Metal Blade Records
Cult of Luna
Voivod: Part 2
Voivod: Part 1
Dillinger Escape Plan
The Year In Metal
Dead to Fall
Tapping The Vein
High On Fire
Metal Meltdown IV
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2002
Century Media Records
My Dying Bride
The Year In Metal
Metal Blade Records
Maudlin of the Well
Thrash of the Titans
Dust To Dust
Six Feet Under
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2001
Metal Meltdown III
Pain of Salvation
Children Of Bodom
Cradle Of Filth
Lamb Of God
Garden of Shadows
March Metal Meltdown
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2000
Flotsam and Jetsam
BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 2
INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN SLAGEL
The story of American metal necessarily involves Brian Slagel, who over the years has worked with numerous legendary artists including Metallica, Slayer, Motley Crue, Ratt and Armored Saint in their formative stages, and whose label, Metal Blade Records, remains one of the most important sources of metal music today. To read the Slagel story is downright amazing - like Forrest Gump, Slagel seemed to have his hand in so many seminal events and historic metal projects that to review the sum total of his experiences is almost surreal. The Metal Update had the recent fortune to muster some exclusive interview time with this metallic legend, collecting just a few of the man's many stories and getting a glimpse inside the mind of one of the most important label heads in metal music today.
METAL UPDATE: How did you first get into listening to heavy metal?
I was at a cousin's house when I was like eleven. I wasn't really all that into music - I mean, I liked music, but I wasn't a "music person" back then. My cousin put on 'Machine Head' by Deep Purple, and hearing it changed my life. I was like, "what is that?" I immediately went out and bought the record the next day and have pretty much been hooked on hard stuff ever since.
MU: How old are you?
MU: So what year were you talking about?
1973, I guess. That record had been out for a few months, and then I bought it right after that. And then I got into Black Sabbath and Emerson Lake and Palmer. And from there it was Judas Priest and Kiss and AC/DC and U.F.O. 1975 and '76 were just amazing years for records. So many great records came out then, a lot of my all-time favorites.
MU: So how do you think the music of that time stands up next to the music of today?
I'm probably a little bit biased because I think you're always a little more into stuff that you're into when you grew up. But personally, I'd much rather listen to music from the 70's than stuff that's out today. I mean, there's a lot of great stuff from the 80's, the 90's and certainly there's great stuff coming out today, but I probably listen to more stuff from the 70's than any other period, just for pure enjoyment.
MU: How did you get involved with the business end of things?
I started out bootlegging. I would tape live concerts and trade. I was into the whole tape-trading thing. I would trade demos and live concerts with people around the world. That's kinda how I got turned on to the whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal. A kid that I knew in Sweden turned me on to Iron Maiden when the first Iron Maiden thing ever came out.
MU: How did you meet these people?
Just by mail. You'd read magazines - Record Collector, even Circus and Cream had some pen pal things in there - and you'd just kinda get into that little group of people back then that used to do it. You'd meet somebody and they'd turn you on to somebody else. For me, it became trading tapes with people around the world.
MU: What years are we talking about?
This would be '79 or '80.
MU: Where did that go for you?
Well I was into that, but I was still in high school at the same time. What happened next was that I started to work at a record store. And right before then I really got into the whole NWOBHM thing.
MU: Did you live in L.A. at this time?
Yes. I was born and raised in L.A. I was really into Iron Maiden and Def Leppard and Diamond Head and such. I was really into that. In L.A., it was really just me and another friend of mine named John who were into it. Then, he actually ran into this kid from Denmark who moved here, named Lars Ulrich. The three of us would drive an hour and a half or whatever to all of these record stores to find the latest NWOBHM singles and all that sort of stuff. We got really into that whole scene.
MU: Do you still have a relationship with Lars Ulrich in 2001?
MU: You knew him when he was just a kid who loved metal. Did he change?
People's perception changed. Quite honestly, all those guys in Metallica are still really good, down-to-earth guys. Obviously, in this business, you see a lot of people start at a certain level and then get to a certain other level and they change a lot. But those guys really didn't change a whole lot. Obviously, their pocketbooks did and their lifestyle did, but as far as people go, they're still pretty much the same people they were back then.
MU: Does Lars still love metal?
Absolutely. Just a couple of years ago Brian Tatler, who was the guitar player for Diamond Head - we obviously do a lot of Diamond Head stuff - he was telling me about just having hung out with Lars for a couple of days. He said, "Man, that guy is still as much into Diamond Head now as he was in the early eighties."
MU: How about you? Are you still as into it?
Yeah. Absolutely. That's what I listen to. Metal. Like I said before though, I probably listen to as much '70s stuff now as much as everything else. I listen to Thin Lizzy at least two or three times a week, every week.
MU: So you were telling us about you, Lars and your friend John, hanging out, listening to NWOBHM in L.A.
So I ended up getting a job at a record store and the first thing I did when I got there was to ask the owner if I could bring in some imports.
MU: What was the name of the store?
Oz Records. So we started bringing in some imports and I'd call people and tell them we had to bring in some Iron Maiden thing, and they'd be like, "Uh . . . OK, whatever that is." So I started bringing it in, and it started being really successful. People started telling me that there was good bands here in L.A. and indeed there was a little burgeoning heavy metal scene starting to happen with bands like Ratt and Steeler and Malice and all of those bands that ended up being on Metal Massacre I. And I started doing a fanzine called the New Heavy Metal Revue.
MU: What year is this?
1981. And I started writing for Kerrang, Sounds and some other things. Doing some L.A. correspondence stuff. I was helping out with the local heavy metal radio show, and doing all sorts of things while working at the record store. I kinda got the idea that since no one was really paying any attention to what was going on in L.A. at the time, it would be fun to do a compilation album - kinda in the spirit of the NWOBHM. I just came up with the name and I went to all of the bands and asked whether they'd want to be on a record if I did one. They all said sure.
MU: How did you make the jump from trading tapes to doing a release like that?
I was totally influenced by what happened with the NWOBHM scene. Everything that happened there had a major influence on me - the do it yourself attitude, bands and people doing their own records. I always thought that was cool. That's kinda where I got the inspiration to do that sort of stuff. I didn't really think it was going to become a job or a record company or anything. I did it for the fun. I wanted to get some more exposure for what was going on here in L.A., 'cause there were some good bands here but nobody really knew about it.
MU: Who was on the first Metal Massacre release, and how did you find and choose those acts?
I just knew everybody in the scene. They would all just come to the record store. I knew pretty much everybody in the scene. It was Ratt, Steeler, Malice, Avatar, Cirith Ungol, Bitch and of course, Metallica.
MU: Let's talk about Ratt for a second. Were they a lot different at that time from the band that became popular, MTV darlings?
Very much so. They were a Judas Priest, leather-clad band when they started out. Very heavy. Totally Judas Priest when they first started out. Steeler was the same way. Same with Black and Blue, which also ended up on the record. All those bands started out really heavy. And then Motley Crue. . .
MU: Steeler featured Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar at one point, right?
Yes they did, but this was before Yngwie was in the band. The guys had moved here from Tennessee. Actually, they were all pretty heavy at that time. And then Motley, which was supposed to be on the first Metal Massacre record but ended up putting their own record out and doing pretty well. So they ended up not being on the record.
MU: I take it Motley was one of the bigger bands in the L.A. metal scene at that time.
They were probably the biggest at that point.
MU: Speaking of Ratt again, did you see that Robin Crosby piece on KNAC.com?
Yes I did.
MU: Your reaction?
I mean, obviously you feel bad for the guy and what he's going through, but some people are able to handle success and it is difficult for others. Obviously, his story is pretty sad, and he was a good guy back then, but he got involved in a lot of stuff he shouldn't be involved in.
MU: What do you think of what became of Motley Crue and everything that has happened to them? It is wild that you were involved at the beginning with some of these bands which went on to be the biggest names in 1980's hard rock.
Yeah, it's really unbelievable. When you look back at how small everything was back then, and then how huge everything got. For me, it was just great to be around during that time. It was a great time and obviously a lot of great music came out.
MU: Were you particularly excited about Metallica as opposed to some of these others? Did you hear something different or special with them?
It was kinda funny because Lars was a friend of mine, and he was always saying he was going to put together a band. I was like, "Yeah, sure you are Lars." So it is pretty amazing what happened with them. The first track was great. The only disappointment for me was that they wanted me to do the record when they had just their demo, but I didn't have the money.
MU: What was the song that was on Metal Massacre I?
"Hit the Lights" - so, it would have been nice if we had been able to do the record. But I'm still really good friends with those guys. I think that they've handled success in the way - they had a massive influence on the way heavy metal happened back then.
MU: Do you feel that you helped to discover them, or is that saying too much?
I was at the right place at the right time. Those guys have been really nice over the years, and have always included me in the VH1 specials and the books and all of that stuff.
MU: You've got that tough-looking Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat going in the VH1 thing! (laughs)
(laughs) Anyway, as I was saying, I was just at the right place at the right time and it all kinda happened.
MU: Any thoughts on who the new bass player will be for Metallica?
I haven't any idea. From what I understand, it's just gonna be - I don't think they are going to have anybody on the record. Maybe Mike Inez might be the guy that they'll use when they go out on the road.
MU: Not Joey Vera?
Definitely it will not be Joey Vera, I can tell you that.
MU: OK, anyway, Metal Massacre I comes out - how did people respond?
It did well. We sold out of all 5,000 we printed. And then made the mistake of licensing it to some guy who we thought would do a good job with it, but never ended up paying us. (laughs) What it did get me was a distribution deal with this company Greenworld that ended up being Enigma. One of the guys came to me and said, "Hey, you seem to know what you are doing, but you don't have any money, so if you find us the bands, we'll go ahead and manufacture and distribute your records."
MU: That's a dream come true for many metalheads.
Unfortunately, they weren't really giving me money to get stuff recorded, but they were saying that we'll pay for the manufacturing and we'll distribute it. I thought that sounded kinda fun, and that's where the label really started. We did a Bitch record and a Warlord album. . .
MU: Why did you go with the name Metal Blade?
Well, I wanted something that was hard, that was metal, that people would know. It was a heavy metal label, and blades and steel and swords and that kind of stuff were always good.
MU: Of course the name evokes the metal genre, but were you ever concerned you'd limit yourself by adopting such a genre-specific name? When you put out a Goo-Goo Dolls album on Metal Blade, did you ever feel the name held you back?
It's kinda funny because people did give us a lot of hassle over that over the years, but I never wanted to change the name. I figure if people like the music, I don't really think it matters what the name of the label is. In the mid-eighties when we started to do some more punk stuff like the Goo-Goo Dolls, D.R.I. and C.O.C., we kinda felt that we didn't want those bands to strictly be categorized as metal, so we started a subsidiary label called Death Records. That's where we put all of those punk bands at the time.
MU: It's kind of ironic now, because "Death Records" still sounds pretty metal.
Exactly. But at the time there was no death metal. It was a more punk / less metal name at that time.
MU: What did the label look like, operationally speaking, in those early years?
It was just me in the back of my mom's house, working 17 hours a day, every day. For the first three years it was only me. Engineer Bill Metoyer was engineering the early stuff. He kinda came to me and told me he was an engineer and was into metal and would help me out however possible. He started engineering a lot of the records, and he became the first employee of Metal Blade. Really, for the first three years it was me, and then after three or four years Bill came in and actually got a little office, and we hired a receptionist. . .
MU: Where were you located back then? In Simi Valley?
No, it was actually in Sherman Oaks, California.
MU: What were the first releases?
Warlord, Bitch, Armored Saint and then, of course, Slayer.
MU: Not 'March of the Saint'?
No, actually, it was a three-song EP. They ended up getting signed to Chrysalis from that and that actually got us a lot of exposure because the band was really cool in talking about the label and press. That was really the first place where people outside of the metal community took notice and said, "Who is this Metal Blade label?" And then obviously when the Slayer record came out that took it to a whole other level.
MU: Is the Armored Saint EP you're talking about the thing that was included as part of the recent 'Nod to the Old School' release?
Yeah, some of that stuff is on there, absolutely.
MU: Do you ever stop to think about the role you played in developing American heavy metal over the years? You were right there in the middle of it.
Back then I was just a fan, and I still am today just a fan. I think that my role is just. . . I'm a fan, and I'm just trying to help out good music. The greatest feeling for me is to see a band I like and to help them become successful. That's what it is all about for me. I was really lucky to be around at that time when the whole metal thing was happening. I was really lucky to be involved with all of these bands, but they are the ones doing all the work! I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
MU: Do you think we could ever collectively, as a scene, develop some sort of heavy metal hall of fame that would be a worthwhile endeavor?
You know I would love to. That is something I've been talking about on the side for some time, trying to get something like that together. A hall of fame, or a museum. 'Cause that's one thing that's always kinda bothered me. Obviously, when the conventions like the Foundations Forum thing were happening, it really helped out the scene. Especially in the states, the scene has kinda migrated to a lot of different places and we keep trying to bring it back, and start talking about those sort of things.
MU: Do you see Metal Blade having a role in that in the future?
Yeah, I'd love for it to. We'll kinda see how it goes. We've got so much going on here as a label, you never know, but one of these days, I'd love to see it happen.
MU: How did Slayer first come across your radar screen?
I saw them opening for Bitch and they played about eight songs, six of which were cover songs. They did an amazing version of "Phantom of the Opera" by Iron Maiden.
MU: What songs were they covering? Priest and Maiden?
Priest and Maiden pretty much. I just went backstage and told them I have this little record label and if they wanted to do a track I'd put them on Metal Massacre. They were like, "OK, that sounds cool." They had some kid that was managing them at the time, and they recorded the track and I said, "Hey, let's do a record." So we went I and did a
MU: And that was 'Show No Mercy'?
MU: How did that record do, sales-wise?
At that point it was our biggest selling record. Probably about 15 or 20,000. At that point, if we sold 5,000 we were jumping on the roof. These are U.S. numbers. 'Show No Mercy' probably did another 15-20,000 outside the U.S. We had worldwide rights.
MU: What do you think of 'God Hates Us All'?
I think it is great. I really like it a lot, actually. For me, when Dave left, he was such a driving force that they kinda took on a little bit of a different angle.
MU: How would you describe that "different angle"?
Dave didn't write any of the songs, but he added that little extra touch to it. For my money, he's one of the best drummers in metal, in music period. But I think that Slayer is still making good music, and I'm happy they never really sold out and never played music that wasn't really in their hearts. It's great. They've had phenomenal success, and they've put out some of the best records in the history of metal. It's great. I'm really happy that we were able to help get the ball rolling for them.
MU: How many Slayer records did you put out on Metal Blade?
We did four - two albums, 'Show No Mercy' and 'Hell Awaits'and two EP's, 'Haunting the Chapel' and 'Live Undead'.
MU: How did it feel to start to have to let go of some of these bands?
It was frustrating, obviously, because you spend all of the time and energy trying to get these bands to a certain point, and then you start to lose them. That's kinda where we ended up being in the mid-eighties, like '86 or '87. You know, we had Flotsam and Jetsam, Sacred Reich, Slayer, Armored Saint and C.O.C. All of these bands started on the label and we ended up losing them.
MU: Were those financially lucrative moves for those bands to move on to major labels?
Sure! And we certainly did not want to stand in the way. The bands would always come to us and we'd say, "Hey, this is a great offer. You should take it." I mean, we're a tiny little label, and you figure that this is a major label deal and there wasn't much we were gonna do about that. We sorted it all out and let the bands go. We didn't want to hurt their careers. But it also got us to the point where we started thinking that it would be nice if we didn't have to keep losing all of these bands.
MU: Were you ever thinking that Metal Blade could be a major label?
I never wanted to be a major label. I wanted to stay independent. I like the feeling of an independent, but I did at one time think that it would make sense for us to work with a major label. Then instead of just losing the bands we could build them up and then maintain a relationship with them. Also, some of the bands did well when they went to a major label and some did not do as well as we had hoped. 'Cause once you get into that whole major label area, it is a whole different marketplace.
MU: So Metal Blade could be a type of metal AAA league baseball club.
MU: So what happened with that idea?
Enigma, who was our distributor, had some success with Poison and Stryper and these things, it kinda went to their heads and they went bankrupt. We could see the writing on the wall. We knew it was happening. So we ended up doing a small deal with Capitol, where we ended up running a few bands through there like Princess Pang and Heir Apparent. But it didn't really work out, and we were kinda being piggy-backed by Enigma.
MU: Was this the same time period when Capitol was putting out records by Megadeth and Iron Maiden?
Yep. Absolutely. It was like '87, '88, '89. So we saw that Enigma was in trouble, and our contract was coming up with them anyway, so we started talking with major labels.
MU: Prior to this period, who were your label peers / competitors in the U.S.? Are any still around today?
Megaforce, Combat and Shrapnel. Those were the big ones. Shrapnel is still around today. Megaforce is kinda still around - not really a label, but the catalogue still sells. Combat obviously was absorbed into R.E.D., our current distributor, but they don't exist. Anyway, we started talking to major labels and pretty much got offered deals from every major label. We decided to go with Warner Brothers because at the time they had a great reputation as being an artist-oriented label. They were here in L.A. and we really liked them. It seemed to make the most sense for us to do that. Enigma was done. They were bankrupt and we got in a big mess with them. We got it sorted out, but we went to Warner Brothers. We set up a three-tiered deal where they would distribute our product through their WEA system. The second tier was that with a certain number of bands they would help us with some marketing. The third tier was basically a join-label deal where we would provide the records, but their whole staff would work it and market it with the priority as if it was a Warner Brothers act. It worked out really well. The Goo-Goo Dolls were getting some success. We did really well with Armored Saint's 'Symbol of Salvation' and Fates Warning and GWAR. We had all of these bands that were doing really well. It was a really good deal. Unfortunately for us, when we did the deal Warner Brothers was a stand-alone label, but eventually they ended up getting bought by Time, Inc. It became kinda Warner, Inc., this huge, massive conglomerate. About three years into our deal, they had the "Cop-Killer" problem with Ice-T. I'm sure you remember that whole thing.
MU: Did you feel like you had autonomy prior to this point?
Aboslutely. I mean, it was a major label so it was a bit of a difficult fit. I mean, as an independent label, if we're selling 5-10,000 records, we're happy. But WEA selling 5-10,000 records, they're going, "Hmmm. That's not good." To them, even selling 50-60,000 records is not a major success, where it is to us. So it was a little bit of that problem, but for the most part the people at Warner Brothers were great, and they were cool and they let us do our thing and it was really never a problem. But the Ice-T thing happened, and of course Ice left, and then they really started having problems with Interscope. I think the first or second record that we put out after they got rid of Ice-T and put out this new policy about lyrics was a GWAR record. They have a guy there whose job is to decide whether the lyrics were OK for Time, Inc. They came back and said, "OK, let's take this out and that out and you have to do this and this and this." And I told them I was not gonna tell anybody what they can and cannot do. We are an independent, small label, but my philosophy has always been to allow the artist to do what they want to do. They have complete autonomy, we don't tell them what they can and cannot do.
MU: Personally, do you think that artists have a responsibility to censor their lyrics, or what-not.
Personally, I think that art is art, and whatever that art is, the artist should be allowed to do. I may not personally agree with what some people say, and my beliefs are certainly different from what some other people might have to say. . .
MU: Brian, are you kind of a Christian?
Yeah. I believe in god and all that sort of stuff. It's no secret. But my attitude is that the artists should be allowed to do what they want to do. As long as they are good human beings and they are people we want to work with, we're cool.
MU: Does god frown on Eminem?
That's not for me to say.
MU: Does Brian Slagel frown on Eminem?
Hey, the guy is selling a lot of records. What can you do? Religion to me is a very personal thing. People should respect that.
MU: Are there artists you wouldn't sign because of the lyrics?
Absolutely. I don't know if I would want to name any names. . . (laughs)
MU: Would you sign white power bands?
Of course not. Anybody in their right mind would never do anything like that.
MU: Does Slayer ever border on anything like that?
Not at all. It's fantasy lyrics. That's fine. I know how these people are and what they are really like. I was watching the Pat Benatar "Behind the Music" and they were talking about the song "Hell is for Children" which is an anti-child abuse song, but when that came out, people were complaining. I find that funny. Did you read the lyrics?
MU: You've come full-circle again with Ice-T on the new Six Feet Under record.
It's cool. It's fun. He's always been a big fan of our stuff, and he's a really good guy. We've talked about working together for a really long time. It's fun to finally be able to do that.
MU: Back to Warner. They were giving you shit about the GWAR record.
So we went to the two guys who ran Warner Brothers who were phenomenal music people and who really were not happy about the situation at all. They left fairly soon after that. I told them that this was not going to work. I wasn't going to tell bands what they could and could not say and I wasn't going to change the lyrics, so maybe it was best if we parted ways. They were fine. They were completely classy and totally cool. We ended up having the Goo-Goo Dolls stay there, which was the right move 'cause right after that they became gigantic as they always should have been. We ended up getting a great distribution deal with R.E.D., and we starting getting back to where we should be which is a really good independent label.
MU: Who are your current competitors?
In the metal community, Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Roadrunner and us are probably the top four labels. Obviously, Relapse is right there as well.
MU: Do you compete with Roadrunner?
On certain levels we do. Especially now though, they're kind of in a whole different realm. They've kind of been that way the last couple years, where they are trying to be more of a major label now than an independent label. I mean, now they did a deal with a major so it is a whole different ball game over there.
MU: Would you do a similar deal for Metal Blade now?
Not yet. The freedom that I have is so great. We can do what we want to do. Nobody owns a piece of the company. I don't have to go to tell some guys in some suits what we are going to do and why we are going to do it. And that freedom is something you can't really put a price tag on. I'm not really into having massive mansions or Ferraris and stuff. I'm much more into freedom here - the bands having freedom, and us having the freedom to do what we want to do. Once you sell a portion of the company, you lose a little bit of that freedom. That's the bottom line. People make an investment and then they want to know why you are doing certain things. At this point in time, I'm not really into doing that.
MU: So how has the label evolved since you got out of the deal with Warner?
It's been fine. We got out of the thing with Warner and we went to R.E.D. We've grown as a label and we're still able to sell a certain amount of records.
MU: How did you survive the grunge thing?
It's funny. For us, as an independent, our sales never really wavered very much. We always sell what we sell, being in the underground. The underground has always been really strong. Even though mainstream people may have thought that metal went away, it never really went away. It has always been around. Us independents have always carried the flag. Maybe the majors haven't sold it, and it is not at the top of the charts, but the underground community has always been there. Our best years were when the grunge thing was happening.
MU: Is it better for Metal Blade for metal generally to be getting mainstream attention?
Well, certainly you want the genre to be successful, and I'm certainly not going to say it is not great when that's happening. I mean, hey, when Slipknot debuts at the top of the Billboard charts, that's awesome, that's only going to help everybody. But what happened in the late 80's and early 90's with metal is that it just got big and corporate and stupid and lame and it needed to go away, to go back to the underground and kind of reinvent itself. That's what needed to happen. And we see it kind of coming back to reinvent itself. We see it coming full-circle again, and it feels like it is like '87 or '88 and this stuff is really starting to happen again. It's fun.
BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 1
METAL BLADE RECORDS
METAL BLADE RECORDS EUROPE
Interview: Eric German [
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [
Webmaster: WAR [
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