Book Review: Murder in the Front Row – Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew (Review)

I was initially disappointed when this hardback turned up in the post. I wasn’t convinced a book crammed with photos of young, sweaty guys gurning and flipping their middle fingers was something I’d want to look at very often. But I was missing the point. Bazillion Points are doing a great service to Metal with books like this. Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew were part of the Bay Area Thrash scene from the very beginning and Murder in the Front Row is a beautifully put together documentation of the movement as seen through their lenses.

Oimoen and Lew contribute written recollections of their involvement with the genre, along with contributions from Ron Quintana, Gary Holt, Alex Skolnick and Robb Flynn, but the main attraction is the atmospheric photography. Many historic moments and formative band line-ups are captured here. Metallica feature heavily. There are great shots of the Mustaine/McGovney line-up as well as the very first photos of the band with legendary bassist Cliff Burton. While Exodus’ importance in the scene is often overlooked, they are given the profile they deserve here and, mainly due the larger-than-life presence of frontman Paul Baloff, they embody the wild and chaotic vibe of the movement. They also provide the book’s title via the lyrics of their classic Bonded by Blood.


Being an LA band, Slayer’s earliest eye-liner days aren’t included but by the time they hit the Bay Area they were already a darker and more visually striking prospect. The images of their first Bay Area shows seem to leap out of the book and Oimoen was on hand to capture Kerry King’s short-lived stint as guitarist in Megadeth. His spike-wristed appearances in early ‘Deth shows provide some of most fascinating sights in the book. The early Megadeth shows also illustrate the changed attitude of Dave Mustaine: his determined, sneering demeanour speaking volumes about his intent following his dismissal from Metallica.

Alongside the obvious main players, the grassroots moments of many other crucial bands are also included along with plenty of backstage meetings, drunken antics and – a crucial element often overlooked by professional Rock photographers – fans like Toby Rage who illustrate (often in mid-air) the audience mayhem these bands became notorious for.

So, although on first glance this is a book of photos of young sweaty guys, the authors’ dedication to the genre and their candid amateur photography turns it into something more: a brilliant evocation of the blood, sweat and beers of a unique and vibrant scene. Murder in the Front Row is essential for fans of the genre: it tells the story of Bay Area Thrash Metal more effectively and honestly than a bazillion words ever could and is the next best thing to having actually been there.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: Murder in the Front Row – Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew (Review)”

  1. This looks fantastic, thanks for bringing it to our attention! It’s timely, too, as I am reading Louder Than Hell right now, and hust got through that era’s section. My first thought on reading your post was the photography is sort of like Charles Peterson and grunge, just a different time and genre! Also thanks for the Exodus track. I’ve been rocking it while I read and wrote. Fun! The echoes on the vocals are hilarious, but those guitars are excellent. This song makes me want to stomp around and break stuff. 😉 It’s another band I really need to get to. I know, I know…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s the Louder than Hell book like? I wasn’t sure if it would have much depth but I quite fancy reading it. I think stomping and breaking stuff is probably exactly the effect Exodus were looking for!


      1. Louder Than Hell is actually quite good. For anyone who’s a deep fan of metal in general, a lot of this stuff is already repeated lore, but I’m learning all sorts of things. For example, I didn’t know that Dave Mustaine asked Dimebag to be in Megadeth and he wouldn’t go without his brother on drums, so it didn’t happen. Imagine what THAT would have sounded like, though!

        I’ll take all recommendations for where to start with Exodus, if you got ’em!


      2. I guess the real appeal to LTH is it tries to get all of these stories into one place. No book can ever be complete (we’d need LeBrain to write that one for us) but it covers the main stuff, and it does it clearly and in such a way that it pulls you through and makes you want own all of those records. Right now I’m in a challenging bit, all the electronic stuff back to Throbbing Gristle and Prong and all that. The Ministry stuff is fun (Isaw them live, it was nuts) but I don’t tend to go to far towards the drum machines… I’m powering through it, though.

        False modesty will get you nowhere, Mr. Mission Control! Bring on your vast knowledge of the metal! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, I got my copy from the local library here in my small town. I’m sure your big city library oughta have a copy. That way you can check it out and not have to buy it. If you like it enough, then you can go for it. Rawk!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. …..the Metal scene that banged those heads that did not bang.”

    While I’m unsure of the exact sociolinguistic (etymological? epistemological?) meaning of the above blurb from the back cover, it nonetheless sounds right, doesn’t it! Like Mike, I had never heard of this book. Thanks for the knowledge. It sounds cool.


    1. Thanks for chipping in the 3 longest words ever used in this blog! Haha

      The phrase comes from quote on the back of Kill ’em All. “Bang that head that doesn’t bang”. According to the book the person who coined the phrase used to shout it at motionless audience members while grabbing and shaking their heads.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Got this book last Christmas and I absolutely love it. Seeing as I’m not even 20 yet, I have no way of knowing what the scene was like then since the music industry has changed so much since. It is both informative and romantic: it makes me wish I was there but sadly that isn’t possible. It is probably one of my favorite books for both its collection of pictures and stories. I’ve been thinking about reviewing it for my own blog so we will see.


    1. I love your description of it as being romantic, that’s so true. It’s such an atmospheric book, it really does seem like the next best thing to having been there (which, sadly I wasn’t either!). If you’ve not seen it, I’d also highly reccommend the DVD documentary “Get Thrashed”. It’s got the same kind of appeal, very evocative!


      1. I’ll try to watch that this weekend! I gotta say that out of all the music scenes, the ’80s thrash is my favorite! It was all about the music. No money, no fitting in, just playing heavy and fast stuff while being a part of the mosh pit really. I’ve actually been able to experience what it was probably like twice. Once at the Metal Church reunion at the Whiskey a Go Go this summer and the other during Overkill’s set at the Battle of San Bernardino this summer as well. Small crowds packed in like sardines with stage dives and the whole nine-yards. Makes me lust for more!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hope you enjoy the doc! 80s Thrash is definitely one of my very favourite music scenes too although I am still missing many key albums and artists! My first Thrash gig would have been Slayer on the Seasons in the Abyss tour but it was a seated venue so very little moshing or stage diving! It ruined the vibe a bit…


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