Certain American cities have an undeniable connection to musical movements. New Orleans has a history with Jazz, Los Angeles was the mecca of Hair Metal, and New York City was integral to the new and emerging punk-rock scene.
In San Francisco during the early 1980s, a brand new and innovative interpretation of hard rock had taken root. This new music was fast, aggressive and developed by taking the energy and fury of punk and the musicianship of New Wave and British heavy metal to come up the singular thrash metal sound.
Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story is a documentary based on a 2012 book by the same name authored by Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen. The book is mostly photographs, while the film features footage and exclusive interviews with people who were there at the time, including members of such bands as Exodus, Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Megadeth, Possessed, Death Angel and many more.
“Those pictures were so real you could feel the sweat coming off them,” says Murder in the Front Row director Adam Dubin. “Brian and Harald were there when Metallica was first getting up and running, and the photos in their book moved me so much year’s later that I got it together and got the money together and optioned the book to make a movie.”
The filmmakers says the project began organically. “We just started going out and doing the interviews with these musicians, and people who knew them and were in this community,” Dubin explained. “We all agreed that this movie should only be told by people who were there, and that’s what the movie shows.”
While Dubin liked heavy metal music and worked with Metallica since 1990 filming documentary footage for the band, he confides he was not an extreme thrash metal fanatic.”Of course, since I worked with Metallica, I know their music, but after making this film I really enjoy thrash metal music,” he said. “I just got to know it well and explored a lot of the groups. It’s amazing musicianship and I grew to love it.”
He takes pride in his film not just being about thrash metal but the stories of the people involved in a movement.
“I made the movie for a lot of other people to be interested in it, besides all thrash metal fans,” Dubin says. “It’s not a performance film; of course there is music, but it’s much more. You get to know these people as a community. I’ve had people tell me they are not into thrash metal but liked this movie, and to me that is the ultimate compliment.”
Thrash went beyond music to be a cultural movement, Dubin contends. “What happened during those years in the Bay Area was bigger than music,” he says. “Of course, now Metallica is the biggest band ever. But if you’re going to tell the story of Bay Area thrash metal, you need Metallica in the story; they are a part of it.”
Dubin says the movement was actually larger than the music made during those years, and for that reason his main goal was to convey the human aspect to this story. “If you are not familiar with this type of music, it’s a human story being told about a bunch of young people creating something of their own, which was this new music called thrash metal,” he says.
Having spent the 1980s working with hip-hop artists in New York, Dubin says he also recognizes the influence of thrash and heavy metal music on contemporary society. “This type of music is infused in everything I see, including movies that have heavy metal music and imagery in it, “ he says. “Thrash just has that energy to it. There are certain styles and energy to the music but it’s a crossover between horror, comics and science fiction; the fans sometimes overlap and heavy metal music is interwoven into the culture the same way Stephen King’s work is woven into all horror.”
Narrated by Brian Posehn, the standup comic and heavy metal fanatic who got his start in Sacramento, Murder in the Front Row arrives for its Orange County debut having already built a good reception at numerous film festivals and screenings across the country. “People have embraced the film for sure,” Dubin says. “Metalheads love it, but there are a lot of younger people getting into this for the history of this type of music.”
More plans are in the works to screen the film at independent theaters across the country, and in more film festivals, Dubin says. “Mostly, I am getting contacted by a lot of independent theaters across the country. A lot of the owners are metalheads and want to show the film in their theaters. It’s just great to get this response! At places where we have had screenings and premieres so far, we’ve had some sold-out shows as well. The movie has been acting like a band more than a movie; if you look at the schedule, it looks more like a tour schedule for a band.”
Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story is at The Frida Cinema, 305 E. 4th St., # 100, Santa Ana; thefridacinema.org. Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Sun., 8:30 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., Aug. 7-8, 6 & 8:30 p.m. $7-$10.50.
Alex Distefano is an established freelance writer and music blogger from the Los Angeles area. With over a dozen years under his belt as a published Journalist, he covers the worlds of heavy metal music, punk rock, current events, cannabis culture, comedy, radio, food, tattoos, the paranormal, and ‘conspiracy theories.’ He graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in both Journalism and Ancient History. Aside from his professional writing endeavors, Distefano works as an Educator, and delivery/rideshare driver.