Reviewed: August, 2020
Published: 2019, MVD Visual
Back in 2011 a pair of gentlemen by the names of Brian Lew and Harold Oimen released a book called MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW. These guys were fans and members of the bay area thrash scene in the early 80’s. They over time have become unofficial and informal historians, archivists documentarians and archivists of the thrash scene. The book was well-received and now it has been made into a movie of the same name. For the record you can read my review of that book on this site.
Produced and Directed by Adam and Rachelle Benloulou Dubin (I’m presuming husband wife) in collaboration with Lew and Oimen, have filmed this companion piece of the same name. Released in late 2019 and now available on DVD, MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW has the cool subtitle of, ‘when only the music mattered’.
I was fortunate to get the hard copy DVD for my birthday and it is very well done. It is a single disc fold-out, digipak housed in cardboard sleeve. There are a few extras tucked inside, a sticker, a poster and a replica of the movie poster, a nice touch for the true fan who bought the hard copy. The movie itself runs a compact 90 minutes and comes with a generous 90 minutes of bonus features.
The movie is well-filmed, well-thought out and filmed in the traditional linear style. Much of the film is in the talking head style, just straight-up interviews but there is a wealth of archival footages, photographs, flyers, posters and so on. There are a few more ‘action’ scenes, one poignant one where members of Exodus visit the grave of Paul Baloff and share a few memories. All the big guns of the scene participate in this film giving it a sense of legitimacy and kinship. Members of Death Angel, Exodus, Laaz Rockit, Megadeth, Metallica Possessed, Slayer, Testament, Violence all get ample interview time. Despite the tag line of ‘The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story’ even Anthrax gets a bit of an honourable mention.
Aside from musicians reminiscing about the good old days we also get to see contributions from industry people, friends, family members, club owners, promoters and so on. MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW is a pretty extensive examination of the scene at the time.
I suppose if I had one minor complaint is that I had a real sense of familiarity with the people in the film and the stories. This is at least the sixth documentary about Thrash Metal, with another half-dozen more general Metal films that cover thrash as well, so the material has covered extensively before, not too mention the dozen books on the topic that exist. Let’s be blunt, as a long, long time fan I didn’t learn anything new. It was all the same, tired old stories about all the highlights, the Metallica Mansion, Cliff’s death, the antics of Baloff, Ruthie’s Inn, Slayer take off the make-up, Mustaine gets kicked out of Metallica and there was really nothing new. However, if you were a first time viewer or maybe haven’t seen all those documentaries, this is a truly amazing and memorable experience. Even if I was very familiar with the stories they were presented in a excellent fashion that made the well-worn anecdotes seem fresh and enjoyable.
There is a mountain of bonus stuff, almost 30 clips that didn’t make the final film, extended interview material all presented four our enjoyment. I think I enjoyed the bonus material a bit more because it dug a bit deeper, stories about Gary Holt’s first job working at a paint factory and stuff that hasn’t been told 100 times before. The old photos, the interviews, and of course the music were all top notch.
One comment on the music; I was blown away by the song they producers picked for the final credits. As the film was ended I was wondering to myself, ‘Which classic thrash song will get the honour of being played over the final credits?’ Much to my surprise it is not a traditional thrash song at all but a newer song called ‘Heart And Soul’ by the Michael Schenker Fest, written and sung by Robin McAuley from their 2018 album RESURRECTION. It is a fast, double-kick driven song, the first song on the album, and has perfect lyrics about giving everything you have, heart and soul. It features Schenker on guitar of course, which ties in beautifully to an early scene in the film when Kirk Hammett is talking about discovering UFO and Schenker being an inspiration for him to play guitar. When the end credits started to roll, I sat on my couch stunned. It was a perfect way to end the movie and much more inspired than just running the predictable choice ‘Bonded By Blood’, by Exodus from which the movie takes it name from the lyrics.
Of all the thrash films, MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW is one of, if not the best. I’m sure it is available on your various streaming services but don’t be a poser, buy the DVD or Blu-Ray, get a few friends over for some drinks and watch it loud.