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A brief history of thrash metal

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Murder in the Front Row' offers a peek at the birth of a genre

While I've never been much of a music connoisseur, even I went through certain phases of musical fandom. And like just about every other kid who grew up in the sticks, I went through a heavy metal phase. As with all phases, it eventually fell by the wayside and was largely forgotten, resurfacing only when a chance radio encounter brought forth some thrashy nostalgia.

Said nostalgia received an exponential bump when 'Murder in the Front Row' (Bazillion Points Press) landed in my lap. It's essentially a coffee table book devoted to the early days of the Bay Area thrash metal scene.

And it's even cooler than it sounds.

The majority of the photos come from the collections of a handful of enthusiasts who were vital parts of the burgeoning scene back in the early 1980s. Guys like Harald Oimoen, Brian Lew and Ron Quintana were just hardcore fans that happened to be there when metal icons such as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth first took root in the California soil and began to blossom. It's a moment in time, preserved by a couple of kids armed with nothing more than cameras and a deep passion for the music.

While many of these pictures first appeared on early album covers and in crudely-constructed fanzines, there has never been a collection that so encompasses thrash metal's genesis. Yes, these photos were taken by amateurs, but that's OK. It almost enhances the experience, turning a story that could have felt processed and false into one that is raw, yes, but also very real.

There is also some written content here, though not a lot. It serves a purpose and introduces a lot of backstory both about the scene itself and these fans who documented it but 'MITFR' is all about the photographs. Which is as it should be; why tell if you can show? Granted, much of what's being shown is beer bottles, sneers and middle fingers, but it sure does tell a story.

Metallica is the star of this show, with a wealth of photographs featuring the band back in their fresh-faced days. Slayer and Megadeth are well-represented, and there are some pictures of some other less well-known area bands with names like Exodus and Legacy and Death Angel. It makes sense that Metallica should be the focus, what with their status as one of the biggest acts in metal history, but a bit more about the second- and third-tier bands would have been welcome.

But those are minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things. Anyone who has ever banged their head to music that existed only to be louder and faster will get a kick out of this book. It's a time capsule of sorts a window onto a time that, while just three decades past, feels like ancient musical history in many ways.

Plus there's a picture of a young James Hetfield attempting to eat a Men at Work album. If you can think of something more metal, I'd love to hear it.

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