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Metal Blade Hits The Big 2-0

By Tokemaster General, Contributor
Tuesday, November 12, 2002 @ 7:13 AM

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The noise began 20 years ago.

A music starved kid named Brian Slagel, killing time in suburban Los Angeles, gets sick of watching the local metal scene being ignored by the major labels. Working days at legendary metal emporium Oz Records and nights putting together one of the first metal fanzines, The New Heavy Metal Revue, Slagel asks some distributor friends if they'd be interested in circulating a compilation of unsigned bands if he put it together. The distributors said yes and Metal Blade Records was born. Of course it wasn't quite that simple. Putting in long 17-hour days between Oz and Metal Blade, Slagel pieced together the bands that would grace the label's first release - The New Heavy Metal Revue presents Metal Massacre. Metallica, Ratt and Black 'N' Blue were just a few of the willing locals. Except before Metal Massacre, Metallica didn't exist.

In 1981, by Slagel's recollection, there were only three fanatical followers in L.A. of the then thriving New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement; Slagel, a young Danish kid named Lars Ulrich, and another friend. Together, the three would scour the import bins at every record store in Los Angeles in search of the latest NWOBHM albums and singles. During one such record finding search and destroy mission, Slagel mentioned to Lars that he was putting together a compilation record. A short time later, Lars called up Slagel and said that he had been jamming some cover tunes with James Hetfield. "If we do an original song", asked Lars, "will you put it on your record?" Of course, Slagel said yes, and Lars submitted to him "Hit The Lights" from the band he had just dubbed Metallica. "Back then it was easier to put together a compilation with bands like that", says Slagel. "There were no other labels doing metal. I just asked the bands if they'd give me a track and they said yes. It was that easy".

At first, Metal Blade Records was not supposed to turn into a full-time job. Slagel was putting out music not because it was a great way to earn money - it wasn't, but for the love of music. "Metal Blade came about as a one off to promote the fanzine," explains Slagel. " But the response was so great and it was so much fun that I decided to take a semester off from college to see how it would go". Go it did; Slagel never went back to school. Following the tremendous success of the first Metal Massacre record, Slagel released albums by Bitch and Demon Flight later in 1982 before 1983 roared in with the release of Metal Massacre 2 which featured Armored Saint and Warlord and went on to solidify the series' reputation as a proving ground for new talent. Bands such as Slayer, Metallica, Voivod, Fates Warning, Metal Church, Flotsam And Jetsam, The Obsessed, Dark Angel and Sacred Reich are but a few who got their start with Metal Massacre.

Having already unearthed Metallica, Slagel made another epic discovery in 1983 when he happened across the band Slayer. Slayer's career began with Metal Massacre 3 and would encapsulate the classic albums Show No Mercy, Haunting The Chapel, Live Undead and Hell Awaits. "I first saw Slayer opening for Bitch at a club called Woodstock in Anaheim," recalls Slagel. "Half of their set was Judas Priest and Iron Maiden covers. But I went backstage and asked them if they'd give me a track for Metal Massacre and they said sure. They also asked if I'd put out a full album if they recorded it. I said yes." It didn't bother Slagel that half the civilized world thought he was nuts for signing such an extreme band. "A lot of the metal press hated the band," he says. "They thought it was a joke. But the kids loved it. The band was just so amazing."

"I guess I didn't care what people thought. If I liked the music, I wanted to give it exposure. I mean no one else was going to do it. I felt it was my responsibility." Metal Blade really began to explode in 1984 behind not only Slayer, but also a roster that boasted Fates Warning, Lizzy Borden, Voivod, Trouble, Omen and Hellhammer (who later changed its name to Celtic Frost). The face of heavy metal in America at the time may have been Def Leppard, Quiet Riot and Ratt, but its heart was strongly beating Metal Blade.

With such a stellar roster of bands that at the time were firmly on the cutting edge, did Slagel realize then that he was leading the metal charge? "To a degree," states Slagel. "But I was only doing it for the love of the music. I never imagined heavy metal would get to the point it's at now! There was a lot of talent around then. Bands were creating this music because they wanted to do it. No one was going to make any money. No one was going to become a rock star." It was this love of the music that carried Slagel and Metal Blade through 1984 and into an even more successful 1985, which saw the release of not only albums by great bands like Destruction, Slayer, Fates Warning and Sodom - but the Blade's move from Slagel's garage to proper offices.

The year 1985 also witnessed the initiation of Metal Blade's alliance with Enigma/Capitol Records. This deal was further expanded in 1987 to allow the company to place product directly through Capitol, fueling new success by such bands as Sacred Reich, D.R.I., Fates Warning and Trouble. With this deal, Metal Blade also refocused itself on a double-barreled approach to heavy metal. The label intensified its commitment to developing cutting edge young talent through its Death Records offshoot such as Corrosion Of Conformity, The Mentors, Cryptic Slaughter and later Cannibal Corpse and Atheist. And, the label expanded its horizons towards Alternative and AOR forms of music.

This approach resulted in successful albums that began to break down the stereotype of Metal Blade as an exclusively metal label by the likes of Princess Pang, Goo Goo Dolls, Nevada Beach, Armored Saint and Junk Monkeys. On the other hand, bands such as Lizzy Borden, D.R.I., Trouble and others reinforced Metal Blade's reputation as a solid metal player. "I sign music that I like," explains Slagel, "whether its metal, alternative, industrial, death or whatever. If I like it, I'll sign it."

While this approach helped Metal Blade close out a very successful decade, the nineties seem sure to be even more prosperous. Not only have bands such as GWAR, Cannibal Corpse and Fates Warning released some of the strongest albums in the label's history but in 1990 the label inked a new multi-tiered distribution agreement with Warner Bros. Records. "We had gone through all these years of losing our bands to major labels," admits Slagel, "Because our philosophy has been that it's only fair to allow these bands to go onto bigger things. Our Capitol and Warner deals should have allowed us to work together and take those bands to the next level without having to lose them to someone else. It didn't."

"When our deal with Warner Bros. expired, we were really unhappy. So we talked to every major distributor and R.E.D. was the most understanding of how the deal should work."

"We're going to go back to what we do best," states Slagel about his company's 1996 attitude. "And that's finding good bands. This label has always been about finding new, different bands, signing them and seeing them do well."

So at this point sixteen years from the start, Metal Blade finds itself having grown from one hard-working independent guy in his garage to a fully staffed label with major distribution. But the most important aspects of Metal Blade have stayed the same. While the cutting edge has moved by miles per minute, Metal Blade has managed to never be more than one quick step from it with bands like Grip Inc., Skrew, Thought Industry and Crisis now actually helping to sharpen that edge. And while new hard rock and heavy metal labels pop up every day, looking to capitalize on metal's illustrious past, Metal Blade forges on knowing full well that it will not only be a part of metal's future, but helped write an important part of its history.

1995 brought huge success for Metal Blade with the Goo Goo Dolls, whose album A Boy Named Goo reached gold status in the U.S.A. Opening an office in Germany, Metal Blade began doing everything on its own in Europe. "Europe has always been a great market for us, now we control our label and can continue to build it," says Slagel. Metal Blade continued its tradition of signing great acts with new signings of Galactic Cowboys and welcoming back Sacred Reich.

1996 was another banner year for the label with successes of Galactic Cowboys, Sacred Reich, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Six Feet Under, Cannibal Corpse, and the continued success of the Goo Goo Dolls, now double platinum in the USA. Also new bands like Ancient, Grip Inc., Crisis, and Immolation show Metal Bladešs commitment to the future.

1997 has so far been yet another great year so far with the great success of new releases by Grip Inc., GWAR, Fates Warning, Galactic Cowboys and the return to the label of Flotsam and Jetsam.

After 15 years Metal Blade was strong as ever. Continuing with great-established acts and ground breaking new ones, Metal Blade was poised to keep the flag of metal flying for many years to come!

In 1998, Metal Blade was pleased and proud to welcome longtime favorites King's X to the family as well as the mighty Bolt Thrower. 1998 also continued Metal Blade's commitment to new and cutting edge bands such as: God Dethroned, Amon Amarth, The Crown, Memory Garden and The Quiet Room. With the resurgence of Powermetal, Metal Blade is once again leading the pack with the signings of Destiny's End (which features legendary vocalist James Rivera formerly of Helstar), Labyrinth, and Sacred Steel. With the release of the first ever Fates Warning CD (Still Life) as well as releases by legendary artist King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, Metal Blade still leads while others follow.

2001 - The 19th year of Metal Blade saw releases from Armored Saint, Six Feet Under, King's X, Lizzy Borden, GWAR, Manowar, Brainstorm, Transatlantic... 2002 - The 20th Anniversary year of Metal Blade Records looks to be one of our Greatest yet!

New releases from BOLT THROWER, FLESHCRAWL, KING DIAMOND, CALLENISH CIRCLE, FALCONER, BLUDGEON, THE CROWN, ENGINE, RIOT, VOMITORY and many, many more will prove 2002 will be yet another year of Outstanding Metal for the masses!

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