Bob Nalbandian has come a long way in his painstaking effort to chronicle the genesis of American metal, particularly its West Coast origins. Following his previous “Inside Metal” documentaries, “The Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock and Metal” and “The L.A. Metal Scene Explodes!”, Nalbandian releases his finest effort in the series: “The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal (Part One)”. Indicative of its title, this is the first segment of a two-parter, and frankly, this one’s comprehensive enough.
Bearing far superior production to Nalbandian‘s prior documentaries, “The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal (Part One)” is narrated by MEGADETH‘s David Ellefson and contains a massive honor roll of thrash and metal alumni: Gene Hoglan, Lars Ulrich, Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, Wolf Hoffmann, Peter Baltes, Brian Slagel, Dave Lombardo, Eric Peterson, Ernie C, Frank Bello, Joey Vera, John Bush, John Gallagher, Juan Garcia, Katon De Pena, Mike Inez, Rocky George and Lloyd Grant, DEFCON guitarist who also played with METALLICA in the band’s infancy.
The initiated know the basics of thrash, which many will argue should be disseminated from speed metal. It was effectively birthed as a spawn of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the satanic crust of VENOM, HELLHAMMER, MERCYFUL FATE and ANGEL WITCH and punk rock. ACCEPT‘s “Fast as a Shark”, an experimental whim of its time in 1982, is credited as metal history’s first true thrasher, though Wolf Hoffmann and Peter Baltes testify here that, for a long time, they had no clue about the song’s importance. “The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal (Part One)” takes us not to San Francisco, frequently hailed as thrash’s seeding ground, but to Los Angeles, where area metalheads feel “short-changed in credit” as sowing thrash’s actual roots. More accurately, in its southwards neighbor, Orange County.
Rock venues such as The Woodstock, Radio City and Concert Factory in Orange County can now be fully credited as sites of METALLICA‘s first gigs when the term “thrash” had yet to be created. Still today, there’s no creditable person coming up with the term “thrash,” not even revered metal journalist, Malcolm Dome, who refutes the claim here.
Because of the L.A. glam scene, most thrash bands were not only desperate to scrape for fans in a shameful pay-to-play Sunset Strip climate, many of them—citing they were embarrassed to be from L.A.—flocked to Europe or the Bay Area, creating a slight misconception: METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, HIRAX, DEFCON, MX MACHINE, ABBATOIR, ARMORED SAINT and SAVAGE GRACE were all from L.A. first.
This documentary brilliantly touches on thrash’s course, corralling an all-inclusive, through predominantly male, audience back in the day. This is a refreshing multicultural experience outlining a scene that first traversed the periphery of Los Angeles, seducing a massive Latin audience which today carries deep into South America. The topics of crossover, thrash vs. glam and the purported L.A., San Francisco and New York rivalries are diligently covered, along with the PMRC and Geraldo Rivera witch-hunts of the late 1980s.
David Ellefson notes, “We are the first generation to have both punk and metal records,” in its collections. The “convergence of those two coming together” united sanctions formerly at war with one another, these being “the punks and skins vs. hairies,” per RAVEN‘s John Gallagher. This bore fruit in the form of D.R.I. , SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, EXCEL, OVERKILL L.A. and CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER. Lars Ulrich, whose insights ramble and contradict at times, does make the poignant statement, “One group can come together with another group against some other group.” Chris Poland testifies that MEGADETH had mandatory listening sessions to Fear‘s “The Record” and FEAR‘s “More Beer” before taking the stage, just to cull those albums’ bombast. Marty Freidman adds, “We had chops, but we were punks.”
Steven Craig, former manager of SLAYER and DARK ANGEL, has a ton of whimsical anecdotes remembering how difficult it was to get his bands attention. They stuck fliers in every locker at area high schools and they were stuck on bills with bands of opposite styles. The most insane being JOURNEY cover acts and SLAYER very nearly being tagged as openers for come-and-gone new wavers, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS. DARK ANGEL, referred to as “L.A.’s own caffeine machine,” gets a lot of love, Gene Hoglan in particular, who recounts the scene best for everyone. He accurately talks about the elitist mentality of individually researching underground metal, which later was frustratingly discovered by the masses.
It should be interesting to see where Bob Nalbandian takes us next in his thrash retrospective, considering the logical stop would have to be the pre-grunge, label-mandated slowdown of the genre’s top acts.