Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal
2007Director: Rick Ernst
Cast: Tom Araya, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, Kirk Hammett
side from VH1, The New York Times, and school killings, the only media coverage on metal comes from metalheads. Rick Ernst is no exception. The former “Headbangers Ball” intern and current MTV producer is a diehard thrash metal fan. The goal of his documentary, Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal, is "to put a smile on the faces of as many thrash metal fans and bands as possible."
This hardly seems ambitious, until one considers that other forms of metal have gotten much more media attention. With its glitzy killings and church burnings, black metal has a book (Michael Moynihan's Lords of Chaos) and a documentary (by Peter Beste of Vice Films). Death metal and grindcore have a book, Albert Mudrian's Choosing Death. Even hair metal has Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City. Sure, various metal histories have touched on thrash, but thrash fans haven't had their moment—until now.
Unlike Sam Dunn's Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, which had an anthropological subtext, Get Thrashed is a straight history. While it explores the origin of the term "thrash" and the music's initial catalysts (a reaction against hair metal, and a desire for louder, harder, faster), it doesn't address what makes thrash a genre unto itself. In other words, the film avoids musicology. It doesn't mention the trademark thrash beat, a sped-up polka rhythm, nor the idiosyncrasies of thrash guitar riffing. But the film doesn't have to tell, since it shows; its soundtrack is essentially a greatest hits of classic thrash, including anthems from Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax.
These bands comprise "The Big Four of Thrash," and they each get their own section in the film. Refreshingly, it presents them minus the mud that's dogged them in recent years. The film isn't sanitized, though; the irrepressible Dave Mustaine from Megadeth provides choice, feather-ruffling quotes. However, his interviews are among the most enlightening. He points out that in teaching Slayer's Kerry King the art of rhythm guitar, as well as being Metallica's original lead guitarist before forming Megadeth, he influenced three out of the "big five" of thrash metal bands. That he says "five" is telling; Exodus was as influential as any of "The Big Four," and the Bay Area band justly gets equal treatment here.
Laypeople will find the film surprisingly educational and entertaining. It covers all the major thrash scenes (Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Germany), with informative treatment of the crossover between hardcore punk and thrash. The film presents a clear, coherent story—underground beginnings in record stores and tape trading, Metallica's arrival and subsequent growth of the genre, peak with the massive Clash of the Titans tour in 1990, and decline with the advent of grunge. Despite some cheesy effects, the editing is nearly perfect, with quick, well-timed cuts, and a succession of talking heads seemingly flowing into each other.
Of course, thrash fans will get the most out of this film. Thrash's heyday was the '80s, before the Internet and the camera phone. Thus, much of the genre's imagery (photos, flyers, magazine covers, cassette tapes, video footage) has until now remained hidden in collections of scene veterans. It's eye-opening to see this history come alive—Mustaine alongside a pre-bald King in the latter's brief time in Megadeth; an incendiary '86 Slayer show, when Reign in Blood had just come out; Cliff Burton and Paul Baloff as living, fire-breathing metal giants.
But thrash isn't merely a museum piece. The film points out its descendants (Pantera, death metal, black metal), as well as its current torchbearers (The Haunted, Carnal Forge, Lamb of God). With interviewees ranging from old-schoolers to respectful acolytes to metal DJ's to thrash fans, the documentary makes clear thrash's vitality. Thrash is one of the most important parts of metal history; we've heard that, but now we can see it.
Get Thrashed is screening at these upcoming film festivals.
New Haven Underground Film Festival
May 12 @ 5:30pm
Seattle True Independent Film Festival
June 2 @ 2pm
Hoboken International Film Festival
June 3 @ 6pm
Staten Island Film Festival
June 22 @ 9pm