Industry Spotlight

Martyr Music Group's Maria Abril
A Growing Metal Label Gets Bigger

Interview by Keith McDonald

Martyr Music Group, the label started by Maria Abril almost four years ago, has been making some headway in the metal community the last few months. The label, which houses such metal veterans as Broken Hope and others, recently teamed up with Hammerheart Records in the Netherlands, opening a US office. This merger adds a much deeper roster with the likes of Sinister, Dismember and Control Denied joining the Martyr Music Group family. With this in place, and adding bands like Em Sinfonia, Penance and Satariel, Martyr Music Group has quickly established a very respectable heavy metal roster. I had the opportunity to speak with Maria who filled me in on what's been going on. You can check out the website at

How did you get started in the music business?
When I was finished with high school I moved to New York City with the intention of studying dance and music business at NYU. Someone I met there introduced me to a woman that invited me to interview for an internship at Concrete Marketing. That internship led to a full-time position and that was where I started. I was either 19 or 20 at the time.



How/Why did Martyr Music Group start?
To get an idea as to WHY it started you'd have to know that I had moved around from label to label already for several years. After Concrete I was at Relativity, then Metal Blade, Mayhem/Fierce and Nuclear Blast America. I had done so much and learned from so many people that it was the obvious thing to do, in my mind. I started Martyr with Broken Hope who I worked with at Metal Blade and later managed. When they parted with Metal Blade it was a decision to "keep it in the family" so to speak. I had a partner back then who had brought in Drained (who later broke up) and Em Sinfonia and Novembers Doom followed, both of which were brought to me by Broken Hope's Brian Griffin. I personally think I started out with a really diverse and strong roster.



How did you hook up with Hammerheart Records? How has that helped?
I had Martyr Music going for at least 2 years before we bumped into one another. At first there was minimal communication, just them selling Martyr titles overseas for me. I received a phone call from one of the label owners one day and we actually spoke for quite a while about the other places I had worked at, Martyr, etc... he called back and asked me if I would be interested in running Hammerheart in America. Meetings and interviews followed and soon thereafter we finalized the whole thing.

My relationship with Hammerheart has been great. I've been able to make a lot of progress for them with Martyr already established and working with them has obviously helped bring Martyr into more of a spotlight situation because they've got such a great reputation and roster. We've been able to have a very balanced give and take, not to mention we have the same sense as far as treating people honestly and respectfully. There are WAY too many crooked people, somehow still in business, so it's great to have someone you can trust on your side.



How strong is their presence in the metal community?
I think the music they have built themselves from really effects people, both emotionally and spiritually. Many have various degrees of Pagan, Heathen or Viking ideologies behind them so people are relating to their artists on several different levels. The bands that choose a more straight-ahead philosophy are completely professional and one thing I know Hammerheart feels strongly about is never compromising their standards on quality. The sound and the overall package are very important to them so people get something they can be happy with when they're supporting Hammerheart bands, in my opinion. Taking care of your customers goes a long way, especially now that it seems like such a lost art form.



What type of artists does Martyr Music Group sign?
Ones that I personally believe in. Even if I thought it would be a huge success, if I did not "get it" artistically then it wouldn't happen. Right now I think I have a little of everything, as far as metal/heavy stuff goes, which I like.



Who is currently on your roster? Who has been the most successful to date? How do you find new acts?
Signed directly to Martyr are Broken Hope, Council of the Fallen, Em Sinfonia and Penance. From Hammerheart I license the releases I choose for North America. Right now we're doing Sinister and Blood Red Throne for 2001 and planning many more for 2002 including Dismember and Control Denied. To date Broken Hope has sold the most but in terms of their development I consider all my bands to be extremely successful. In case it hasn't become painfully obvious I am very proud of Martyr and the bands that have been a part of it-past and present.



How hard is it to support and promote every artist on your label?
As far as Martyr Music goes I have the luxury of having complete control over my release schedule and product flow so if the staff and I do not think we can keep up with everything I can always tailor things around that. I think that gives us much more freedom than working at another label where you don't have any choices like that and you simply NEED to always be catching up to the train that is always running away from you. Being that we are such a small company I also take everyone else's opinions here seriously. We either all work at 100% or not at all.



How hard is it to compete with bigger and stronger labels like Century Media and Sanctuary?
I have never felt that I compete with labels of that magnitude because it's not realistic. If anything I would tend to look back in metal history and compare the beginning stages of bigger labels to mine. That's how you learn. Labels like Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast, for example ... they didn't sprout up overnight. They started in a garage or bedroom somewhere with one person busting ass day in and day out, stretching every last penny until it practically breaks ... that's more real to me. Maybe in another 6 years I'll contemplate what's on the other side of that fence but for now we're completely in the trenches and our passion and determination keeps us in the game, not our size or bank account.



Do all of your bands tour? How expensive and hard is it to tour these days?
That really depends on the band. Broken Hope was more of a touring band before Brian's schedule got crazy. Penance plays around a lot too. I'm hoping 2002 will bring us tours from Dismember and Sinister but of course there are a lot of factors that have yet to be decided. I think the live playing field has changed a lot over the years. So many clubs have closed down and many of the ones still standing are not all ages venues. At the end of the day that effects the price tag on any tour, it's hard. The overall attitude of the band plays a huge role in the whole thing too. Bands that can't be bothered to do any work for themselves and only expect the rest of creation to cater to them can forget it. Fortunately there are lots of other labels that can make something out of that situation. I feel that if an artist can't be bothered to help themselves, why the hell should I do it?



How has radio been to your bands?
Frankly I service very little radio. I had done radio promotion for years so I know how it works and I've seen how the attitudes have changed. I service the stations/individuals that make a difference because they clearly care to. They're in touch, I can micro-market around their broadcast and see some result, they're working with local retail, clubs, etc... I don't concern myself with numbers and charts because they're just used as status symbols. I've cut down on my press list too so it's not just a radio thing. A smaller label has to be careful where they spend their money and I like to make sure that every last CD that leaves the building has a reason for being made and going out.



Do you have a back catalog? If so, how does that help?
The catalog is still moderate, mainly because all of our spending is out of pocket. I never took a loan or sought investors for Martyr Music so everything has been gradual. To date we have five releases that have come out and two more coming soon, plus licensed titles from Hammerheart. Someday we'll have a much more substantial catalog and the sales from that are always a helping hand.

The catalog (so far) looks like this:
Drained "Suspension of Disbelief" CD 1998
Em Sinfonia "In Mourning's Symphony" MCD 1999
Novembers Doom "Of Sculptured Ivy & Stone Flowers" CD 1999
Broken Hope "Grotesque Blessings" CD end 99/2000
Em Sinfonia "Intimate Portrait" CD 2001
Penance "Alpha & Omega" CD Nov 2001
Sinister "Creative Killings" CD Nov 2001 (license from Hammerheart)
Blood Red Throne "Monument of Death" CD Dec 2001 (license from Hammerheart)
Council of The Fallen "Revealing Damnation" CD Feb 2002



How hard is it to get your releases in stores? Who distributes your label (DNA, ADA, etc.)?
Right now traditional retail is complete hell. There are many larger companies on the brink of bankruptcy and several smaller outlets have already closed their doors. Shelf space is harder to get for metal already and for new bands with no previous sales history it's very difficult. A lot will depend on where the economy goes in the near future... our current US distributor is BDM (Big Daddy Music) who also does Eclipse, The End, Necropolis and Conquest. Our Canadian distro is FAB, who also does most of the metal labels.



What's the future for Martyr Music Group?
Your guess is as good as mine but I'm looking forward to finding out...

2001 Metal Rules!!

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This page last updated on:
Saturday, November 17, 2001