The Nerdy, Pimply Birth of Bay Area Thrash Metal
When I saw this photo, I knew the guy on the left was the one to talk to. His name is Brian Lew, and the photo was taken on in San Francisco on October 18, 1982, at his 19th birthday party. The three other people in the photo are named Dave Mustaine, Lars Ulrich, and Ron McGovney, and at that point they were all in Metallica.
For some context, Metallica’s mind-blowing debut Kill ‘Em All came out in 1983, when Brian was still underage. That record is currently triple platinum, but in 1982 Metallica was a bunch of ratty dorks from Los Angeles nerding out over Tygers of Pan Tang and Diamond Head. Brian was in high school at the time, snapping concert photos and contributing to metal fanzines. He just happened to fall in with Metallica, Venom, Slayer, and a bunch of other bands, and just happened to take what are probably the best photographs of thrash metal’s mythic birthing that have ever existed.
Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield backstage at the Old Waldorf, November 29, 1982, the night Metallica recorded the Metal Up Your Ass live demo tape
What stands out about the photos is how candid they are, and also how young everyone is. It’s just a bunch of underage kids partying at shows, which isn’t anything special in its own right. What’s special is that the bands have names like Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Possessed, and Death Angel. Lew helped to captured the scene in its nascency, either reigning onstage or raging behind it, and looking back on these photos helps you remember that titans with names like Ulrich, Mustaine, and Lombardo were once pimply-faced fantasy nerds looking for an escape.
Brian is currently in LA working for Global Merchandising Services, handling merch for some of the bands he grew up with (his clients include Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Anthrax, among others). He recently dug through all his old photos and put together Murder in the Front Row, a newish book he made with longtime friend and photographer Harald Oimoen. Brian and Harald met met in the Bay Area thrash metal tape-trading scene of the early 1980s.
Last week, I called up Brian to talk about the birth of thrash, heavy metal pen pals, and his storied 19th birthday party.
Metallica’s first show as a hometown San Francisco band, March 5, 1983
Noisey: The first thing I want to talk to you about is the photograph from your 19th birthday party.
Brian Lew: Haha, yeah, that was October 1982, Metallica’s second visit to San Francisco. It’s me with Dave, Lars, and Ron McGovney, Metallica’s first bass player. All of us are underage in that photo. Maybe Mustaine was 21, and we were so happy to get that beer. The club probably could have busted us, but they didn’t. There weren’t so many rules back then. They dedicated “Metal Militia” to me that night.