Metal Blade Records is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, marking 1982 as the official beginning with the release of the first Metal Massacre compilation. In a fitting tribute, writer Dan Slessor (Kerrang, Outburn, Alternative Press) has penned a new company biography, which includes quotes, anecdotes, and praise from members of Metallica, Slayer, GWAR, and more. The new biography can be read in its entirety below.
Metal Blade Records has been celebrating in various ways in 2012, including a showcase at SXSW that featured Job for a Cowboy, Cancer Bats, Battlecross, Pilgrim, Early Graves, and Gypsyhawk. Also, 30 different albums are on sale EACH MONTH throughout 2012 on iTunes, amazon, and in stores with participating retailers. The current list of releases with buy links, as well as a new video featuring greetings from Metal Blade artists, can be seen at www.metalblade.com/
Metal Blade Records biography by Dan Slessor:
Founded upon owner Brian Slagel’s enduring drive to find great bands and get their music out to as many people as possible, since 1982 Metal Blade has brought wave after wave of powerful, innovative, and often genre-defining music to the ever-hungry metal masses. It is this ethos that has seen Metal Blade build up a stunning and diverse catalogue, weather the various storms facing any independent label, and in an age of declining record sales boast the most successful years of its existence as it strides into its fourth decade.
What perhaps makes this achievement all the more notable is the fact that Slagel never even intended to start a label. Working in an LA record store and writing for various publications, Slagel was acutely aware that many great bands in the local metal scene were being ignored, and he decided to release a compilation of tracks drawn from these ranks. “There were a lot of really good bands and I was just bummed out that nobody could hear them. It just seemed like I could help them out and have some fun at the same time, and that compilation was the first Metal Massacre,” he states. Collating tracks from then unknown bands including Ratt, Bitch, Cirith Ungol, and Metallica amongst others, the compilation sold out immediately. “How important is Metal Blade to our career? They’re only the reason we are enjoying the worldwide success we have today,” states Metallica’s James Hetfield. “Without Brian’s openness to some raunchy teens with a crap sounding cassette tape we would be who knows where, and playing who knows what!” With the popularity of the tape spurring Slagel on, the first seeds of Metal Blade were sown. “After the success of those compilations I just started putting out records of bands that I was friends with, but without ever really intending it to be a label at all,” he explains. “After I put out four or five releases I started to feel like something was happening, and I decided to quit the record store and quit college and see where it went.”
Battling through the first few lean years, when the label consisted solely of Slagel working out of his mom’s poorly ventilated garage in the San Fernando Valley, it gradually grew in both revenue and stature. Within a few years Metal Blade would go on to release the debuts of Slayer, Armored Saint, Trouble, and Corrosion Of Conformity amongst others, fanning the flames of the burgeoning metal scene and launching careers of bands that would go onto reap global success. “Without Metal Blade, there is a damn good chance we never would’ve made it out of L.A,” says Slayer’s Kerry King. “That was the one bit of luck we needed. You can be the most awesome band on the scene, and if no one notices you, you don’t catch on. And Brian Slagel is still one of the biggest metalheads I know!” This genuine love and devotion to metal is central to the relationship many of the artists have with Metal Blade, and King Diamond credits much of its relevance and strength to this passion. “I refer to it as having ‘boots on the ground’,” the mighty Dane states. “It’s not like a major label where some people might be into what you’re doing but a lot of them just see it as a job – there’s a genuine love for metal there. Through staying true to that and doing their own thing they’ve carved out a very specific niche that they control, and as an artist it’s wonderful to be a part of that.”
Integral to the label’s strength and longevity is Slagel’s open-mindedness when it comes to heavy music, and his refusal to work to any kind of criteria as to what makes a ‘Metal Blade band’. Albert Mudrian, editor-in-chief of Decibel magazine admires this about the company. “Rare is the label that can discover the cornerstone of a subgenre. Between Slayer (thrash), Cannibal Corpse (death metal) and GWAR – whatever cosmic plane they occupy – Metal Blade has accomplished that feat multiple times. And with the likes In Solitude and Ghost on their current roster, the label is poised to do it again and again.” This capacity for staying ahead of the game is one of the cornerstones of Metal Blade’s success, though Slagel asserts that there is really no science to it. “To this day if I really like a band and if the staff really like it then no matter what they sound like we want to work with them,” Slagel explains. “I’ve always liked a wide variety of sounds in metal, which I think is reflected in our roster, and I’ve never gotten into trying to sign a lot of bands that sound the same. I would personally rather find something that nobody else has heard of before, something that’s really different from what’s going on, and put that out.”
Equally, the label has built a strong reputation for nurturing and developing the artists they sign, embracing a mentality common to the music industry in the 1970s but sorely absent in recent years. For As I Lay Dying, who have been with the label since 2003’s crushing Frail Words Collapse, this kind of support – and the belief Metal Blade have in their bands based upon the sounds they build themselves – has been invaluable. “For years Metal Blade have helped guide us in our career, building us up as a band while never once forcing their hand on us creatively, as some labels do in the hope of selling a few more records,” states drummer Jordan Mancino. Alex Wade, guitarist for Knoxville bruisers Whitechapel, concurs, appreciating the integrity of the label and the down-to-earth approach the staff bring to bear. “I admire how even though they are a huge label and have signed some of the biggest names in metal that they are still all very humble human beings, and they care about seeing the development and growth of their artists, which makes such a difference.” While both of these bands signed to the label in the 00’s and have since reaped great success, Cannibal Corpse, who have been one of the torchbearers for death metal since the late-1980s, have released all twelve of their full-lengths through Metal Blade. Their enduring relationship with the label typifies the kind of bond Slagel wants to build with all his signings, and bassist Alex Webster is proud of the alliance his band have with the label. “It’s nice being with a label that lets you do what you want to do. They’ve always given us free reign whether it’s artistically, musically or whatever, they have never tried to restrict us in any way, and they have been hugely supportive of us. The enthusiasm of everyone there for the bands they work with counts for a lot, because you really do feel this united effort behind you.” Oderus Urungus (also occasionally known as Dave Brockie) of the truly inimitable Gwar, who have also had a longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship with the company, is equally enthused when it comes to the steadfast support they show their artists, placing integrity first and foremost. “At one time Warner Bros was doing Metal Blade’s distribution, and there was a lot of talk about Gwar and WB hooking up. The trouble was that we had written a song called “Baby Dick Fuck”, and WB said they wouldn’t release the record if we wanted it on the album. We stood to lose a lot if we didn’t cave, so I was in a tough spot. I asked Brian Slagel what he thought, and he didn’t blink, he told us to do what we wanted to do, and he would back us no matter what. That took guts, and we ended up flushing our Warner Bros deal over a song about having sex with children before they are born.”
Now a truly worldwide force with offices in the US, Germany, Canada, the UK, and Japan, Metal Blade remains fiercely independent and continues to adapt to the constantly evolving music industry. This adaptability is a primary factor in why the label is currently thriving while others struggle to keep their heads above water. “We have a lot of things on our side,” Slagel says. “That there’s no board of governors definitely works to our benefit – we can literally make a decision and have something happen in fifteen or twenty minutes. We can react quickly to changes in the business, and we’ve also really embraced those changes while a lot of people have been really resistant. You can’t do that, the industry is changing, things are different, and you’re selling records much differently now than you did before. I think if people are willing to make the necessary changes, and utilize the new technology to their benefit it will work, and clearly for us – knock on wood – the last few years doing so have been good.”
Looking back on the achievements of the last thirty years Slagel is proud of the body of work they have assembled, though he remains humble when it comes to the contribution the label has made to heavy metal. “There are so many people out there who do so much for the music, and we play our own little part in there. That’s really cool, and what makes me really proud is seeing the bands we worked with having nice long careers, and that these guys are able to buy houses and have families solely through making music.” Metallica’s Lars Ulrich has nothing but admiration for everything the label has done, not only in helping launch his own band but in remaining so vital over three decades. “The fact that Brian and Metal Blade have maintained their integrity over thirty years is obviously very admirable,” he enthuses. “Even today I’ll call him up and ask him what bands I should be checking out, who is going to blow me away and who should we be thinking about taking on tour with us, because he knows. He’s so connected with what’s going on out there in a way the rest of us mere mortals can’t quite compete with! I also love that not that much has changed over the years – when we get together we’re still those enthusiastic metalhead outcasts who got all pumped listening to all these amazing bands. Maybe we have a little less hair, and what we do have is a little grayer, but it’s the same shit it’s always been, and I love that.” Aware that it is only through the support of fans who share this passion that the label has been able to flourish, Slagel is equally grateful for the devotion of metalheads everywhere. “At the end of the day I just want to thank everybody out there who has supported the label and all the bands over the years. Clearly without those people we couldn’t do what we do, and to everyone out there who has helped us along by being a fan we are so very grateful to you.”