Oimoen, Harald & Lew, Brian – Murder In The Front Row (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: July 2012
Released: 2011, Bazillion Points
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: JP


An intimate and revealing collection of photos from the early days of San Francisco thrash.

For about 20 years (1988-2008) I had pretty much given up on Metallica. After AND JUSTICE FOR ALL I felt they got bogged down in arena rock, covers albums, symphonic albums, self-indulgent grunge albums and poorly produced garage rock albums. Of course, my opinion is in the extreme minority as the band catapulted to the stratosphere to become one of the most influential, most popular, best-selling bands of all time. With the resultant fame there came all the peripheral products: DVD’s, a movie and of course books. Lots of books. There are photo books, academic books, historical books and several biographies. I felt it was high time that we got caught up on some of the many Metallica books that have been published in the past decade or so. This month I am featuring and reviewing six titles about Metallica and a bonus book about the origins of Bay-area thrash. They are (listed by authors last name)

-Daniels: Metallica-The Early Years (2012)
-Halfin: Metallica (2005)
-Irwin (ed.) Metallica And Philosophy (2007)
-McIver: And Justice For All (2004)
-McIver: To Live Is To Die (2009)
-McPadden: If You Like Metallica (2012)
and the bonus book, Oimoen/Lew: Murder In The Front Row (2011)

Please feel free to read and enjoy all the book reviews for Metallica Month. This list is by no means comprehensive there are many more books about Metallica for you to enjoy.

I’m delighted to see more and more of these Metal-themed, specialty, photo books coming onto the market. The subtitle; SHOTS FROM THE BAY AREA THRASH EPICENTER says it all. As legend has it, a couple of young dudes Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew were a pair of young thrash fans and scene supporters back in the early day of the San Francisco (Bay Area) thrash explosion. Years later the two reconnected and discussed bringing this photobook to life. Monte Connor at Roadrunner recommended Ian and Bazillion Points and lo and behold we now have a huge, 270 page, hardcover documentation of some the earliest days of the development of thrash!

Like all of the Bazillion Points stuff, the quality is top notch. There are a couple of long introductory essays by Lew and Oimoen that set the stage for the book. Other legendary area members contribute some thoughts and memories, specifically Gary Holt (Exodus), Robb Flynn (Vio-Lence), Alex Skolnick (Testament) and scene mainstay Ron Quintana. As well as photos there are shots of set-lists, postcards, letters and flyers from the era. Oddly enough as they aged both of them stopped being Metal fans and moved onto to other things but fortunately for us, kept all these photos, and now we get to see them! The authors are opinionated and loyal to their scene but not at all pretentious, they even say this is NOT a definitive history. However, I think it is abut close to one as you could get, visually speaking anyway.

It is extremely interesting to be able to finally see these places that as a young music fan I had only read about…Ruthie’s Inn, the Metallica Mansion, The Keystone, Aquatic Park and more. The clubs look so small now but the crowds, although small as well, were larger than life! I found it fascinating from a historical perspective to look at these shots of all the vanguard of the elite…Slayer, Metallica, Exodus, Death Angel, Legacy/Testament, Possessed and the respected and well-regarded (for a while) Y&T. Lots of lesser known bands are in here as well, such as The Mentors, D.R.I., and Spastik Children. There are also some of shots of bands that passed through the area, Iron Maiden, Anthrax and Saxon for example. Some of the historic value lies in the documentation of the Mustaine-era Metallica shots and seeing various band members in the crowd watching the other bands play and perform. There are shots of various rehearsal paces, lots of small, sweaty club gigs and tons of causal informal shots of people in the scene, just hanging out, drinking, moshing, stage-diving and just having fun. It’s neat to see the old stage backdrops, old logos, stage gear and the T-shirts people wore as well.

My only reservation about MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW is the fact that looking at this book is like looking at someone’s scrapbook from 30 years ago while he excitedly recollects tales of drunken debauchery about his friends, people who you have never met. Oimoen and Lew romanticize the scene to a large degree. I’m sure they were the most amazing of times and yes, many legendary bands were spawned from that era, but…they write like it was a unique and singular event. Young dudes in scenes across the world have their own cliques, friends and drinking stories. Every scene has a crazy guy that everybody knows as ‘that crazy guy’ (insert regional crazy guy nickname here) and every scene has a person who is the agent, the local photographer, the kindly club-owner who looks the other way on the underage drinking, the Mom who drives everyone everywhere…every city to this day has it’s own microcosm of a Metal scene that parallels the experiences of Oimoen and Lew. It is not as unique as they might think it is. Right now legions of young Metallions across the globe and making their own memories of drinking, gigging and head-banging in crappy bars. It is part of the collective conscious that unites us. The only difference is their bands in the Bay Area got famous and now they have a book! That same reservation is also the same thing that unites readers to WANT to look at a strangers scrapbook and say, “That is so f**kin’ cool!”

MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW: SHOTS FROM THE BAY AREA THRASH METAL EPICENTER is the evil-twin brother of GLORIOUS TIMES: A PICTORAL OF THE DEATH METAL SCENE (1984-1991). These books really capture the energy and excitement of that heady time in North America when Metal was emerging and surging across the land.

Track Listing:

Technical Details:
Format Reviewed:
Publisher: Bazillion Points
Pages: 270