a chintzy coffin into a graveyard and laying it upon the snowy ground, whereupon Messiah Marcolin bursts out of it in full wail, looking very much like the human link between Meat Loaf and Buzz Osborne from the Melvins.
Wrapped in a nicely concealing black cassock and howling beneath a wild heap of springy black curls, Messiah does what the title implies, possessing the hearts, minds, and sneaker-adorned feet of his bandmates, plus a metal chick in a hooded robe and small cabal of disciples who march in a circle and headbang to him in tribute to their new master’s undead (and overfed) majesty.
7. Immortal – “Call of the Winter Moon” (1992)
By way of its associated murders, church arson, and fascist offshoots, black metal is the one branch of extreme hard rock that has ventured furthest into the realm of actual evil.
On the other horn-saluting hand, black metal is also the musical subgenre that took Kiss-style make-up, Venom-style devil worship lyrics, and overall boasts about the übermensch supremacy of longhairs to such homicidal real-world conclusions—so that’s to say that black metal routinely courts onward and upward levels of ridiculousness.
Brawny, brutal-sounding Norwegian black metal mavens Immortal have proven to be one of the form’s most inventive and enduring ensembles, largely by taking their music seriously but enjoying themselves while they’re at it. For example, when discussing his frowny-face black-and-white corpse-paint for a documentary, Immortal frontman Abbath Doom Occulta actually burst into a smile and said he was paying homage to “Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, Kiss—I love all the old s—t!”
Neither Abbath or his bandmates Demonaz (on bass) or Armagedda (on drums) is smiling in the music video for “Call of the Wintermoon” from their 1992 debut, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. Instead, the group rolls out and effectively establishes an unholy host of black metal tropes that continue to endure: snarls, sneers, swords, wintry woods, witch hats, wizard capes, torches, bullet belts, castle ruins, nail-studded clubs, and amateur fire breathing while standing on top of a rock.
Is it evil? Like a fox.
8. Hammerfall – “Hearts on Fire” (2002)
Hailing from Sweden with speed and power unique to their homeland’s hardest and heaviest rock-and-roll, Hammerfall has been a major force in metal for more than twenty years.
Part of Hammerfall’s enduring appeal is their ability to upend expectations, such as when they kicked ass in 2009 with a cover of the Knack’s “My Sharona.” Less successful, although way more surprising, was their 2002 music video for “Hearts on Fire.”
Proud Swedes that they are, Hammerfall spends the clip on an ice rink with a squad of their country’s finest Olympic competitors. That sounds perfectly metal until it’s revealed that the band is slipping around with the women’s curling team.
The song packs a wallop, the ladies are wholly impressive athletically and aesthetically, and Hammerfall clearly appears to be enjoying themselves but, still—it’s curling. Despite its centering on an object called the “rock,” curling is just one sport that doesn’t and, as Hammerfall proves here, never will.
9. Savatage – “Hall of the Mountain King” (1987)
Florida-spawned prog/power metal battalion Savatage combined classical music, operatic grandeur, and straight-up contemporary hard rock throughout their late ’80s/early ’90s heyday, and never more hilariously than in their music video for the song “Hall of the Mountain King.”
The clip depicts Hobbit-like little person as he wanders about a Middle-Earth-like landscape, from a misty bog to a moonlit forest to, ultimately, the location of the title, where heaps of gold and jewels await. Savatage, meanwhile, serenades the diminutive hero with appropriate pomp and soaring circumstance from a cluster of hills.
The band members wear foofy 18th century suits, singer Jon Oliva breathes smoke and sort of roughs up guitarist Criss Oliva (his brother), and then the Mountain King himself appears on his throne and the little guy conspires with Savatage to help him make off with all the nearby booty. The whole endeavor, from start to finish, is its own lovably ludicrous treasure.
10. Alternate Reality – “The King That Never Was” (2011)
In 2011, Cleveland power metal quartet Alternate Reality racked up more than a million YouTube views for its music video “The King That Never Was.” What makes that stat a double-edged broadsword is what drove all those eyeballs was the clip going viral after repeatedly being declared online to be “the worst music video ever made.”
To be fair, for anything to actually qualify as “the worst” it must be utterly devoid of pleasures. That description certainly does not apply to this five-minute mini-epic of public park sword-and-sorcery in which Northern Ohio’s finest thespians portray King Arthur, Merlin, and Sir Lancelot, along with a host of local babes done up like Renaissance Faire wenches. One mighty tattooed maiden even stares into the camera and announces in clipped pentameter: “This is the story of a king… and his quest for a might-tee sword… with the power to forge a new nation… a kingdom of met-tal!”
The music is terrible but, in keeping with the singer’s ill-fitting Infliction t-shirt and the drummer looking like a 1950s dad and deep discount CGI laser beams and an amazingly clunky girl-girl swordfight, it’s our kind of terrible: the too-metal-for-its-own-good kind of terrible.