“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.”
These, the chorus lyrics to Exodus’ title track from their debut album, “Bonded by Blood,” are no longer just classic thrash metal lyrics; that first line is now the title of a killer, headbashing new documentary.
Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Area Thrash Metal Story is set to arrive digitally on Friday, April 24, in 4K or HD on most major domestic and international platforms.
And if you thought I only reviewed the film for the opportunity to talk metal for 1114 words, you’d be right … initially.
Honestly, I was merely expecting the typical rockumentary — usually pretty boring lip-flapping intrviews, until the filmmakers decide to play metal thrashing mad tune-age or concert clips.
Murder in the Front Row is truly a standup homage to the early thrash scene — especially of that in the Bay area, where it began — and presents more info than what is known to the typical fan.
The bay area thrash scene was a response to the British New Wave of Heavy Metal (NWOHM), a movement with shit-tons of fans who couldn’t see the acts they loved play live.
So they created their own version. Simple!
Thus, the development of a “lot of integrity in the metal scene in San Francisco,” per Metallica’s James Hetfield.
I grabbed my pen and pad to take notes and, about five minutes in, I was lost in the anecdotes, the history, the laughs, and the tragedies that make up this historical narrative of a movement that changed heavy metal forever.
The first image we are treated to is a pre-interview Kirk Hammett (currently of Metallica and formerly of Exodus): “I just wanna’ say one thing first: posers must die!”
The phrase dates back to the early days of Exodus at the start of the 80s when “posers” were threatened on the daily.
It became a favorite past time of the Slay Team — the cultish grouping of Exodus fans — to seek out and “kill” posers.
OK, they wouldn’t actually kill any (we hope), but any Motley Crue or RATT tee-shirts were sought and destroyed with no concern for whether the owners were still wearing them at the time.
There are tons of similar stories — including, of course, the creation and rise of metal giants Metallica — all welcoming the viewer into the crazy and dangerous world of thrash.
Tragedies like the deaths of original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton and original Exodus vocalist Paul Baloff are handled with tenderness — believe it or not — and respect.
Along with bandmates and friends, Burton’s father, Ray, and then-fiancee, Corinne Lynn, give touching interviews.
I recall the day Burton died in the infamous tour bus accident.
I was in junior high and it may have been the first time — of many, unfortunately — a rock star death would affect me in a peculiar way.
How could the death of someone I’ve never met bother me so?
To this day, I am ever grateful I had the honor of seeing him play live with the band when they opened for Ozzy on Metallica’s Master of Puppets tour, just months prior to the accident.
Yes, I just drifted into a personal memory, but it’s not irrelevant. It’s the power of a film like this to pontificate memories and youthfulness.
Which brings us to the next issue: when did we all get old?
Man, it’s strange to see what all these kids aged into. For the most part, pretty upstanding citizens.
One, who created a now very valuable comic at the time about the Slay Team — is currently a nuclear physicist.
One item of interest we aren’t privy to in the doc is the story behind Exodus’ firing of Baloff.
Perhaps his death from a stroke in 2002 led the producers to refrain from publicizing the incident.
For those of you who might be curious, the parting had been referenced at one time by the band as having been due to “personal and musical differences.” Huh-duh!
The doc also fails to cover Baloff’s replacement, Steve Souza, and the reunion later in the century.
But a tear-filled Gary Holt (Exodus guitarist) refers to the vocalist at Baloff’s gravesite as “the greatest thrash metal frontman of all time and he made one album … twice.”
If we were to criticize everything the documentary withholds, we’d be expecting a docuseries of hours and hours worth of material (not a bad idea, people! Just sayin’).
But dudes and dudesses, this killer rock-doc is totally fucking recommended!
Some curious tales explained in the doc include stories abut the staple club Ruthie’s Inn, of fans literally turning their backs on bands they didn’t like when playing live, and Slayer members essentially being bullied into removing their makeup.
Hey, we all know the makeup was inspired by the Eurpoean black metal scene as opposed to the Sunset Strip glam scene, but in the Bay area, fuck that noise, they wanted nunna that shit. (I personally thought it looked pretty bad-ass myself.)
But it meant just as much to those without instruments, those that needed the tunes as a release of aggression. Mosh pit, anyone?
Yeah, I’ll watch from a distance (sorry, guys, but I still love you and will forever bang to your tunes).
Hammett sums up the reason behind the San Francisco thrash movement succinctly: “The anger of being in a place that didn’t have enough to offer — the frustration of being bored — I think a lot of that got channeled into our instruments.”
The documentary will also be available on a special Deluxe Edition DVD that features over 90 minutes of never-before-seen bonus footage.
The additional footage includes an interview with Metallica that premiered this week on Consequence of Sound here, as well as behind-the-scenes footage taken at the infamous Berkeley venue Ruthie’s Inn that premiered through The Bay Bridged here.
The DVD will also include a tri-fold cover, two mini-posters, a sticker, director’s commentary, 5.1 + stereo audio, closed captions, and translation subtitles.
It will be available to be purchased domestically in the USA or by mail internationally. Visit www.mitfr.com for more info.
The documentary premiered in spring 2019 during SF Doc Fest before embarking on a run of screening dates at Alamo Drafthouses, arthouse cinemas, music venues, and film festivals across the U.S. and abroad.
The film garnered praise from publications such as The Wire, Artform, The Playlist, and San Francisco Chronicle, among others.
Now let’s talk metal!
Who are you faves and your fave-nots? Throw ’em in the comments below, and let’s mosh!
Kerr Lordygan is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.