Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Countdown to Darkness

I came back from the gym this morning with a real yen to hear "Architecture of Aggression" - or, as I was calling it until recently for some reason, "Architecture of Regression" - and eventually put on the whole disc for my sonic enjoyment. About three-quarters of the way through, I realized something that's been in the back of my mind for years; probably ever since I bought the CD as a lad: Countdown to Extinction is very dark record.

It's not the lyrics per se; Mustaine had been writing lyrics about war and destruction for years and Countdown... fits right in that same mold. The difference is in the music; for the first time there's not much thrashing, so the sound timbre doesn't have the frantic brightness that thrash brings to the mix. Instead, it's gloom and doom in both the words and the music. I remember listening to the spoken word part in the middle of "Countdown to Extinction" and freaking out thinking about all of that life disappearing, faster and faster. Previous Megadeth albums were like the Mad Max world of post-nuclear apocalypse, disease, death and the fight for survival. Countdown... was more like the moment the bombs go off, when your old life crumbles around you and you wonder if it's better to die in the fiery flash or try and survive with what's left.

It's also got Dave Mustaine singing about selling man pussy, which is a comic highlight to a Megadeth album if there ever was one.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Film Review: Get Thrashed

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the New York City premiere of Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal, a documentary about - you guessed it - the history of thrash from its origins in the 1980s to whatever form it's still kicking around in today. Directed by Rick Ernst, Get Thrashed featured Rat Skates, formerly of Overkill, as associate producer.

The showing took place in a theater on the East Side as a part of the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival. This association probably made the whole showing possible, but it lead to a few problems that very nearly killed the fun of this party before it got started.

First, there was the matter of seating arrangements. Because New York City is one of the world's original thrash capitals, many of the members of the NYC-area bands featured in this film wanted to come to the premiere. Because New York City is a place where class equality is a convenient lie, the organizers decided to reserve the front four rows for the bands and their families, even though there weren't really enough chairs for all of the ticket holders and this wasn't a crowd for acting star struck. Clearly, fire code be damned when there are rock stars involved.

But then the organizers went too far: they informed us - less than a minute before the show was supposed to start - that Get Thrashed would have an unannounced opener, a piece called Bang Bang You're Dead about an indie rock band from Utah. And they even had the director, a neophyte giving his first showing, in the audience to make an introduction.

As you can no doubt imagine, the result was a disaster. The film itself wasn't that bad - it reminded me a bit of Instrument, if Instrument had been Jem Cohen's first film - but anyone with half a brain would know that showing a film with no real narrative and a bunch of disassociated imagery about a group of college-age indie kids to a crowd of mostly 30+ metalheads would go over like a lead zeppelin. I was impressed: the crowd managed to maintain a sullen silence for the first few minutes before the conversation rose to low roar, people started actively booing the endless transitions or announcing loudly they were going out to get popcorn. The film's end after half an hour was a mercy killing overdue by about 25 minutes, leaving us to wonder if we had been the victims of a last minute switch due to poor ticket sales for Bang Bang Your Dead or some sort of bullheaded stupidity by our hosts.

Thankfully, the rest of the evening's awesome was proportional to the beginning's suckitude: Get Thrashed is an excellent, excellent film that gets even better when you watch it with a room full of fans not afraid to show their love for a nostalgia trip down heavy metal memory lane. Focusing on the world's four big thrash areas (LA, San Francisco, New York and Germany) and moving in a rough chronological order that tied the US Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax) and German thrash giants Kreator to the scenes they helped spawn, Get Thrashed happily traced the progression of thrash from its roots in Metallica's garage in LA and Exodus's brutal live shows in San Francisco in 1980 to the movement's apogee with the 1990 Clash of the Titans tour, using photos, video and interviews with everyone from Blitz Ellsworth and Rat Skates to Dave Mustaine to Zetro to Lars Ulrich to the members of Dark Angel to those crazy bastards from the Old Bridge Militia to tell the tale.

While all of those interviews are informative, a few go beyond and become truly memorable. Blitz Ellsworth, for example, is either really funny or really, really crazy, but in a way that makes you want to have a beer with him so you can hear some stories. Dave Mustaine is...well, Dave Mustaine, the strange cross between super arrogant guitar god and comic book geek. My favorite moment in the movie was when Mustaine goes on a short rant about how he made the careers of everyone in Megadeth, could play better than everyone in Metallica, was, in fact, responsible for thrash music as we know it today - cue a gasp from the crowd - and then the film makers cut to Scott Ian, who tells the camera, "if it wasn't for Dave Mustaine, thrash music probably wouldn't exist."

There were some nice tribute moments, too: moments of silence written in for the memories of Cliff Burton, Paul Baloff and Dimebag Darrell made even more poignant by the sentiment of the crowd, which gave each man a full round of applause. These moments underscored how much of a community metal can be when it's brought together around something good; when in-fighting and external attacks aren't part of the equation and the mood turns to celebration of what's been done.

All of these moments underscore what seems to be Get Thrashed's underlying purpose: to set down the official story, such as it is, as a monument to one generation of metalheads and the bands they loved. It's a huge strength for the film, but it also underscores the film's one weakness: Get Thrashed puts thrash metal's foundations in a near vacuum, as if it sprang fully formed from the minds of a few guys who liked playing loud and fast, tiptoes around the more difficult issues and ascribes everything that's going on in metal now to what started 27 years ago. Historically it makes the film a little skewed, but that one problem pales in comparison to the enjoyable experience Get Thrashed provides to the viewer. If you can go see it, do; you'll have a great time.