The thrash metal of the 1980s is one of the most popular and enduring styles ever. Metallica, Megadeth, and Exodus are some of the most renowned names in music history. Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story takes a loving look back at the time, era, and scene in which a whole new genre was born.
Murder in the Front Row boasts a number of interviews. Familiar names like Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine to popular thrash metal icons like Slayer’s Kerry King and Gary Holt from Exodus all receive substantial screen time. Director Adam Dubin seemed to find everyone who had some sort of connection to the burgeoning thrash metal scene. These varied recollections give a cross section of musicians, fans, and managers.
The wide range of subjects interviews leads to a interesting documentary. The audience is not just seeing the birth of a the genre through the one set of eyes. Someone who is playing music will look back on a time differently than someone who is going to shows. This gives Murder in the Front Row a wider range. The documentary is as much about a way of life as it is the music. This is the quintessential “soundtrack of our lives.”
This theme of the scene being more about the individual than the music runs through the entirety of Murder in the Front Row. Music aficionados may be disappointed to know this is not as much about retelling the history of thrash metal. Obviously, that is a part of the story. Many of the musicians talk about their love for UFO, for example. There is also some discussion about how the Los Angeles hair metal scene was despised by the more blue collar Bay Area fans. But the main focus is how the music affected the lives of the people who loved it.
There is not the normal rumors and gossip that are seen in many rockumentaries. Murder in the Front Row is all about the good times. Instead of stories about debilitating drug addictions and poor business choices there are tales of wild parties and the loving hazing that would occur. Everyone who talks about these times look back on them wistfully. From the interviews, the biggest problems were how to handle fans of Motley Crue. This is most obvious when Mustaine’s ousting from Metallica is completely ignored. The doc makes it seem as if it were a mutual decision between the two parties.
This upbeat tone takes an odd turn when discussing Cliff Burton. It is almost impossible to discuss the history of Metallica without discussing Burton’s untimely death. However, since Murder in the Front Row seem to go out of its way to avoid discussing any obstacles in the scene, dedicating a large part of the ending to the tragedy almost feels out of place.
This decision is the turning point of Murder in the Front Row. Up until it mentions Burton’s passing, the film is a fun look at how a group of people found each other. It focuses on all the good times and basically ignores the bad times. There is nothing wrong with this as music documentaries tend to be more about the rise and fall than a loving tribute. Discussing Burton’s death – complete with comments from his father – unsurprisingly take away the the feel good aspect of the ending.
Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story is a fun look at one of the most popular and influential musical genres. The amount of interviews is impressive and the decision to focus on the positive aspects of the scene provides a fresh take on the rockumentary genre. Be forewarned though: from the subject to the soundtrack this is geared to a very specific audience. No posers!