Bob Nalbandian is a walking compendium of American metal, particularly conversant of the scene cultivated within his California habitat in the 1980s. His “Inside Metal” documentary series has become a go-to source on the subject of West Coast-birthed heavy metal. His recent work focuses upon the dawn of thrash from the Los Angeles and Bay Area circuits, and his guest testimonials are bountiful, necessitating breaking the documentary into two segments.
The first installment of “The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal” was an excellent overview of American thrash’s primary roots, innovated through punk, hardcore, NWOBHM and death metal. Part 2 focuses heavily upon three of the “Big 4” of thrash, comprised of METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX, the latter act hailing, of course, from New York.
The same horde of guests from the first part naturally appear here: Gene Hoglan, Lars Ulrich, David Ellefson, Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, Wolf Hoffmann, Peter Baltes, Brian Slagel, Dave Lombardo, Eric Peterson, Frank Bello, Joey Vera, John Bush, John Gallagher, Juan Garcia, Katon De Pena, Mike Inez, Rocky George and Lloyd Grant, one of METALLICA‘s earliest guitarists. STRYPER recounts an abusive speed freak crowd forcing it to ditch its ballads and playing heavy tracks only amidst a rail of spit, padlocks and even a mayo jar. As with the first installment, former SLAYER and DARK ANGEL manager Steven Craig steals the show with his vivid remembrances. So too does veteran producer Bill Metoyer.
While not as urgent as its predecessor, “The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal 2” features more color between the lines already staked out in the prior film. METALLICA, SLAYER and MEGADETH each receive their own spotlights, yielding stories fans will readily devour. David Ellefson reflects upon the days when MEGADETH were so poor they lived together and borrowed amps from their peers to fill out the band’s famous wall of Marshall stacks. Bill Metoyer‘s recollections of a young SLAYER farting and dashing about the control room squirting water pistols are as equally riotous as Steven Craig‘s annotations. Craig‘s story about SLAYER having to bolt in the middle of a show during a police raid is a scream. On the flipside, BODY COUNT‘s Ernie C details a haunting tale of playing in a mud-bogged, cornfield-stationed dive in racist backwoods Kansas. Rocky George‘s impressions of a terror-stricken QUEENSRŸCHE audience to which SUICIDAL TENDENCIES opened likewise leaves its mark.
“The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal 2” sweeps the viewer to the breeding ground of L.A. thrash, centered outside of the once-venerable Sunset Strip, which had boycotted thrash acts due to violent moshing, stage diving, rafter climbing and club destruction. Places you’ve likely heard about, even if you hail from Bumfuck, Idaho, like Fender’s Ballroom, Olympic Auditorium, Reseda Country Club and Balboa Theater were essential in exposing thrash to a quickly amassing audience. Once power metal champions ARMORED SAINT were able to infiltrate the Aqua Net haze glommed over Sunset, everything changed. As Joey Vera attests, ARMORED SAINT playing The Troubadour changed it from a table and chair venue to an open pit mini-arena, the standard assembly mode of a club-based metal show today.
Along the way, Bob Nalbandian hits the usual gamut of topics when telling a metal retrospective such as tape trading, fanzines, indie labels, college rock radio cultivation, mosh life, gang infiltration and touring debauchery. If you’re well-versed in metal, this is part and parcel information that only feels necessary for neophytes and future generations coming to the music. However, all of this information should’ve been housed in the first documentary, since part two hits upon them fairly quick and ultimately leaves an open-ended question mark.
Has Nalbandian covered all he wants to on L.A. thrash or is there yet more coming? Crossover is suggested here but not necessarily given a full examination. The union of punks and metalheads was an important stride made in the underground. Likewise hinted by some of the guests, but hardly fleshed out, is the dilemma over slowing down their music in order to keep their recording contracts. As heavy metal floundered in the United States under the cash grab dominance of safe net pop rock courtesy of BON JOVI, POISON and WARRANT, the heavier side of the spectrum was forced to acquiesce or disappear. Need we go there with CELTIC FROST‘s “Cold Lake”?
From a journalistic standpoint, “The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal” as a whole needed more of the external issues to present a complete overview. It’s important to understand why the Big 4 were forced to tame down. SLAYER remained the heaviest big radar American metal band alongside PANTERA in the 1990s, but suffice it to say, the band took a monster step back from the days of “Show No Mercy” and “Reign in Blood”. METALLICA and MEGADETH went right to the top of Billboard by considerably lightening their speed and aggression in the same decade. By contrast, Bay Area kindred TESTAMENT‘s slowest album, “The Ritual”, remains one of the group’s heaviest, but the drop down in velocity cost the band until the thrash revival of the 2000s.
If the “Inside Metal” series continues on, Bob Nalbandian will be tasked with branching to the East Coast scene, which should be fun in his capable hands. After all, METALLICA visited New York after blowing up Cali and eventually the world through “Metal Massacre I” and the halcyon “No Life ‘Til Leather” demo. The unit’s fateful signing to Elektra Records forever changed metal, particularly validating the L.A. scene Nalbandian has lovingly thrown his video postcards from.