In a press release I recieved from Nuclear Blast Records regarding Nails latest album, ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us‘, vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones said of their music video for the album’s title track that:
“The world really doesn’t need another ‘band playing in a warehouse’ music video, but again, without being condescending with some passively aggressive description and putting other videos down, we believe this video not only stands out as far as quality and expression, but represents us in the best possible way that a music video could.”
Since reading that quote, I have become far more mindful of the quality and the actual effort (or the often lack there of) being put into music videos. That quote also made me think about just how many music videos there are out there on the Internet with these threadbare narratives, these pseudo-deep storylines and just plain forgettable imagery that was only used because it “looked cool”. Hell, some don’t even go that far and are just glorified playthrough videos. I then thought about how many music videos exist out there in the digital void that just has band members miming along to their own music in a field. Or in a forest. Or in a house. Or in a warehouse. Or in a factory. Or in front of a green screen while hanging from ropes. Or in a practice room. Or in a really dark practice room with a green screen.
The possible combinations of the above are nearly endless, and more often than not, there’s not much substance to be found in a lot of these clips. And if there is some substance to be extracted, it’s usually quite trite, with countless other bands tackling the exact same themes in the exact same manner. “Oh, what’s that?” YouTube says to you, “You’ve been watching the same cookie cutter-cutter melodic hardcore bands playing in forests, random living rooms and empty fields on Dreambound’s channel?” Here, have a dozen more exactly like that, you fuck!”
So, besides having the Nails frontman saying that the world didn’t need another video like the very one that his band ironically released, 2016 actually saw plenty of great film clips. By both heavy and non-heavy artists alike no less, and come on, most heavy music videos tend to be pretty shit anyway. Now, sure, some of the songs listed here may not be the greatest songs of 2016 (I suppose I’ll save that for another list?) but their music videos helped to make them far stronger, more engaging pieces of art and in some cases, these visuals surpass their sonic counterparts. Now that that is settled, here are the 12 best music videos of 2016, because KYS is Buzzfeed now and 10 just wasn’t fucking good enough!
#12 Jack The Stripper – ‘Nibiru’
Director: Adrian Goleby
Those familiar with this Melbourne extreme metal band (pictured above) will know that ‘Nibiru‘ actually comes from their 2013 album, ‘Raw Nerve‘, which was a solid release, to say the very least. Yet this video was released in June of 2016 via Metal Hammer so that makes it a 2016 video, technically speaking. Hence it’s inclusion here. However, it is perhaps somewhat ironic that I harped on about that Todd Jones quote, but have kicked off this list with a video of seemingly just that with Jack The Stripper’s ‘Niburi‘. Yet there’s more going on here than just Band Plays Song In A Dark Room Example No. 1689. Speaking with us earlier this year, the band’s (now former) vocalist Luke Frizon said that, “We always wanted to do this kind of clip for Nibiru but knew that it would take a lot of different elements coming together to execute it properly and make it look the way we wanted it. It wasn’t worth doing until we had all those present. Our booker, Eli at Wild Thing Presents introduced us to this amazing filmmaker from Brisbane named Adrian Goleby who knew exactly where to take the ideas we had. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t move on from Raw Nerve without having completed this clip.”
So as for working with Adrian Goleby and the video itself (filmed over at The Complex Studios in Melbourne), it shows the band playing through the song except with a strong visual twist; a stark contrast of colours, intense facial expressions, a pitch-black background, with the blurred, distorted bodies of the five members all representing the song’s dark, deeply cutting tone of hopelessness. When you also factor in the sharp, lightning fast edits you have something that comes very close to representing the insanity of their live shows incredibly well. The inspiration for these images came from the frontman’s own experience with personality disorders and the haunting figures that many have detailed of their experiences with sleep paralysis, all of which culminates in this music video delivering some truly freaky imagery. Overall, most notable about this video is that the general aesthetic and distressing visuals of ‘Nibiru‘ stick with you long after the film clip comes to a close. Especially that final, unnerving smile from Frizon right at the very end…creepy.
#11 Dregg – ‘Sorry Daddy’
Director: Thomas Elliot (Dead End Media)
‘Sorry Daddy‘ was not the debut song for Melbourne’s Dregg, but for many listeners, it was their first introduction to this groovy, new-age hardcore band’s sound and the eccentric visual aesthetic that they employ. The band’s most recent clip, ‘Weirdo‘ (filmed by Jack Rudder) is an overly expressive mash-up of all things whacky and weird, yet it is ‘Sorry Daddy‘ that is their punchiest, most visceral video to date. It also helps that the song is a hardcore banger as well!
From the makeshift Donald Trump, Kochie, and Kim Kardashian masks, to these very masked individuals beating some poor bastard to death, the band’s intimidating body language, the ‘Glenn Romano Meter’, drummer James Heath’s Wes Borland-like makeup, Jordan Mcquitty’s face paint and arresting eye contacts, to a brilliant faux news anchors skit; there is a lot going on here for the viewer to unpack. The band sure have come a long way since that ‘Curriculum Critters‘ video.
Now, it can always be hard for a band, for a group of musicians to convey exactly what kind of imagery, message, and visual tone they want their music to reflect in their videos but working with Thomas Elliot of Dead End Media (who has also filmed Belle Haven’s ‘Hunt For Health‘ and ‘Ocean Grove’s ‘I Told You To Smile‘, to name but a few) was indeed the right call for Dregg to make. If it was anyone else, the end product may not have been as potent as it currently is, so hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see this quintet and Dead End Media working together.
#10 The 1975 – ‘Somebody Else’
Director: Tim Mattia
Words: Matty Sievers
One of The 1975’s lengthiest video’s, ‘Somebody Else’ makes itself stand out from the crowd by beginning with a three-minute black and white vignette. This video succeeds the band’s previous video, ‘A Change of Heart’ and leads into the titular clip itself. What stands out about this little prelude is the sound bites that go along with it, chopping in and out abruptly and disjointedly in relation to singer Matty Healy’s actions. It feels off-putting and alienating in a very Brechtian fashion that forces us to really think about just what the fuck is going on. Being smack on the three-minute mark, it got fans thinking if this had any relation to the band’s track, ‘UGH!’ which shares the exact same timing. When that track is superimposed onto the vignette it aligns perfectly, start to end. Yet most noticeably, when a telephone rings in the original clip, the line from ‘UGH!’ “I think I lost my phone so won’t you call it up for…” sounds off. Coincidence? No, definitely not.
Yet this video also makes itself heard (or, seen?) with its David Fincher-like aesthetic and theme (Tim Mattia has done most of the band’s previous music video). The dull and ominous cool colour overlays that cover the urban landscapes Healy finds himself in feels reminiscent of scenes from ‘Fight Club’ whilst the twist ending here being that the girl the singer is in love with turns out to be a figment of Healy’s own psyche falls right in line with the ending to said film. Beautifully shot and edited, this video deals with the themes of narcissism, self-loathing and regret wonderfully as we see The 1975 frontman wander dark gardens and suburban wastelands in search of some meaning and hope – of which he never finds. Cheery stuff.
#9 David Bowie – ‘Lazarus’
Director: Johan Renck
The music video for ‘Lazarus‘ was set free into the digital realm on January 7th. It was on January 10th that David Robert Jones, known around the world as David Bowie, passed away two days following his 69th birthday after fighting liver cancer for 18 months. His 25th album, ‘Blackstar‘ was released the same day as the ‘Lazarus‘ music video, which was filmed during a time in which Bowie knew that his days were numbered. It’s perhaps fitting then to have the musical icon laying on what is ostensibly his death bed in the music video, blindfolded, reaching out to the heavens and seemingly revelling in it all. It is as beautiful as it is haunting.
The video is made all the more gut-wrenching by the song’s soft dynamics, the mournful strings, and the lyrics of “This way or no way/You know I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird/Now, ain’t that just like me?” and “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now“. As the song ends, we see this final shot of Bowie jaggedly walking backwards into a cupboard – back into his “crypt”, if you will – and it is an immensely sombre scene to watch; viewing this man, this musician adored by millions around the world, stepping back into the darkness for a final time, knowing that he will never return.
For those unaware, the Biblical story of Lazarus of Bethany centres on Saint Lazarus being risen from the dead by the hands of Jesus, four days after his death, which was supposedly the last miracle performed the by Big Cheese prior to his own resurrection. The religious connotation here, of a man knowing that he was about to die and that his life – or rather, in this case, his music – would be “restored” shortly after his passing is an appropriate one. And that’s exactly what happened with ‘Blackstar‘. The album was met with widespread critical acclaim and its release saw Bowie’s work re-entering charts all around the world. Even as a standalone single, ‘Lazarus‘ saw Bowie’s name returning to the Billboard Top 100 for the first time in over 28 years. In his death, Bowie’s art survived and endured and has since become one of his most popular albums, and it is because of the vastly experienced director Johan Renck (All Saints, New Order, Beyonce, Lana Del Ray) that ‘Lazarus‘, as well as the ‘Blackstar‘ film clip were fittingly brought to life.
#8 Stepson – ‘The Beautiful Lie’
Director: Kieran Ellis-Jones (Crystal Arrow Films)
Not only is Stepson’s ‘The Beautiful Lie‘ a great song but it is also an equally great departure from the excellent melodic hardcore sound that Stepson usually employs. This song and the three-track EP of the same name proves that these five guys can do no wrong; whether it’s trendy pop music in the vein of Lorde or cathartic melodic hardcore that stands tall with the genre’s best. This song’s music video, of which doesn’t feature a single shot of the band “performing”, instead displays beautiful cinematography of gorgeous empty city streets with the near-hypnotic dancing from the prime duo of Erin Fowler and Thomas Fonua. Which is not surprising seeing as this was directed, shot and edited by Crystal Arrow Films, who produces an insane amount of work – and for very good reason – and whose name we will be seeing again soon. When the above is all coupled with the soft, soothing soundscape of ‘The Beautiful Lie‘ you have one terrific audio-visual package on your hands.
Also, I can only laugh to myself that this clip looks like the trailer for a trendy reboot of the Step Up franchise. Jesus Christ, those movies were shit, weren’t they?
#7 Storm The Sky – ‘Lilac’
Director: Patrick Harvey
The first real taste that the world received of the new and improved Storm The Sky was ‘Lilac’, defiantly showing that the group had ditched their generic post-hardcore/metalcore sound in favour something far poppier yet also far more musically interesting. This soaring, ambient pop track is arguably one of the band’s greatest songs to date and it also has a damn fine music video to boot. But let’s get this out of the way now; part of the reason for its effectiveness is the use of a gay relationship in its plot instead of a heterosexual narrative. However, while LGBTQ and POC representations are indeed important, to solely base one’s music video off either or both of those aspects, with nothing else in play or nothing else to deepen the art, would have been immensely fucking cheap; making a mere novelty out of the experiences of other human beings.
Thankfully, the ‘Lilac’ video was anything but cheap and tokenistic, as it has a real warning to its on-screen tale; that mixing jealousy and obsession with heavy drug use can make for a terrible time for those involved, no matter what gender(s) you love. Very bad for the music video’s characters, yet engrossing viewing for all of us in the real world. Not only is there a great musical score to accompany the visuals but there’s some great cinematography and acting from all of those involved, especially in the video’s emotional climax. Furthermore, whether the idea came from the band or from director Patrick Harvey, the use of the protagonists ex-lover physically speaking William Jarrett’s line of “I’m still here” at the 2:20 mark was a truly chilling moment.
#6 PUP – ‘DVP’/’Sleep In The Heat’
Directed/Created By: Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux
Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux has worked on all of PUP’s videos save for ‘Back Against The Wall‘ and is for all intents and purposes, the fifth member of the Canadian punk rock outfit; who also have an absolutely terrific track record with their music videos. As a massive gamer myself, the lyric video for the two and a half minute ripper that is ‘DVP‘ was an old-school wet dream for yours truly. When speaking with singer/guitarist Stefan Babcock earlier this year, he told me that “We all grew up anywhere between Super Nintendo to Nintendo 64, and all that stuff.” Which is exactly what’s shown off in ‘DVP‘, with some solid editing adding the lyrics to now-vintage titles like Punch Out, Battletoads, Metroid, the first Mortal Kombat, Oregon Trail, Super Mario Bros, among many other titles.
Now would also a good time to mention that PUP has their own video game too. It’s not very good and is pretty boring but hey, at least they tried… I guess?
As for the other video that ‘DVP‘ tied with for this sixth spot we have ‘Sleep In The Heat‘, which is also from the same album, 2016’s solid full-length, ‘The Dream Is Over‘. This music video is a follow-on from the narrative first shown in ‘Guilt Trip‘ and once again features Canadian actor Finn Wolfhard (that’s Will Byers from Stranger Things) and it’s a right tear-jerker. The story tells of a young rebellious boy, who is meant to be representing a young Babcock, pawning off his only guitar for money in order to help pay for his dog’s medical bills. You’d think that all would be well, yeah? Wrong! The universe is a cruel son of a bitch and conflict is indeed needed so the dog still dies in the end. The culmination of the video’s narrative with the ravenous, emotional climax of the song is the kind of thing that can only create a giant lump in your throat and waterworks beneath your brow8.
However, the song wasn’t originally written about a dog. It was written about Stefan’s Babcock’s pet chameleon, named Norman, who sadly died after its tongue got infected. But I would argue that the video actually works better focusing on a dog. As utterly callous as this will make me sound, most people don’t really care about chameleons and this video wouldn’t be as effective if it was a pet chameleon the protagonist was trying to save. See, if you kill off a dog, then oh shit, everyone freaks out and it’s water works left, right and centre. Becuase to quote Sam Rockwell’s Billy Bickle character from Martin McDonagh’s brilliant Seven Psychopaths, “You can’t let the animals die in the movie. Only the women.”
…On second thought, that’s a pretty fucked up quote, actually.
#5 The Weekend – ‘False Alarm’
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller seems to have a fetish for high-octane first-person experiences. He has directed three things of any real note; the music video for his own band’s video, Biting Elbows‘ ‘Bad Motherfucker‘, the exhilarating 2015 first-person action flick Hardcore Henry (no, it’s not a porno, sadly), and much more recently, the sensational bank robbery film clip for The Weekend’s ‘False Alarm‘. Now, each of those three pieces shares the same style and tone; action-packed, over the top first-person assault on the senses with a hard-on for fistfights, shootouts and a plethora of violence.
You know, the good stuff!
This music video, for one of the key singles from The Weekend’s latest album ‘Starboy‘, is just so well edited and directed that it flows together exceptionally well, so much so I’d bet my pathetic life savings that you’ll be watching it multiple times through. From the opening bank robbery to the ensuing car chase and the heists inevitable messy ending, this video is edge-of-your-seat viewing. In fact, the behind-the-camera work and the wider vision here is so superb that you may also – like myself – forget about the mundane track that is attached to the visuals entirely; a track whose verses are engrossing and solid yet whose chorus is simply annoying and utterly lacklustre. This film clip is if someone compiled the most exciting parts of movies like Heat and The Town with the Heist missions from GTA V, and then crammed them all into one five and a half minute rollercoaster where things go from ‘shit’ to ‘fucked’ in a matter of seconds, all with a hit and miss club track playing over the chaos.
Do you see this, Ambleside, do you see this shit? This is how you make a proper bank robbery clip.
#4 Foxblood – ‘Die Young’
Director: Ed Reiss
Have you seen Birdman? If you have, good on you for being a decent human being. And if you haven’t, you’re missing out on one of the best, quirkiest black comedies of the last decade. So go watch it. Now! But if you have seen it, then you should know that the film is a grand example of directing, with the movie being edited and presented as one big continuous shot (save for one obvious yet necessary cut towards the end). This kind of execution has been seen in other films and television series like the monolithic beach scene in the 2007 British war film Atonement, True Detective’s house arrest scene from the show’s first season, Hard Boiled’s hospital shootout and Old Boy’s brutal corridor fight scene. And as far as music videos go, you have the video for Foxblood’s epic debut track ‘Die Young‘.
Filmed and edited by Australian director Ed Reiss (Trophy Eyes, Dream On, Dreamer, Stories, among many others), this music video was filmed in a luxurious mansion out in St. Kilda, Melbourne. From the clip’s opening drone shot descending down to the house, the camera follows Foxblood vocalist Chris Millward as he makes his way through this grand household, which has some very “lived-in” touches to it. Whether it be playing with his band mates at certain intervals, to facing down his inner demons throughout the houses various rooms, to us witnessing the rather cryptic narrative clues of the song that represents the wider scope of their debut album, ‘The Devil, The Dark & The Rain‘ (which an absolute cracker of a record), this video was a massive undertaking with many moving cogs in its machine. As you can probably imagine, this film clip was a long, draining process for Reiss and the band over the night of filming, especially for Millward, but one could argue that nothing worthwhile is ever easy to do, and the end result here is just stunning.
#3 Sleep Talk – ‘Sorry’
Director: Kieran Ellis-Jones (Crystal Arrow Films)
Very similar to our previous entry, Sleep Talk’s music video is served up as a continuous one-shot, one-take film clip. Once again being helmed by Keiran Ellis-Jones of Crystal Arrow Films, and unlike Foxblood’s anthemic single which had around 15 or so different edits spliced together, this music video for Sleep Talk’s melodic hardcore rager ‘Sorry‘ was actually done all in one take. So if Keiran or the band had fucked up halfway through a take, it was back to taking it all from the top! That makes this music video an even greater accomplishment when you consider all of the elements at play, as well as the fact that the band even relocates all of their gear at one point and that they had to do it all in a matter of seconds makes this a far greater feat. Though, thankfully, a 20 or so person crew acting behind the scenes made things much easier to re-arrange their setup in order to get that perfect take.
Now, sometimes when music videos are released for songs that have a feature spot, the other vocalist or musician can’t make it out to the shoot due to geographical distances or because of budget constraints, but thankfully Jack Nelligan of fellow Adelaide outfit Hindsight could indeed be present for filming. His inclusion in this video is such a great addition and the back and forth mic grabs and the physical chemistry between himself and Sleep Talk’s vocalist Jacob Clement was a great touch that only added to the palpable emotion already on offer. Before I move on, may I just say that the making of this music video is a seriously good watch and it shows just how intense this kind of filming approach can be!
#2 Gravemind – ‘The Death Of Teyolia’
Video By: Scott Rudd
Artwork By: Ren Tu (colourist) & Shen Lim.
Yes, I know that it may be a technicality to have another lyric video included here, but fuck it, it’s my list so I’ll do what I want with it. Besides, this is easily the best lyric video you’re bound to watch from 2016 (and most likely in 2017). Period.
Melbourne’s Gravemind aren’t revolutionary for the deathcore genre in terms of the overall style, the production and how they deliver their actual music, but their music is elevated to a higher place when it’s accompanied by a slick comic book style lyric video that aids the song’s narrative to a greater degree. Which was just the case for ‘The Death Of Teyolia’. From a good ol’ fashioned tale about hateful, bloodletting revenge, to how the lyrics of vocalist Dylan Gillies-Parsons fittingly act as the dialogue for the characters throughout, to the exceptionally detailed artwork of the comic that acts as the video’s backdrop, to how the hectic vocals, brutal guitar riffs and tight drumming perfectly matches the on-screen brutality; this is a truly cohesive package. ‘The Death of Teyolia‘, as a full piece of art, is just so much more creative and inspiring when you comparing it to the recent lyric videos from that of Gravemind’s peers (see here and here, for instance).
If Gravemind can maintain this level of creative output for their future videos (whether they be full music videos or simply lyric videos like this), then you may just be looking at one of the genre’s best up and coming acts. Hell, I think these guys could do something very cool and engaging with VR music videos. Oh, and speaking of VR…
#1 The Ruminaters – ‘Bad Bad Things’
Director: James Marcus Haney
Unlike Meshuggah’s downright disappointing VR 360-degree video for ‘NoStrum’, which just had you staring at bland, mostly-static monochromatic visuals of their album artwork, Sydney’s The Ruminaters used this new virtual reality format to create something truly fun and engaging. And they’ve done it far better than any other band I’ve seen thus far, without any of it feeling phoned-in with this new technological gimmick. American director and photographer James Marcus Haney, who has worked on Coldplay’s ‘A Head Full Of Dreams‘, who is Mumford & Sons full-time photographer and who is often known as the guy who snuck into music festivals, shot and directed the video for the band’s indie anthem ‘Bad Bad Things‘, and it really bloody shows!
One stroke of pure directing genius comes around the 3:50 mark when singer/guitarist Pencil throws a flaming acoustic guitar over the camera. With the freedom to view everything in a 360 degree perspective, the band/director assumed that most people would likely follow the burning guitar as it flew “overhead”, and as it does this, the video suddenly cuts to the singer hanging from the rafters of some random cabin right in time with the music, yelling away the lyrics to the song’s chorus. There is an assumption here on what the audience would do, or might do, definitely caught me out the first time I watched this video. And the real beauty of this clip is that you could have missed that aforementioned cut entirely! See, you could spend the whole time here with your viewing perspective facing directly upwards at the various skylines and ceilings. I’d advise against it as you won’t be seeing a whole lot, save for some messy vomit coming your way right at the end, but the fact remains that you can do that. Or you can look straight down at the ground for the whole clip, or in just one particular direction to see what you may have missed on previous viewings and that’s the greatest part about this video; it has real replay value. I have personally watched this music video (which was filmed over in the UK) countless times over since it’s release back in late August, as you can really find something different each time you watch it as it’s just a wonderfully engaging video to experience. ‘Bad Bad Things‘ is by far the best music video of 2016, in terms of its technical innovation, the directing and overall vision, and for just how engaging and entertaining it is for the viewers.
The Ruminaters and Haney should be applauded for their brilliant work with ‘Bad Bad Things‘, and if you’re going to use this VR approach for your own video, then take notes on how to do it right with this film clip!
Finally, here are a few honourable mentions that while definitely being worthy of your eyes and ears, just didn’t quite make the cut;
- Enter Shikari’s ‘Hoodwinker‘ – for being filmed on a bloody canoe in the ocean and its dual religious/refugee theme.
- Radiohead’s ‘Burn The Witch‘ – for being a disturbing tale of anti-immigration, societal ostracization and for having a very interesting claymation-like art style.
- Deadspace’s ‘Death‘ – for being incredibly bleak and unflinching in its explicit visual content, all with a surreal aesthetic. Also, it has aliens and aliens are fucking cool, man.
- Gojira’s ‘Silvera‘ – for having gorgeous shots of New York city, with terrific imagery and special effects reflecting the ever-growing influence technology has on our lives and how it affects our self-worth as human beings.
- Dangers’ ‘Kiss With Spit‘ – for being the best orgy of 2016 that you are likely to see outside of a Brazzers video. The flesh, oh god, the flesh.
- The Iron Eye’s ‘Just Started‘ – because the band spent three weeks learning the song backwards so they could perform it backwards for the filming, yet the clip plays out in reverse (meaning that only the band are “going forward”), which means that the shoot’s resulting carnage can be seen right after hitting play.
- That Night Forests Grew’s ‘So Tell Me‘ – because love is incredibly important in a young person’s life and without it, they can be lead astray into crime and depression, and that shit usually boils down to either living large, hanging from a noose or being on the receiving end of a bullet. This video cuts deep.
- Nothing’s ‘Eaten By Worms‘ – because all of the lyrics are said by the characters as Nothing’s singer lays bleeding out after a violent home invasion on his humble abode, which results in dying and going to dance with a ghostly Michael Jackson in some sort of disco heaven? Makes perfect sense.