FILM REVIEW: The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal

For the past several years, MetalRock Films has been releasing documentaries under their Inside Metal banner. This first part of a two-part series, The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal, follows up their previous films The Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock & Metal and L.A. Metal Scene Explodes. Directed by Bob Nalbandian and narrated by Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson, The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal is certainly a must-watch for metalheads or anyone wanting to learn more about the genre and scene.

If you can name a Los Angeles-based thrash metal band, they are most likely in this film. This film is an oral history of the scene from those who were there to witness or participate. Sure, members of the well-known Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, and Suicidal Tendencies appear, but there’s also members of Hirax, the Weasels, and MX Machine (to name a few; we’ve got the complete list below). Lloyd Grant, who played on Metallica’s first recording of “Hit the Lights,” Slayer and Dark Angel manager Steven Craig, photographer Kevin Estrada, journalist Malcolm Dome, and William Howell (aka DJ Will) also appear to give their observations of the era, the scene, and the difficulties in “making it.”

What’s most interesting, or insightful, about the film is that it discusses how the Los Angeles scene didn’t cater to thrash metal. What’s more, it throws light on how San Francisco gets a lot of credit for being the quote-unquote epicenter of thrash metal, even though the majority of bands originated from Los Angeles. We’re often told of how Metallica, Testament, Exodus, and Death Angel drove the Bay Area emergence of thrash metal. Truth is, Metallica migrated north to San Francisco because of the difficulty in breaking out in Los Angeles. Glam metal ruled the Sunset Strip and the clubs in Hollywood. Image reigned supreme and the thrash metal bands either lacked make-up and hairspray or were altogether too intense to play alongside Ratt, or even Flock of Seagulls.

The film traces how the thrash metal scene was heavily influenced by both the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and punk rock. But, also how thrash metal didn’t immediately “crossover” to the punk scene. Some bands were too metal for punk or too punk for metal and old biases persisted between the two factions. This gradually subsided, but it wasn’t always hunky-dory among the fans of these genres. One area where the film really excels is showing how thrash metal, unlike many other genres or subgenres, gained acceptance globally among cultures and fans worldwide. As far as Los Angeles goes, it also shows how being forced to play outside of Los Angeles County earned the bands a wide following among the Latino fanbase. And on another note, how competition in the scene didn’t allow for much brotherhood among bands. Perhaps this is why San Francisco gets more press for its role in the rise of the genre.

– Watch the Trailer – 

There are a couple of minor issues with the film. Frank Bello of NYC’s Anthrax and Mary Friedman (ex-Megadeth; talks about playing in Hawaii – the state and the band) appear, but neither say anything specific about the Los Angeles scene. There are several interviews where the interviewee is obscured by either shadows or blinding light; and in some scenes the editing doesn’t flow with the narrative. For example, Ernie C. (Body Count) talks about being influenced by Sabbath when everyone else is talking about coming up in the Los Angeles scene. These issues don’t really take away from the film, but they are noticeable.

My only complaint, or disappointment, is the DVD cover art. It looks more like a 90’s magazine cover than the cover to a legitimate documentary film. The generic rocker dude surrounded by band logos is about as lazy as it could possibly get. Sadly, all of the films in the MetalRock Films catalog have similarly generic covers. I bring this up because this is a really cool film that offers a lot of insight to the genre and it’s history. I sincerely want people to see it. But, a more artistic cover would attract more viewers and show people who may not be genre fans that this is a serious film. Of course, this is not a reason to avoid the film. If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’re interested. We recommend it in spite of these flaws.

– J. Kevin Lynch

You can Pre-Order the film now: Amazon / MetalRock Films


Appearances from: Ann Boleyn (Hellion/New Renaissance Records), Bill Metoyer (Producer), Brian O’Brian (A La Carte), Brian Slagel (Metal Blade Records), Brian Tatler (Diamond Head), Chris Poland (Megadeth/OHM), Craig Locicero (Forbidden), Dave Lombardo (Slayer/Suicidal Tendencies), David Ellefson (Megadeth), Diego Negrete (MX Machine), Eric Peterson (Testament), Ernie C (Body Count), Felice Lococo & Kurt Markham (Overkill LA), Frank Bello (Anthrax), Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel/Testament), Greg Durschlag (The Weasels), Jay Reynolds (Malice), Joey Vera (Armored Saint), John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax), John Gallagher (Raven), Juan Garcia (Agent Steel/Abattoir/Body Count), Katon DePena (Hirax), Kevin Estrada (Photographer), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Lloyd Grant (Defcon), Malcolm Dome (Journalist), Marty Friedman (Hawaii/Cacophony/Megadeth), Mike Inez (Alice In Chains), Monte Pittman (Prong/Madonna), Peter Baltes & Wolf Hoffmann (Accept), Phil Sandoval (Armored Saint), Phyllis Pollack (Journalist), Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies), Scott Peterson (Cryptic Slaughter), Steven Craig (former manager of Slayer & Dark Angel), Stryper (Robert Sweet, Michael Sweet, Oz Fox, Tim Gaines), Tracey “Spacey T” Singleton (Sound Barrier/Gangland), Tracy Barnes (Radio PD), Vincent Price (Steel Prophet/Body Count), and William Howell (KNAC Radio Host a.k.a. DJ Will, former A&R Capitol Records and Metal Blade Records).

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