Metal Evolution: "Thrash" - Episode 106
All Access Review: A-
Squaring off against everything that ‘80s glam metal represented, the soldiers of thrash – glam’s uglier, angrier cousin – wanted to eradicate every trace of makeup, lipstick and hairspray from heavy metal’s dark underworld. Or, as Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine puts it in the “Thrash” installment of Sam Dunn’s “Metal Evolution” documentary series, the androgynous purveyors of glam metal, many of whom looked almost as pretty as the girls they were bedding, were “fleas on the balls of a camel” and thrash “was a flea bomb.”
The strongest of pesticides, thrash almost killed glam metal dead. Grunge would finish the job in the ‘90s. Obviously a fan of one of metal’s most extreme sub-genres, Dunn, author of the acclaimed “Metal A Headbanger’s Journey” documentary, explores the fiery origins and virus-like developments of thrash metal in the latest chapter of “Metal Evolution,” which appeared over New Year’s Eve weekend on VH-1 Classic. Up to this point, Dunn has done a fine job detailing with great care the genealogy of heavy metal. Every piece is rife with riveting interview material, classic live footage and historical fact. With the exuberant enthusiasm of a fan and the intellectual curiosity of an anthropologist, which is what he is, Dunn has dissected the body of and probed into every nook and cranny of that most reviled of all musical forms.
So far, “Metal Evolution” has taken viewers on a loud, crazed journey through all the mayhem and madness metal has produced over the years. Yes, it’s a history lesson, but the scope of Dunn’s work is wide-ranging, studying the influence of classical and jazz on metal, while also investigating the connection between the gritty, early ‘70s Detroit proto-punk sound of The Stooges and the MC5 and confronting the strained relations between English punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. And that’s just a small sampling of Dunn’s exhaustive, but never tedious, testimony.
“Thrash” is another winner. Starting off at its birthplace, Soundwave Studios in California’s Bay Area, where Testament is running through a fiery rehearsal, Dunn, through content-rich talks with Mustaine, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, Testament’s Alex Skolnick and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, finds the merging streams of hardcore punk and NWOBHM flowing electricity into thrash’s roiling sea. Taking the energy and spirit of punk and the melodic aggression of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, thrash’s innovators, like Slayer and Exodus, upped the ante.
As Skolnick relates in “Thrash,” musicians like him loved punk’s songs and its undeniable vitality; however, what was missing was musicianship, and they wanted desperately to create something that would challenge their chops. Thrash was it. Heavy and punishing, the riffs raged, flying at unheard-of speeds. And the guttural vocals screamed and growled, spitting out graphically violent lyrical imagery that occasionally touched on war and social issues but more often told stories of serial killers and gruesome deaths. Using this symbiotic relationship as a jumping-off point, Dunn segues into how thundering, high-velocity double-kick drums became the driving force behind Trash. Ulrich and Testament’s Paul Bostaph give all the credit to Motorhead’s Phil Taylor for bringing the double-kick drums into fashion, and Thrash’s young vanguard of drummers took Taylor’s style and gave it a shot of adrenaline. Taylor is one of the surprising stars of Dunn’s “Thrash,” a metal veteran telling his war stories and explaining his absolutely vital contribution to metal, with Dunn hanging on every word.
When the conversation turns to Metallica, Jon Zazula, founder of Megaforce Records, and his wife reveal how their mom-and-pop metal label served as the launching pad for the band that would become Thrash’s version of The Beatles. Metallica’s tale serves as the lynchpin for “Thrash,” as Dunn follows the band from its lowly beginnings on through the explosion of San Francisco’s underground metal scene and into the controversial, MTV-courting “Black” album, which some in the Thrash community saw a betrayal of its values. Dunn and Lombardo make no bones about how they felt. It was treason, but to Dunn’s credit, he shares his feelings with Ulrich, who offers Metallica’s side of things. Ulrich feels that “betrayal” is such an ugly word and that if Metallica had done a rehashing of … And Justice for All, that would have been Metallica selling out. They needed to do the “Black” album to expand their horizons and grow artistically, as Ulrich explains. His reasoning makes perfect sense.
So does Nunn’s storytelling. In less capable hands, “Thrash” could have been a jumbled mess, but he sticks to the philosophy of “Metal Evolution,” and that is to follow each stage of metal’s growth and development to the wherever the story leads. Slayer’s Reign in Blood is treated with awe and respect, and the story behind landmark show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City that led to major-label deals for Raven, Metallica and, eventually, Anthrax is told with an insider’s perspective. By the end of “Thrash,” Nunn has traversed Sweden to investigate Thrash’s unlikely revival in the land of ice, snow and Lutherans – the Gothenburg sound, which, after Thrash’s mid-‘90s swoon, which married melody and harmonies with blinding speed and crushing heaviness in bands like In Flames – and Richmond, Va.’s burgeoning scene, which roared to life because of Lamb of God. Though previous segments of “Metal Evolution” – including a surprisingly sincere look at “Glam,” strategically shown the week before “Thrash,” the juxtaposition probably being no accident – were strong statements of purpose, “Thrash” is the best of the lot. Next week, it’s “Grunge,” as Dunn goes to Seattle to take on the movement that many say destroyed the careers of bands like Warrant and Ratt, among others. Let’s hope Dunn treats the subject matter with just as much care as he does with Thrash.
- Peter Lindblad
Episode Summary - Arguably metal's most popular and passionate genre, Sam journeys to Northern California to trace the roots of Thrash by interviewing the architects of this hugely popular genre. Sam interviews Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Exodus, and many more Thrash Metal legends.
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