photo manipulation by nacrowe
based on the excellent book of the same name, MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW (BONDED BY BLOOD, 2019) is a documentary that tackles what made the BAY AREA THRASH METAL scene of the early 1980s such a potent breeding ground for some of the most enduring bands in METAL including EXODUS, DEATH ANGEL, TESTAMENT, POSSESSED, VIOLENCE and FORBIDDEN and a scene of influence and import for those not from the region like ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA.
its an interesting conceit to base a film on since most of the conversation historically regarding THRASH METAL is centered THE BIG FOUR, i.e. the aforementioned ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA. by providing a community of promoters (WES ROBINSON), venues (RUTHIE'S INN and THE STONE), meeting places/record stores (THE RECORD VAULT) managers (DEBBIE ABONO) and rabid fans (SLAY TEAM), SAN FRANCISCO basically provided the supportive environment that allowed the scene to thrive and punch much beyond its weight culturally over time and serve as the focus of this documentary.
the TAPE TRADING scene also served as a vehicle for the underground decimation of music both nationally and globally, which served the scene well as a cheap and efficient means of promotion to the most hardcore of audiences. gaining notoriety with this audience allowed foreign promoters the opportunity to gain familiarity with their sound far in advance of their arrival. this of course was in the days of snail mail and letter writing, decades before e-mail or internet searches were a thing. luckily these bands had a work ethic to engage with this community.
i found the most interesting part of this documentary was the idea of the SLAY TEAM, who were scene enforcers at shows who confronted charlatans and "posers" that would show up at shows wearing shirts of HAIR METAL bands or wearing the wrong attire. on one hand they served as gatekeepers and a check on the intentions of the audience. on the other hand the idea of being accosted at a show by a team of vigilante fanatics sounds terrifying and an extreme form of bullying and thuggish behavior. its indicative of the extreme insularity of a scene that at once nurtured the artists but eventually stifled them creatively, as THRASH METAL became rather confined to a sound that few attempted to move beyond. and when one did (i.e. METALLICA), they paid for it dearly with their core audience. but that downside is never explored. this documentary mearly provides information and withholds judgement.
one downside to this documentary is that it minimizes the influence of bands outside he scene like SLAYER (LOS ANGELES) and ANTHRAX (NEW YORK CITY). METALLICA and its cousin MEGADETH are both presented as hybrid LOS ANGELES / SAN FRANCISCO bands since they either moved to the bay area and/or poached musicians from the scene. i think minimizing SLAYER's influence on THRASH METAL is almost discrediting in hindsight, since the film only presents one side of this cultural dialogue by exploring the scene's influence on the band's look. i imagine the mark of SLAYER on the scene far surpasses the scene in SAN FRANCISCO's imprint on the band. but that is just my opinion.
this is an interesting documentary about a place and time and the birth of modern stateside METAL. definitely required viewing for the uninitiated. worth checking out.