Murder In The Front Row - Brian Lew

Murder In The Front Row - Brian Lew

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Nowadays there is a great deal of Metal related books that give an inside look of our favorite bands revealing in times the truth behind stories and urban legends that used to be a subject of our Metal discussions. “Murder In The Front Row” is kind of a different kind of breed since it features a hearty collection of photographs from the early days of the Bay Area Thrash scene. No, it’s not a history book but an awesome time capsule holding images and feelings of a golden era that sadly belongs to the past. METAL KAOZ got on the phone Brian Lew, one of the two persons responsible for this essay, to get additional info behind this great collection of memories.


Hey, Brian welcome to METAL KAOZ and many congrats on the “Murder In The Front Row” book release.
Thank you very much, Dimitris! I happen to know your website as well, so it’s great doing this interview.

So, how is the feedback to the book release so far?
The reaction has been amazing and to tell you the truth I did not expect that. When I and Harald were talking about doing this book, we were thinking about the people who were there at that period of time like the bands and the fans. We wanted to give them something like a yearbook. Also, we didn’t want to make a history book but more like a time machine to travel back to those days. Now, that the book is out, the feedback is great. We basically heard from all the bands (METALLICA, EXODUS, MACHINE HEAD) featured in the book saying that they really liked it. It is really great getting feedback for the fans who were part of the scene and some of them have kids and just want to show them what their parents were doing during their youth. But what blew my mind was the reaction from the people outside the Bay Area; Bazillion Points got e mails from South America, Italy and even Japan! The fact that people from those far away places are interested in our book is pretty amazing to me.

The Bay Area Thrash scene is a very important part of the Metal history, so the reaction seems rather expected to me.
Yeah, you are probably right.

So, how did you choose the book’s title?
It’s a line from EXODUS“Bonded by Blood” song.

Indeed it is.
We wanted to pay honor to EXODUS because this band was the heart and soul of the Bay Area scene. METALLICA and other bands were also important but EXODUS kind of personified everything about the Bay Area Thrash scene; they were violent and crazy and also played live a lot. METALLICA were here but after recording the first album, they started touring, so they were on their way. EXODUS were still here playing almost everywhere. Anyway, we wanted to honor this band and so we chose this title. Of course, we played around with some titles and some of them were kind of cheesy like “Kill A Poser” that was funny for us but we went with “Murder In The Front Row”.

When you talked about EXODUS, you used a past tense; so do you think that nowadays EXODUS are not like they used to be?
No, I don’t mean that. At that time they were really important to the original scene, but now they are bigger than the scene. Pretty much all those Bay Area bands (EXODUS, METALLICA, TESTAMENT, DEATH ANGEL) are bigger than the scene itself. What I meant was that to me EXODUS represented the best way those early days of the Bay Are scene. It’s amazing that all the bands featured in the book are still around in one form or another. For example, POSSESSED are still playing live with a new lineup.

What time period do the photographs cover?
Most of the early photos are basically mine and cover the time period from 1982 to 1984-85. And then Harald goes from probably 1983 to 1986. And what amazes people is how early the book starts. I mean, almost everyone thinks that the Bay Area scene started around 1985 but thankfully I was around during the early and crazy days. So, in the book there are photos from METALLICA’s first visit in San Francisco and from the third EXODUS show ever, when Kirk Hammet was still in the band. So, we are fortunate to have photos from the really early days of the scene. Again, this is not meant to be a history book but something like a time capsule to show the readers how was this movement when it was still a local thing.

Do you have any photographs that were left out of the book?
To be honest, Harald took a lot more pictures than me over the years. Personally, I don’t have many pictures that are not in the book and people find it difficult to understand this. Back in those days you just had a roll of film and plus I was a teenager, so I could not afford buying extra rolls. After all, you had also to pay for the film processing, so I had to buy as much as I could afford. So, with one roll of film there were 24 to 36 exposures and that’s all I had for the day. There are pictures of Cliff Burton’s first rehearsal outside the house and then some from the actual rehearsal and those are all the photos I took that day. There might be a couple more but were left out since they were pretty much the same. It was not like today where a photographer has a 16GB memory card that can hold thousands of photos from one show. It was not like that. We had one roll of film and if we were lucky, we had a second one.

So, you are just fans taking pics…
Exactly! And on top of everything, we were not professional photographers but just kids who liked taking photos of friends who happened to be in bands. And that was the agenda; it wasn’t like we were taking pictures for a magazine. People have to wrap their heads around that; back then METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH were at the same age with us so, we were basically taking photos of our friends and there were no photo passes and stuff like that. SLAYER and MEGADETH had to come to San Francisco to play some shows and had to stay here for a week because there weren’t that many clubs to play. So, this is how they became something like a local band and blended in the Bay Area scene. But there was no separation between the fans and the bands and I think the photos in the book show that.

From your point of view, how do you think those teenagers handled the publicity burst and success that came after a while?
Of course I cannot speak on behalf of the band members, but I think people need to understand that when they started, they were just like us. They were awkward teenagers who didn’t know how to interact with girls or how to interact with the mainstream society and were considered as misfits. So, we turned to music and I think this is how many great bands started with guys who could not relate with what was happening around. So, it’s kind of a cliché but being a person like that and the next moment being successful, famous and have all that money... you just have to change since everything around you has changed. You move from your bedroom with posters of your favorite bands to a musician with a number one album. How can you even relate to that?

I have no idea…
(laughs) Neither do I.

Are you still taking photos?
No, actually my time as a photographer ended after that period of time. It was not my intention to become a professional photographer. As I said, I was just a fan taking photos.

Nowadays there is a Thrash revival wave with many new bands trying to re-produce the 80s feeling; what was that special thing on that period of time that everyone speaks highly of and wants to sound like that?
Well, I know there is such a movement nowadays with bands like WARBRINGER or HOLY GRAIL and I have to tell you that it felt weird to me the first time I saw it. You know, they are wearing high tops and everything and it felt like watching yourself in a mirror. I think what people like is that Thrash has genuine vocals and not the cookie monster type of Death Metal and also has groove but not the funky type one. Just like the groove of “Bonded By Blood” that doesn’t have blast beats or anything like that. The genuine Thrash is more musical and is based on really good musicians with very strong vocals. All those elements are missing from this New Metal era and in the end of the day, it’s really cool having bands playing music like in the 80s.

Do you have any interesting story that is actually connected with one of the photos in the book?
Well, I wished I had a copy of the book in front of me right now to easily recall one. What I want to say here is that watching the early METALLICA pictures with Mustaine and Hetfield, one should keep in mind that back in the days they were friends playing music. It had nothing to do with all the animosity that followed and the pressure from the press. It’s really cool that in METALLICA’s 30th anniversary show in San Francisco at Fillmore they invited Mustaine onstage. It was like the band made a full circle and it was amazing watching all that negativity gone. So, looking those pictures and what happened after 30 years feels pretty amazing. How often does that happen with a band that huge making peace with the past? And in connection to your question about the reaction to the book, the thing that blew me away is the timing of the release that was not planned at all! I mean, having the book released while the ‘Big Four’ shows were happening and while METALLICA and SLAYER were celebrating the 30th anniversary was amazing. It’s like some higher force like a Metal god put all those things together (laughs).

That would be a great conspiracy for just two persons to plan. So, can we expect another book release in the future from you?
To be perfectly honest my entire story is in this book but I know Harald has a lot of material that I am sure will see the light of the day eventually.

Thank you very much Brian for your time. I will surely check the book!
Thank you, Dimitris for taking the time to do this interview. Have a great day!