Watch the Untold Story of Bay Area Thrash Metal in 'Murder in the Front Row'

The hippies had the Summer of Love in '69, the punks had the "Summer of Hate" in '79, and in the early-1980s, the metalheads crashed in and took over. Of all the music scenes the Bay Area spawned over the past half-century, thrash metal has proven to be simultaneously one of the most prominent and one of the most publicly unsung. The new documentary Murder in the Front Row is here to change that.

Having premiered to screaming, sold-out audiences at SF Doc Fest, this love letter to Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and many more—based on a 2012 book of the same name by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew—is returning for three September screenings: at San Francisco's Alamo Drafthouse and Roxie Theater, as well as Oakland's Regal Jack London.

Filmmaker and director Adam Dubin—previously responsible for the Beastie Boys music video "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)" and the Metallica documentary A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica—spent three years putting the film together, and was stunned by the degree of emotion present in the final product. "This music ... it’s very harsh, very fast music," Dubin told KPIX before the premiere, "but what was surprising and what I think comes through in the film is that there’s actually a warm, fuzzy, beating heart in the scene. The fans [and] musicians all kind of took care of each other.”

The movie, which takes its name from the 1985 Exodus track "Bonded By Blood," combines rare footage, extensive interviews, vintage photos and new animation to tell the expansive story.

Art by M. Wartella, based on "classic hand-drawn metal posters," as featured in the documentary, 'Murder in the Front Row.'
Art by M. Wartella, based on "classic hand-drawn metal posters," as featured in the documentary, 'Murder in the Front Row.' (YouTube/'Murder in the Front Row')

"There were so many personal stories from Bay Area legends here, that Adam needed a way to bring all these tales to life," animation director M. Wartella told KQED Arts. "To give you one example, there were people like this guy Ron "Skitchie" Burch, who was kind of a metal Pied Piper in the '80s on Telegraph Avenue. He introduced all the key players to each other—they'd hang out listening to the Scorpions and Motörhead on Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park—but there weren’t a lot of photos of him. So animating a drawing of him coming to life was kind of magical and a pure honor."

Murder in the Front Row promises to capture the complexities of this underground scene as it scrabbled its way together, expanded and exploded, and eventually found its way to an international audience, changing heavy metal forever. "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll definitely become an Exodus fan," M. Wartella smiles. "This is one of those films that is in a super-limited run too. So if it’s playing anywhere within a 120-mile radius of you? You have to be there."

Rae Alexandra

September 12, 2019

Various Theaters
San Francisco and Oakland

share this event