Murder In The Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story is the documentary of the year (review)

29/04/2020 Reviews Share


A good thing about the quarantine is that you have enough time to sit down and watch some interesting movies and documentaries. I got the honor to review the documentary I was craving for a long, long time, since the day it was announced. Of course, I am talking about Murder In The Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story

For those of you who aren’t into thrash metal (if there are any),  the name Murder in the Front Row is a reference from the Exodus’ infamous song Bonded By Blood: Murder in the front row/ Crowd begins to bang and there’s blood upon the stage/ Bang your head against the stage and metal takes its price/ Bonded by Blood. And yeah,  Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen named their book after that same line: Murder in the Front Row: Shots from the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter. But let’s get back to our documentary. Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash metal Story is a 1-hour and 29-minute long documentary directed by Adam Dubin. The name itself suggests pretty fun and interesting footage for all of you who can’t get enough of the West Coast thrash metal!

The documentary starts with a TV news broadcast about the economic recession of the 80s which Ronald Reagan called “the worst economic mess since the Great Depression”. Then, there is a brief history of the San Francisco's countercultural phenomena such as beatniks, jazz and rock and roll. Right afer, the narrator jumps to the 80s and this is where our story begins. A part of the story is tied to the emergence of NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamond Head, U.F.O., Venom, Motorhead, Judas Priest who contributed to the creation of a new form of music – thrash metal. This documentary contains a whole bunch of interviews with some of the Bay Area thrash metal legends. Some of the people who are involved are: James Hetfield, Kirk Hammet, Lars Ulrich and Robert Trujillo of Metallica, Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson of MegadethRay Burton, the father of Cliff Burton (RIP), Cliff’s girlfriend Corinne Lynn, Paul Baloff’s girlfriend Elisabeth Francois, Tom Araya, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph and Dave Lombardo of Slayer, Gary Holt, Rick Hunolt, Tom Hunting of Exodus, Chuck Billy and Alex Skolnick of Testament, Mark Osegueda of Death Angel, Phil Demmel of Vio-Lence, Robb Flynn of Machine HeadLarry LaLonde of Primus, ex-Possessed, Charlie Benante of Anthrax, Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew (the authors of Murder in the front row: Shots from the Bay Area Epicenter book), Jim Martin of Faith no More, Mark Menghi of Metal Allegiance, Erik Lannon of Mordred, Mark Biedermann of Blind IllusionBrian Slagel of Metal Blade Records, Craig Behrhorst of Ruffians, The Buttlers (sorry if I didn’t mention someone).


Right after the NWOBHM part, the story follows some of the Bay Area thrash metal peers such as Exodus and Metallica. And of course, we are talking about the good old demo days which show the connection between the two bands we just mentioned, since Kirk Hammett was the original guitarist for Exodus. The documentary shows the emergence of a tape trading network around the globe. The focus is also put on the classic debut albums such as Metallica’s Kill ‘em All, Exodus' Bonded by Blood and Megadeth’s Killing is my business…and business is good! But the part of the docu that clearly casts a shadow on the early history of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth is the one dedicated to the legendary frontman of Exodus – Paul Baloff. And the interviewees shared a lot of interesting stories that will bring a smile to your face! Also, this is the part of the movie when the whole thing gets pretty emotional. There is even footage of Gary Holt and Tom Hunting at Paul Baloff’s grave. REST IN PEACE LEGEND! Rick Hunolt even revealed Paul’s full name. Garry Holt couldn’t say it any better: “He’s like the greatest thrash metal frontman of all time and he made one album. Twice.” You can check our tribute to Paul Baloff here!

And the story couldn’t go on without k**l a poser thing i.e. the antagonism between the poser L.A. scene and thrash metal scene from San Francisco. The good old days… One of the coolest appearances in this movie is Paul Baloff’s girlfriend Elisabeth Francois, the author of the Poser Wars comic books featuring the infamous Slayteam with Exodus bandmembers as the main protagonists of the comic. Interestingly enough, Elisabeth Francois now works as a nuclear physicist. Speaking of Slayteam, there are some crazy stories related to Andy Airborne Andersen and Toby Rage (the head walking). The chapter about Slayer coming from Los Angeles to San Francisco with makeup is among the coolest ones in the documentary. The Exodus guys told them to stop wearing makeup on stage: “that thing won’t wash at Ruthie’s Inn!“ And right after, Gary Holt shares the story when Exodus guys thrashed Slayer’s hotel room right after the show in Keystone Berkey. This story is also included in the liner notes of Exodus’ Bonded by Blood album (thanks Slayer “for letting us thrash their hotel room“)

One of the best one-liners that sums up what it all was back in the 80s is Kerry King’s statement: We did it for chicks and beer. and I didn’t drink. LOL. Then, the story shifts to the New York scene with Anthrax as the main protagonists. And of course, you couldn’t make this movie without the New Jersey’s Old Bridge Militia & the shows at The Fun House. And ofc, the Ruthie’s Inn chapter was obligatory as well… Ruthie’s Inn was a blues club owned by Wes Robinson who at some point started booking heavy metal shows. And yep. That’s the place when BONDED BY BLOOD took place. Literally. Then, the story moves to Eastern Front festival held at Aquatic park with Slayer, Exodus, Possessed, and Suicidal Tendencies at the same bill! Crazy times! Trujillo stated that Suicidal Tendencies were banned in Los Angeles at the time they joined them, even though the SxTx is from LA! Then, the documentary paid the tribute to the legendary Debbie Abono, a heavy metal grandma who helped all of the Bay Area bands she managed at the time. Larry LaLonde even said that she paid for his guitar lessons with Satriani. And I guess we wouldn’t have Primus without that!

Then, there’s a brief introduction to bands like Possessed, Death Angel and Testament. I wish there was more airtime for those bands! After that, the movie jumps to Metallica’s Day on the Green show with mandatory tribute to the late Cliff Burton. One of the saddest moments in the documentary, no doubts about it, with heartbreaking interviews with Cliff Burton’s father Ray Burton and Cliff’s girlfriend Corinne Lynn. There’s even a scene with Cliff Burton’s grave at Dörarp, Sweden. The last part of the documentary is about Gary Holt joining Slayer, Megadeth getting a Grammy in 2017 and the formation of Metal Allegiance, a supergroup featuring members of Megadeth, Testament and Dream Theater.


Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story is the documentary of the year ! No doubts about that! The docu is pretty insightful even for those of you who label themselves as thrash metal freaks!  It features tons of archive footage (both pictures and videos) with a proper soundtrack in the background! It stands shoulder to shoulder with Get Thrashed documentary, even though the former is not about the global thrash metal scene, with emphasis on Bay Area San Francisco exclusively. Any downsides? Well, I think there should have been more airtime for bands like Testament, Death Angel, Vio-Lence, Forbidden etc. But you can’t pack everything in an hour and a half, right? Anyway, Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story is the story about the time when metal was still hot and in the making! Highly recommended!

Rating: 10/10


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