Anyone paying attention knows that thrash metal has come back in a big way over the last few years. Part of what made the original '80s bands so memorable was all the colorful and irreverent videos that crept onto outlets like MTV Headbanger's Ball at the height of the movement. These videos demonstrated that it was possible to make a good-looking final product without an undue amount of money, and at their best they acted out a story that visually reinforced the thrust of the lyrics.
Many of the so-called "retro thrash" bands display a superficial interpretation of the music they want to revive, and accordingly their videos seem to miss the mark just as much. So what's the difference? First, let's examine a successful thrash video.
Suicidal Tendencies - "Institutionalized"
There's a reason this is regarded as a classic. It's funny, it flows, and most importantly it tells a story. The camera work is tight, the editing is intuitive, and it looks like the players rehearsed just enough to make it look good without killing the spontaneity. Thrash videos are generally of two varieties - live and practice room footage stitched together, or a skit format. The former type is usually an easy win, because as long as the room is packed full of crazed fans then the band will look good, and a competent editor can readily compile the footage with pleasing results. Skit videos, on the other hand, are sometimes risky for a band; they require set-up, some degree of narrative, and in many cases comic timing.
"Institutionalized" is such a great video because it effectively communicates the story, and there's just enough hyperbole to make it over the top without distracting from the point of the song. Also, Mike Muir plays it earnestly while his parents (played by character actors Mary Woronov and Jack Nance) go for camp, and the contrast drives home the teenage alienation. It's ultimately better to be clever than funny in this arena, because "funny" can easily read as "stupid" when not carefully executed. This brings us to our bad video in question.
Municipal Waste - "Wrong Answer"
This video is a perfect example of a missed opportunity. It doesn't help that the song's contents are neither here nor there. A song about a homicidal game show? GWAR did that back in 1990 with "Slaughterama," and it was a lot funnier. Concept aside, Municipal Waste took an idea that could at least produce an amusingly offensive video, and they bungled it at almost every turn.
The first problem is the composition. Whenever the band is performing on screen, it's either in a distant shot of the whole group or quick and distracting cutaways where no single member is captured for more than a few seconds. This technique often works just fine, but the shots used here are poor. This doesn't seem like a video that would really introduce new fans to the band as they are. It's hard to get an impression of how they look in action, or what they look like at all. Why are there no tight shots of the singer? Why are all the other shots of the band off-center? This doesn't seem like a conscious choice as much as it seems like bad filmmaking.
Second, and probably the biggest problem, is that the visuals actually detract from the audio. Whose idea was it to feature extra dialog on the screen that required subtitles? They aren't part of the lyrics, and their presence derails the video by forcing the viewer to subvert the sound in favor of the image. As shown in the Suicidal Tendencies' clip, the characters stick with mouthing the lyrics. Any other ideas are correctly portrayed through gestures. It's a music video, get it? The audience isn't supposed to hear anything except the song!
It doesn't get better from there. The band does double duty as themselves and as characters, which causes a problem because they are supposed to be in the same studio. Then why does the wall between them feel so overt? The band shots should have interlaced with the skit much more, but they simply don't. This leaves plenty of screen time for poor shooting and even worse blocking (that is, positioning of the actors) in the skit. The song is fairly fast, but the pacing of the video refuses to match it. It seems like whoever edited this is really to blame. All the footage needed to make a passable video was there, but it wasn't used judiciously.
Third, and perhaps most annoyingly, the video is unfunny. The band aims for a parody reminiscent of Mad Magazine but it comes across more like Mad TV, and that's not a good thing. The actors (presumably all from the band, though it's hard to tell based on the reasons above) clearly have no stage training, and their performances are mostly stiff when exaggeration would be ideal. Refer back to "Institutionalized" - it's funny because the video drives the characters and not the other way around. And the creators were also smart enough to employ supplemental actors who knew how to get the idea across. There's nothing worse than watching people try to be funny, especially when they fail. Once again, stronger editing would have at least made it less obvious.
When I first watched "Wrong Answer," I realized I didn't really hear any of the song. I'm no newcomer to this kind of fare, so that doesn't bode well for the video garnering new or potential fans. MTV has been usurped by YouTube, so ultimately a bad video may not mean as much as it used to. Regardless, if Municipal Waste is supposedly leading the new wave of thrash, then it wouldn't kill them to be smarter about their presentation. Or at least they could hire someone to successfully do it for them.
For more info: Austin fans can buy Suicidal Tendencies' self-titled debut at this location.