Metallica - 1983
"Metallica were just regular guys," says photographer Brian Lew, who knew the band back in the early '80s, when the young quartet barely had enough for a six-pack between them. "They didn't act like stars, because they weren't stars. They were just like the rest of us. We all hung out, we drank together, we had a blast. It was an amazing time."
Lew describes himself at the time as "a Bay Area teenager who happened to have a camera with me" – much like Harald Oimoen, who also liked to snap photos of friends and local bands at clubs like The Stone and Ruthie's Inn.
Heavy metal was morphing into thrash, and Oimoen remembers the scene as “a homegrown kind of thing. Kids were making the music they wanted to make. It was fast, loud, heavy – everything we weren’t getting on MTV.”
Lew and Oimoen are documenting the era – and the beginnings of bands such as Testament, Slayer, Megadeth, Exodus, Possessed and others – in a new book called Murder In The Front Row: Shots From The Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew, to be published next month by Bazillion Points Books. Bursting with more than 400 photographs, many of them never before seen, it’s an intimate look at the elder statesmen of metal when they were adrenaline-fueled, pimply-faced post-adolescents.
“It’s amazing to see where some of the bands have wound up,” says Lew. “I remember when a mention in Kerrang! was thought to be the biggest deal in the world. Now the same guys are playing stadiums.”
On the following pages, MusicRadar previews Murder In The Front Row with an exclusive sampling of some of the rare photos taken by Lew and Oimoen.
Above: Cliff Burton and James Hetfield on stage at the Keystone Palo Alto, CA, Halloween 1983.
Slayer - 1984
A flannel-shirted, headband-wearing Tom Araya is dressed like a fan of Suicidal Tendencies while the rest of Slayer mobs him at Aquatic Park, 19 August 1984.
Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield - 1982
Beer drinkers and hellraisers Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield backstage at the Old Waldorf, 29 November 1982. It was the same day Metallica recorded their Metal Up Your Ass live demo tape.
"There didn't seem to be any problems between Mustaine and the rest of the guys in Metallica," says Lew. "They all seemed to fit real well together."
Legacy...soon to become Testament
Legacy, shortly before the band would change their name to Testament, backstage at Ruthie's Inn. With its colorful graffiti, the tiny room made an ideal setting for many thrasher group shots.
While Possessed wail at Ruthie's, a fan takes off. "I always wondered this guy achieved such a strange airborne trajectory," says Oimoen.
James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett at The Stone, 1983. "There was no difference between the Metallica who hung out with all of us and the band that went on stage," says Oimeon.
Saxon - 1982
The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal stars played the Keystone Palo Alto on 30 March 1982. During the final show of their Denim And Leather tour, Graham Oliver pulled a Jimi Hendrix and set his guitar on fire.
Exodus - 1984
Exodus get brutal at Ruthie's, 1984. "The club was definitely the epicenter for everything that was happening," says Lew. "If you were into the hard stuff and didn't want your metal watered down, you went to Ruthie's."
Vio-lence destroy the Omni. "A very cool band," says Oimoen. "They were pretty happening, and their shows were wild."
Megadeth - 1984
Dave Mustaine and Slayer's Kerry King perform at the Keystone Palo Alto, 16 April 1984. While Megadeth were searching for a new guitarist, King filled in for a handful of dates.
Metallica - 1983
Cliff Burton onstage with Metallica, 5 March 1983. It was the new bassist's first soundcheck with the group.
"Lars Ulrich had invited a few of us to a rehearsal to check Cliff out," says Lew. "I could tell right away that Cliff was his own man. He wore bell bottoms and he had a copy of REM's first EP. He liked what he liked."
Metallica - 1983
James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton hang in the backyard of the "Metallica Mansion," El Cerrito, CA.
Murder In The Front Row: Shots From The Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew
Murder In The Front Row: Shots From The Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew will be published by Bazillion Points Books on 13 December 2011. Containing 400 color and black-and-white photographs by Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen, the 276-page hardcover book features personal accounts by both cameramen, as well as Ron Quintana of Metal Mania, Gary Holt of Exodus, Alex Skolnick of Testament and Robb Flynn of Machine Head.
"Murder In The Front Row captures the true essence of thrash metal in its embryonic stage. These photographs take me on a tour down memory lane, bringing back many laughs and prompting comments like: ‘I don’t remember that!’”—Dave Lombardo, SLAYER
“I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THIS BOOK!!!!”—Kirk Hammett, METALLICA
You can pre-order Murder In The Front Row at the Bazillion Points website.