25 Years Ago: Metallica Find the Mainstream With the ‘Enter Sandman’ Video
While Metallica were on their way to becoming one of the biggest heavy metal bands in the world throughout the 80's, the group remained curiously absent from the realm of music videos. They had stayed away until 1988, when they released a clip for the ...And Justice For All track "One." Their second video, for Metallica's "Enter Sandman," pushed the band even further into the spotlight from the moment it debuted on MTV on July 30, 1991 two weeks before the album hit shelves.
“They had broken through to one level, but they still weren’t on mainstream radio,” producer Bob Rock told Music Radar, referring to the massive underground fame the band earned in the years leading up to the Black Album. Whether they cared to admit it or not, a big part of reaching a wider, more mainstream audience would have to include making music videos.
To help bring the video for "Enter Sandman" to life, Metallica enlisted acclaimed director Wayne Isham. Their association with Isham would prove fruitful in the years ahead, working with him on subsequent Black Album videos for "Wherever I May Roam" and "Sad But True," in addition to Isham directing the full-length concert videos for S&M and 1998's Cunning Stunts.
Speaking with Video Killed the Radio Star, Isham revealed that the group originally sought him out to direct the video for "One," but he declined the offer because he was such a fan of their music. That all changed with "Enter Sandman," however. "When [the song] 'Enter Sandman' came out, it was 'OK, I'm ready,'" Isham said.
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich said it was Isham's approachability that won the band over in quick measure. "With Wayne, it always felt like it was all of us together. I've made some great videos with other people, but I don't necessarily think I've had a beer with them, or sat down and had a night, or talked about family. It's all a part of getting to know each other," Ulrich said.
"That was always there with Wayne. That was a big part of it - the friendship."
The concept behind the "Enter Sandman" video came together as Metallica were in the mixing phase for the Black Album in the summer of 1991. Isham joined the band in the studio where they each shared the imagery of what made their worst nightmares so terrifying.
"We came up with swimming pools, and falling off buildings, trucks and all this type of stuff," Ulrich recalls.
Shot on a soundstage at the same studio where the band was mixing the record, Ulrich says each band member spent approximately two hours with Isham shooting their respective performances for the video.
It was those strobe-light accents combined with the nightmare imagery that made the video a resounding success. The video would go on to win Best Hard Rock Video at 1992's MTV Video Music Awards.
Looking back upon the making of the video, Ulrich says the end result exceeded his expectations, admitting he had certain reservations going into the making of the "Enter Sandman" video.
"It was better than I expected. I thought there were some very cool sequences, but was unsure about the snake crawling on the kid's face. I thought the MTV censors would have a field day with that, but lo and behold, I was wrong."
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