Murder In The Front Row – Shots From The Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter

By Keith Carman

Less than a half-century old, at this point in the history of loud music there’s very little that can be unearthed from its relatively shallow grave. Other than a few, “I was there, man,” moments, we’ve been inundated with biographies, documentaries, legends and fables on everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Cliff Burton. Still, people are gonna keep trying.

Offering up their take, photographer/D.R.I. bassist Harald Oimoen and fellow celluloid freak Brian Lew were actually on-hand when double-time history was being made. Lens in hand, they caught some of the most notorious gigs, events and backstage shenanigans that helped forge the annals of thrash metal. Yes, they were around San Francisco’s Bay Area, home and/or stomping ground of such monumental acts as Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth—three of the genre’s Big Four—as well as Exodus, Possessed, Testament, Death Angel and the rest of the hyperactive heavyweights that helped hone our beloved heavy music.

To that extent, Murder In The Front Row is a compilation of both the duo’s reminiscences and photographic handy work of the day. A beautiful full-colour, hardcover affair, this perfect-bound 270-plus page coffee table piece is as extravagant and captivating as it is compelling, informative and exciting. From essays by the authors/cameramen to reflective contributions from genre mainstays including Robb Flynn, Alex Skolnick and Gary Holt, there’s an inescapable air of enthusiasm, adoration and importance to Murder In The Front Row.

Most importantly however, are the images. Including everything from the notorious (that mouth-open back-cover shot of Burton on Ride The Lightning? Theirs.) to the laughable (various cringe-worthy stage dives, pimply-faced Slayer members performing in broad daylight and some really bad fashion ideas) and nostalgic, virtually every page boasts something of interest. Sure, there’s a bit too much Metallica for anyone who knows their downfall was confirmed with the Black Album but it’s forgivable when commingling with such, well, history.

Surely showcasing a side of themselves many bands have presumably forgotten and would probably like to keep well-buried at this stage in their lives/careers, Murder In The Front Row is outright fun. Seeing the elemental formation of a groundbreaking genre captured in pictures? Amazing. Having a bona fide book on heavy metal the size and girth of your Grade 12 math textbook? Shocking. Realizing that this genre’s most effective, enduring and explosive era can never be gone nor forgotten thanks to such dedicated documentation? Crucial.

(Bazillion Points)

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.