The 11 Greatest Headbangers Ball Videos of All Time
King Diamond: Welcome home
King Diamond is the poster child for not giving a fuck. Sure, NOW it seems normal for Scandinavians to put on Kiss make up with absolutely zero sense of fun or irony and to sincerely advocate Satanism in the voices of Saturday morning cartoon villains. But King Diamond did it first. I want you to really imagine yourself, standing in front of a mirror as a young person in a world where all of this stuff is new, dressed up like King Diamond, cavorting around and saying, “I’m going to make a career out of this.” That takes balls.
For the record, King Diamond is an Anton LeVay/Brad Goodman Satanist, not a “there’s actually some guy with horns and a pointy tail and I worship him, or maybe I believe in Odin, no wait I’m a Nazi,” Satanist. But his songs and albums are horror stories. This one has a bit of The Turn of The Screw to it, as a boy discovers that his grandma consorts with evil spirits and eventually murders her before being thrown in the loony bin. In between all of this, his sister is ax murdered and a teapot is possessed. Was it all in his head? I don’t know but it’s a pretty good story and, if you know the gist of it, the video is more enjoyable.
King Diamond fact: He used to perform onstage with a human skull he named Melissa, but it was stolen by a Dutchman.
Annihilator: Alice In Hell.
It’s kind of weird to think of a band like Annihilator as a one hit wonder, because they had zero hits. But this video got heavy rotation and is part of the headbanger collective consciousness. An intro explains that the song is about a girl who believed she was seeing the boogeyman, which was the first part of her slide into serious mental illness. Evidently, this was a major story in Canada. “Tonight on Action News Canada: Some girl is crazy. A guy got an American quarter in change from a toll booth. And, which trailer park supervisor is back on the liquor? Tune in at 11:00 to find out!”
Really, this song is better than I remember, which is true of most of these. The guitarist, who is one of those people who you can tell is Canadian by looking at him but you can’t say just why, comes up with some cool shit. The bass player is not only audible, an achievement in itself for this era of metal, but drops some galloping harmony that is halfway between Iron Maiden and hardcore.
There is this cool segment that sounds like Bohemian Rhapsody with a straight face where the singer does the dentist drill thing. Alice wanders around a creepy house with creepy rag dolls and then a giant doll tries to kill her or whatever. All in all, pretty kick ass. I wish they had used the camera on the neck of the guitar more, as that was a nice, Sam Raimi-esque low budget innovation. I wonder if this band would have had more success if their name was easier to spell.
Annihilator Fun Fact: Wiki touts the band thusly: “They are the highest-selling heavy metal group from Canada in Canadian history.” Hey, that’s more than you or I can say for ourselves.
Megadeth: Hangar 18
Megadeth is an unusual band, and this is an unusual video. I’m reasonably certain that the only reason Megadeth exists is to quell the insatiable fire of spite that Mustaine feels for his former bandmates in Metallica. It is a hatred so intense and twisted, it would eventually develop into full blown Republicanism. Dave’s singing style seems arrived at by default: he doesn’t have outstanding pipes, or a deadly growl so he snarls his way through songs in a project that is a never ending Chinese Democracy (except with some good songs) where he recruits new talent and then kicks them out of the band the minute fans might affiliate with them, and before they have the chance to break his heart like Lars and James did so many years ago. I’m pretty sure Michael Caine was in Megadeth for about ten minutes.
Megadeth were popular during their heyday, by metal standards, but never a huge mainstream success. I saw them on tour for this album, opening for Priest. But like many bands of this ilk, they have just kind of hung around forever and wound up making good money because, for some reason, my generation insists on faking their way through overpriced rock concerts into their thirties and forties, when they should have shifted to either patronizing the fine arts or yelling at the TV. So, how the hell did a thrash band get the budget to make a summer blockbuster as a video for this song? I don’t know, but it’s a great video.
Aliens were a big deal in the nineties. I’m not sure if we really believed in them or what, but they were everywhere. Here, Megadeth take a bold stance against the vivisection of aliens, as Mustaine trades solos with Marty Friedman, one of the few Megadeth lead guitarists allowed to stay in the band long enough for fans to learn his name. Marty deploys his patented Middle Eastern-y sounding licks which were the subject of many a Guitar Player article. As with most great videos, this one ends with an ironic twist you won’t believe! But how much of it is true? We may never know, as “all eyewitness accounts were denied by the authorities.”
Megadeth fun fact: MTV refused to play two Megadeth videos, claiming that they condoned suicide. I must admit that, now that I’m old, romanticizing suicide to angsty teens to turn a buck does seem a bit off color and like something a pre-Republican would do.
Judas Priest: Hot Rockin
This is really pre HBB, but… I know it’s a cliche to be like, how did people not know that Rob Halford is gay? but HOLY SHIT HOW DID PEOPLE NOT KNOW ROB HALFORD IS GAY? I know that, being a straight, if I had a chance to make a music video it would definitely start off with my face contorting as I did pushups over a background of other men working out with hard steel. Then we would all dress up in leather and go cruising.
Priest Fact: ”Eat Me Alive” number 3 on the Parents Music Resource Center’s “Filthy Fifteen.” This was a list of dirty song lyrics that Tipper Gore publicly condemned but would make Al read to her while flicking her bean after he had delivered another sub-par performance.
Savatage: The Hall Of The Mountain King
I always wanted metal to be more satanic than it really was. By the time the church burners in Norway rose to prominence, I saw them for the clowns they are because I was too old for that shit, though they make some good music. In my day, everyone would just write songs about the occult and serial killers and kind of pussy foot around about it. Not that I blame them as actually believing in and worshiping the devil is ridiculous. But, at a time in your life when you still think UFOs might be real, you want your bands to serve Lucifer. So I was always sure that there was some kind of hidden evil in this one.
Really, it is a corpulent singer stuffed into one of those weird baroque/casual get ups making stupid faces at the camera as the band plays in a cave. A spelunking dwarf wanders about in search of treasure, which he finds, only to be confronted by the malevolent Mountain King. Whoa yeee-aaaah! This is kind of a sub genre of videos where the band serve as an interventionist Greek chorus. They know all about the world of the video and guide the protagonist, usually into something that is dangerous but ultimately escapable. Indeed, the dwarf escapes with a single chest of treasure and opens it to find the greatest treasure of all… a Savatage cassette! I enjoy the close ups and facial expressions starting at about 3:00.
Savatage Fun Fact: Savatage never really caught on in the U.S. but members went on to form the successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is Christmas metal.
Accept: Balls To The Wall
One of the great things about metal is that it provided men who were one step removed from having a birth defect with an opportunity to gain fame, fortune and women. Ronnie James Dio, the almost dwarf. Lemmy, the almost elephant man. Udo, the almost cretin. Really, the whole career of Accept is about the bizarre possibilities of the music industry. They formed in 1968. That is not a typo. They pissed around for a decade and finally found success by covering an unreleased AC/DC song before becoming the Priest clones we see here, and making Udo a hero of ugly men everywhere.
But guess what? Their highest charting albums, in their native Germany at least, have been in the 2010s with a new singer, after Udo left to start a band called U.D.O. Their first number one album came out in 2014. What? I don’t know. Germany, man. Shit’s kinda fucked up. This song is supposedly about a slave rebellion. The video takes the premise of the wailing wall and turns it into a venue for self flagellation by headbanging. It’s probably related to the Berlin Wall, as in, “Mister Hitler, tear down this.” Udo rides a wrecking ball, an act that would later inspire weird whore, Miley Ray Cyrus Montana Jr. He thought it would be cool to wear camo longjohns to shoot a music video. I guess he was right.
Accept fun fact: Penelope Spheeris, who directed the Decline Of Western Civilization movies, made a comedy called Balls To The Wall in 2011.
Danzig: Her Black Wings.
Schwing! At the risk of fetishizing a marginalized identity group, I have always wanted to bang a demon. I don’t know, they are just hot. Something to do with the tail… oh Christ, was I a proto-furry? En-ter o-bli-vi-on. Regardless of any newfound obligation to travel back in time and murder myself, Glenn and company were playing right into my fantasy here. It should go without saying, but access to erotic material was not then what it is today, so videos like this were vital. Objectification you say? Well sure. But, on the other hand, the boys in the band had to practice till their fingers bled to get here. The babe just had to be born and occasionally make herself puke if she had dessert. Who really wields the power? As musclebound as the band was, they are clearly the ones in thrall, under her black wings.
Also, Glenn Danzig is underrated. The vast collection of pop hooks the Misfits compiled in a few years is hard to believe. The first couple albums from this band went in a different direction, but his melodic gifts flourished almost as well. He is kind of a goofy person, but his job is to make music and posture in a way that impresses high school kids and he is good at it. The problem isn’t that metalheads take people like Glenn Danzig completely seriously, because they usually don’t. The problem is that the boring people take clowns like Mick Jagger and… I don’t know, whoever the singer in Coldplay is, seriously. It’s all dumb kid’s stuff, but metalheads embrace that while the lame fucks in the mainstream talk about how “important” a U2 album is.
Danzig Fact: Dave Grohl was asked to join Danzig after Chuck Biscuits left, but he didn’t want to. Dave Grohl fact: Dave Grohl is a retard.
White Lion: When The Children Cry
Won’t somebody please think about the children??!!!: the metal song. It seems appropriate to include a power ballad, if only for anthropological purposes. Most power ballads were just love songs, in which drug addicts who committed statutory rape 800 times a year professed undying adoration for the one woman who could tame them. The only good power ballads ever recorded were Guns N Roses songs, but power ballads weren’t designed to be good, they were designed to appeal to girls. Sometimes the lyrics would venture away from love and into political banality, as White Lion do here. Violence is bad and children are innocent. I guess this is the power ballad equivalent to when you tell a girl in the dorms that you’ve given a lot of thought to becoming a vegan.
White Lion Fun Fact: Before they became popular, White Lion appeared in The Money Pit, with Tom Hanks.
Death: The Philosopher
Widely regarded as the progenitors of death metal, Death were also pretty proggy. How many metal bands break out the easy listening jazz, fretless bass in the middle of their crushing riffs? Also, it was pretty ironic that the singer of a band called Death would soon die of a brain tumor. You would think that being in a band called Death would make you immortal. Anyway, not that many bands this heavy got into the rotation and this video even made it to Beavis and Butthead. Behold, Beavis ordering tacos in a death metal voice!
The video is nothing unusual. Running around in the woods. Creepy old people. A boy being guided behind a red curtain meant to symbolize a vagina for whatever reason. I guess he is choosing the primal reality of vaginas over the meaningless abstraction of the titular philosopher. This was an early taste of extreme metal for many of us tender young boys.
Fun Death fact: These lyrics:
Ideas that fall under shadows of theories that stand tall
Thoughts that grow narrow upon being verbally released
Your mind is not your own,
What sounds more mentally stimulating is how you make your choice
were not translated from Armenian into English, as most assume, but were originally written this way by a native English speaker.
Most of Anthrax played their most prominent role in Headbanger’s Ball by providing the crushing SOD riffs that provided the soundtrack for the show at its peak. But, rightly or wrongly, Anthrax was the band that found some measure of mainstream success and got to make videos like this one. It’s just a live performance video, but it is a really well executed one that must have sold a lot of Anthrax tickets because this looks like an insanely fun show.
Trigger warning! Cultural appropriation! A somewhat common lyrical theme for the metal of the day was “the genocide of Native Americans was bad.” Anthrax thought so and paid tribute with a war dance breakdown meant to incite indigenously themed moshing as Joey ran around in a headdress. ‘Twas all in good fun, and this song produced the immortal line, “we’re ‘dissin’ them, on reservations.”
Anthrax fun fact: Dan Spitz left Anthrax to become a watchmaker, hoping for persistence of paycheck.
Numero Uno – Suicidal Tendencies: Trip At The Brain
I’m the only one with the balls to say it, but Suicidal Tendencies ruled. Were they punk? Metal? Crossover? Skaters? Gangbangers? It was hard to say and for this, purists of all sorts have unfairly maligned them. The important thing was that the name of the band alone was enough to concern your parents and they were banned from performing in Los Angeles for years. The thrash is good. The hardcore breakdown crushes. Rocky’s solos shred. Mike even pulls off one of the rarest feats in music, by rapping over heavy music in a way that is… good. Really, try to find a better example of rap over metal. Because you won’t. The only one that is equal is the Lil John song where he raps over Slayer about overreacting to his girlfriend being mad at him for getting a ticket for expired registration.
This is also the pinnacle of what music videos used to be. There is this kind of vague intellectual content that you couldn’t quite grasp as a fifteen year old, with Mike roaming about his subconscious. A one liner hamfists you over the head: “There’s nothing wrong with THIS brain.” We have the singer as a protagonist, breaking free of institutional authority. John Cusack appears as an army recruiter. Organized religion is slapped about. The band plays atop a giant brain. And it’s all done in a zany style, from the novelty store jumping teeth to the woman with the cookie sheet full of brains. This is a perfect example of the form.
Suicidal Fact: Hank Williams III has cited Suicidal Tendencies as a major influence. Also, whenever I see someone wearing ST gear these days, it’s some dude my age who I think would be willing to hang out with sixteen year olds, but they should probably stay away from him. Also, one time I played poker with this guy who said he was Mike Muir’s roommate at The Hustler Club.