by John Totten
The late '70s and early 1980s was an exciting time in the history of music in Southern California. From Reseda to Pomona to Anaheim, young rock bands and musicians learned their craft and plied their trade in the live music clubs that flourished in the region.
In Huntington Beach, a young Bob Nalbandian started a fanzine called The Headbanger that covered the local rock and metal scene. In an era before the internet and blogs, Nalbandian would print the fanzine himself and then deliver it personally to music stores and record shops.
By this time, disco was also done and Southern rock had faded from the scene. Major record companies were falling all over themselves to sign the next Boy George. Meanwhile, the rock and metal scene was flourishing just under everybody's radar.
"It was a great scene. There was always something going on," says Nalbandian. The Headbanger printed its last issue in 1985.
These days, Nalbandian, now 50, is the director of the three-part documentary film Inside Metal: Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock and Metal, the first volume of which makes its premier this Thursday in Hollywood.
After The Headbanger folded, Nalbandian managed Orange County metal favorites Eden, then worked for a couple of smaller record companies. But it was during his stint as a podcast radio host — when he had metal videographers Joe Floyd and Warren Croyle as guests — that the seed for Inside Metal was planted.
The duo was considering producing a documentary on the L.A. metal scene and asked Nalbandian to come on board. His first response: "What can I do to help?" Nalbandian became the camera operator, even though he really didn't know anything about camera work, but was quickly named director for the film.
"I didn't want this to be a typical L.A. movie" he says. "The Decline of Western Civilization (Part II: The Metal Years) had already been done, so we decided to cut it off at about 1986."
Inside Metal instead focuses on the roots of the scene, and where some of the best bands of the era like Armored Saint, Great White and Ratt came from and how they started. "Let's go to the Van Halen era-tell a story that hasn't been told," Nalbandian says. "We wanted to tell the whole story and do it right."
The three-hour film features interviews with musicians from successful bands like Dokken and Quiet Riot, along with rare live video and stills, as well as bands that never became nationally famous, such as Orange County-based A La Carte.
"People ask me all the time if I'm trying to bring the scene back," says Nalbandian. "No I'm not. There's nothing in Orange County anymore. We lived in a golden era. Those times were lost."
Inside Metal: Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal premiersThursday, November 6 at the Attic in Hollywood. Go to metalrockfilms.com for more information and future showtimes.