- Inside Metal: Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock and Metal
This documentary film on the genesis of the L.A. heavy metal/hard rock music scene focuses on the years 1975–81, prior to the advent of MTV and the evolution of L.A. hard rock into what would become more mainstream, commercially successful hard rock and glam/hair metal. Exemplified by bands like Van Halen, Guns ‘n Roses, Poison, Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi, all staples of the early music video era, there was a lively, burgeoning scene in the clubs in L.A. and Hollywood: a veritable Mecca for countless young male rock musicians in the latter part of the 1970s. The bands that made up this scene—groups such as Dokken, Ratt, Stryper and Angel—were drawing freely from a rich musical heritage, including British glam rock (David Bowie, The Sweet), early 70s psychedelia (the Doors, Spirit, Jimi Hendrix), and British heavy blues bands (Led Zeppelin, Free, Traffic). The result was a heady mixture of aggressive, often frenzied-sounding rock music, garish costuming, extravagant stage shows, and a prevailing decadence—courtesy of an overabundance of drugs, money, and girls—that one of the film’s primary interviewees, glam rock icon Michael Des Barres, pithily describes as “f***ing disgusting.” As the film argues, however, it was out of this milieu that a number of important metal, glam metal and thrash metal bands emerged, bands that would gain international fame through the 80s and beyond: the early hard rock scene in L.A., as documented in Inside Metal, provided “the blueprint” for the generations of international metal and hard rock superstars.
Inside Metal is comprised almost entirely of talking head interviews with musicians, managers, booking agents and related figures. These interviews provide compelling first-hand accounts of a musical monoculture: a live music scene almost entirely dominated by hard rock (and by men, it should be said; the film provides a mere two minutes of coverage of women in the L.A. hard rock scene, focusing on Joan Jett and The Runaways), at least until the gradual encroachment of punk and new wave towards the end of the 70s. The viewer gets a good sense of the visual aesthetic of the time, largely through still images that reveal the debt owed to both British glam and the L.A. fashion scene. In the absence of concert footage—there is very little, and most of it is grainy—or even much in the [End Page 604] way of contemporaneous music on the soundtrack, it is difficult to get a good sense of what the music under discussion really sounds like. In fact, so much time is devoted to the excesses and indulgences of the period—not just the drug use, or the wanton sex, but the turn towards tacky costumes and gimmicky pyrotechnics and light shows, all of which helped bands to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market—that one gets the impression of a genre in which the music itself is something of an afterthought.
There is something rather sad about Inside Metal. While the musicians who are interviewed offer sentimental reflections upon a “magical” time, a short-lived “glory days” period that served as a potent mixing pot giving rise to a new generation of metal and rock superstars, it is also clear that this period was undermined by its own excesses and inattention to music. These early metal-rock bands were not “serious,” at least not in the way that emerging new wave bands were; they also weren’t angry, like punk or thrash bands. These pioneers of metal lacked intellectual and emotional gravitas; largely ignored by major record labels, the one-time “kings of the Strip” eventually faded into obscurity.
Inside Metal documents an interesting period, but what it mainly lacks is a sense of how the music itself served as a “blueprint” for the metal and hard rock of the later 1980s. What we get instead is a litany of often salacious anecdotes from the leftovers of...