May 1, 2008

DVD Review: Aural Amphetamine - Metallica and the Dawn of Thrash

I am not, never have been, and never will be a metal historian. I would be willing to take that statement a step further and say that I will never be a historian of any sort on any subject. That said, I will always have at least a little knowledge about the subject of music, not much mind you, but enough to get by. I guess this lack of true historical perspective dates back to my initial interest in music. I started late and therefore missed a lot of metal's roots, the fact that I heard any of the true metal of the 80's is thanks to my childhood friend Matt Byrne (now of the band Hatebreed), who was into the heavy stuff. This is where I first heard bands like Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Suicidal Tendencies, and others. Still, I did not become a real fan until years later, after I cut my teeth on hair and glam metal. What does that have to do with Aural Amphetamine? Well, it is a documentary concerning itself with the emergence of thrash and the importance that Metallica played in its growth in popularity.

A documentary about metal would seem like an easy thing to do, get yourself some old concert footage, pick a theme, and your done. It's never that easy. When it comes right down to it, making a documentary of any sort is rather difficult. Getting the information together is the easy part, what is difficult is putting it together in a fashion that is entertaining. You have to play to your target audience and not bore them. I am sure you have all seen a documentary that was just a bunch of talking heads, not much fun, just take a look at the majority of those unauthorized band documentaries if you want to see how not to do it. Does Aural Amphetamine make the material watchable? Sort of.

Aural Amphetamine is not a terribly exciting to watch documentary, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is more entertaining in that regard. This one consists of talking head-style interviews with the occasional band photograph and some concert footage. However, what it lacks in visual excitement, it makes up for with information and quality of interviews. Yes, there are a lot of unfamiliar faces, actually, most of them are unfamiliar, but they are guys that have studied the subject with many, more importantly, having lived it. There are interviews, new and archival, with members of Elixir, Diamond Head, Metallica, Laaz Rockit, as well as other notable personalities, such as a photographer that followed Metallica all through their early years and the author of a Metallica biography.

With the style out of the way, an important part to be certain, but it is not the number one reason to check something like this out, there is the matter of the content. This is where it is important to remember my lack of historical knowledge, as I have to, more or less, accept what I am being fed. In the end, I have to say that the information given here is quite good, offering plenty of historical perspective and logic.

When I sat down to watch this, I was expecting a film that was focused purely on Metallica. I am sure that many of you are expecting the same thing. For those of you who wanted that, I am sorry to have to deliver disappointment, for those of you who did not want that, fear no longer. This is more than an origins of Metallica story. It is more an interesting look at how thrash emerged from the blending of punk and metal, pioneered by bands like Motorhead and Venom, taking cues laid out by the genre's forefathers (who are definitely not thrash) in the form of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. It looks into this new scene and how it grew organically through tape trading and word of mouth, this is where Metallica comes in.

Metallica took the scene by force, and it is their popularity following the release of Kill'em All that helped push thrash metal to the next level, the national stage. This documentary doesn't try to convince you that Metallica created thrash, I am not sure that argument could successfully be made. Instead, Aural Amphetamine focuses on the importance of Metallica, while the scene was growing, it was the national success of Metallica that helped push thrash forward and open up this style to a new, larger audience.

Audio/Video. Nothing particularly special on either front. The audio is a straight up stereo mix, represents the music well, but is not great by any stretch. The same is true of the video transfer. The full-frame transfer does the job, nothing more, nothing less.

Extras. There is a brief interview with Harald "O", a photographer and musician who photographed the early years of Metallica. There is also a quiz on Metallica that you can take, I did pretty good on it. Finally, there are some text biographies of the participants.

Bottomline. Fans of thrash with an interest in its origins would do well to check this out. It is not the most exciting, but it has plenty of interesting information, some great old footage, and gives insight to the beginnings of a great style of music.



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