"Aural Amphetamine: Metallica and the Dawn of Thrash" (DVD)
Reviewed by bloodofheroes on February 25, 2010
Being one of the biggest bands in the world, heavy metal or otherwise, Metallica has inspired hundreds of books, documentaries, and other outside media productions. Some of these are good, some not, but the Metallica story has been told and retold many times. When a heavy metal neophyte is ready to be indoctrinated, he is sat down on a colorful rug and told the fable of James, Lars, Kirk, Cliff, Jason, Rob, Dave, and on and on. “Aural Amphetamine,” a documentary that focuses on Metallica and the rise of the Bay Area thrash scene, adds to the sheer volume of productions about Metallica, but doesn’t add any new information.
The feature begins by detailing the rise of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal for a surprisingly long time. Moving into another fairly long section about the rise of punk, the movie finally details how some metal bands (Like Venom and Motorhead) combined the two styles to create thrash, and that the Bay Area heavy metal bands took a particular liking to this style of music.
From there it details various aspects of Metallica’s early years, mostly through the “Master of Puppets” album. But the production had no direct connection or authorization by Metallica, so there are only a handful of interviews that they were able to license from the band themselves, and they are from 1997. Because of this, the documentary really doesn’t shed any new light on Metallica’s early years.
However, it certainly is complete. It does an excellent job going through the progression of writing “Kill ‘Em All” and how it was received by the public, and Metallica’s musical progression through their first three albums. And there is some good material on the early thrash scene in general, but certainly nothing groundbreaking. And despite not having any original comments from Metallica themselves, the people interviewed form a fairly impressive list: Lonn Friend and Joel McIver headline the roster, but Brian Tatler (Diamond Head), Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth), Elixer and a few more old thrash scene vets are on the list too. And while it is interesting to listen to some of them talk about their experiences and opinions, they don’t say much we couldn’t have figured out already.
There are a handful of good tidbits. Apparently Metallica encouraged fans to tape their early shows and trade those tapes as much as they liked, which is ironic considering their huge legal battles against Napster over the past decade or so. There are a couple different opinions about how Metallica’s success by the late 1980s ended up being the death knell for Bay Area thrash, as the “purity of intent” was diluted as bands attempted to be worldwide stars, instead of just playing good thrash in a local scene. The bonus interview with one of their early photographers is pretty interesting, but lots of side dishes don’t make up for a bland main course.
The documentary also has many photos and videos of Metallica, but most are in the public domain since the project wasn’t authorized by the band. As the documentary goes on, it gets pretty exciting when a specific song is discussed, as usually a video clip will follow of that song, and it is fun to watch the old videos. But the disappointment returns when that clip ends and the movie goes back to more of what we already know. While this video is a good 90 minute crash course in thrash and early Metallica, veteran fans should just put on one of the actual records and enjoy the end result of all the drama.
Highs: The old video clips are always fun.
Lows: Some of the interview segments get really slow.
Bottom line: Metallica/thrash documentary is very complete, but doesn’t teach us anything new.