Metal Blade Records, an indie label from Los Angeles, has been defining the metal scene for the last three decades and keeping the genre true to its roots. Metal Blade Records began in 1979 when, now owner and operator, Brian Slagel, began to record and distribute bootlegged copies of live performances by mail. A metal head since high school, Slagel was interested in music first and business second: he was really just interested in finding new and exciting acts from the very beginning.
Slagel says, “…we were just a bunch of fans starting out.” which was true considering he got into the business by being just a fan. Slagel found what he called “Pen-pals”, one including Lars Ulrich which Slagel is still friends with, through various magazines and personal ads and made many contacts with bands in his hometown, Los Angeles to start trading heavy metal tapes.
Slagel started working at Oz Records in Los Angeles and began suggesting new british heavy metal acts be sold there, which turned out to be very successful. He came into contact with many eventually famous acts while working there such as Ratt, Malice, and Metallica. Slagel started the very first fanzine for the genre called The New Heavy Metal Revue. It was because of these very important contacts that Slagel was able to put together an impressive compilation tape of local talent which became the famous Metal Massacre I. The compilation cassette was a hit and quickly sold 5,000 copies, cementing what would formally called Metal Blade Records. Although it was very successful, Slagel, being the true fan and supporter of his favorite style of music, said, “It started something, but I didn’t put out the record to start a record label.”
The beginnings of Metal Blade were definitely humble. Slagel says that he was operating the entire label on his own out of his mother’s home in Woodland Hills, California. The work, needless to say, was strenuous. “…it was only me,” says Slagel, “working 17 hours a day, every day. For the first three years…” His first employee was Bill Matoyer, an engineer that literally told Slagel he would like to help out any way he could. Brian says, “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…”
It has been nearly three full decades since metal blade’s creation and the label is still true to its roots today. Metal Blade has always looked out for the interests of its artist roster and has taken great measures to maintain this attitude. In the 1980s, amidst the explosion of hair metal, Slagel decided that it would be in the company’s best interest to create a partnership with a larger distributor. It also didn’t help matters that their current distributor Enigma was is in a financial rut and on the verge of bankruptcy. When the contract with Enigma ran up, Metal Blade paired with then Warner Bros. Records following their reputation as being a very artist-oriented label. This would all change after the pairing with Time, Inc. When controversy around Ice-T fronted band Body Count and their release of the song Cop Killer caused many in Washington and law enforcement to put pressure on Warner to drop the band, the now conglomerate Warner Entertainment Arts set an entirely new set of guidelines for censorship. Slagel says that a lawyer would look at all the lyrics of each new release and decide if it was “…friendly.” Warner’s attempt to censor GWAR’s newest album led to tension between the two and Metal Blade decided to drop the distributor. The deal went so far as to give up The Goo Goo Dolls, whom would become the best selling and only platinum selling artist that has been on Metal Blade to date.
Metal Blade has blazed a path for the heavy metal genre by finding and supporting some of the most important heavy metal acts to date. Slayer, a heavy metal band from southern California, first caught Slagel’s eye playing cover songs in California. Slayer would become one of the most controversial and successful metal artists to work with Metal Blade Records, using satanic lyrics and imagery as a part of the show and experience. Slayer would be the center of protests by religious groups around the country. This never swayed Slagel to change the act for the two albums and two EPs released on Metal Blade. Slagel, a self proclaimed Christian, has stated that he is all about the artist and that what they do is a part of their art. “My thing is we let the artist say what they want to say, we’re not going to stifle them.” says Slagel. Letting artists be artists turned out to be a good thing for Metal Blade Records as well. Slagel stated, “That [Slayer] 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.”
There are currently 88 artists on Metal Blade right now and each artist is almost iconic in their own way as well as being some of my personal favorites over the years. Metal Blade still shows a deep relationship with its key members and they are featured often in interviews and featured videos on Metal Injection, a heavy metal publication.
Now, Metal Blade has ushered in a “new” new wave of heavy metal and continues to grow. New acts such as Whitechapel, Between the Buried and Me, The Red Chord, and The Black Dahlia Murder continue to lead metal blade into the new frontier of heavy music. Metal Blade operates out of the original Simi Valley facility, as well as Germany and Japan. Slagel is still very adamant in finding new acts as well. In an interview with Metal-Rules.com, Slagel talked about his intense searching regimen, “I travel a ton as we have bands all over the world. So at least 1/3 of my time is spent on the road seeing bands. Luckily I love to travel!”
In a 2007 interview, amidst the chaos happening in the music industry, Slagel has nothing but high hopes for the future of the heavy music scene. “What’s happening now reminds me so much of the early ’80s…I think there will be a second big wave of heavy metal.” States Slagel after sharing that his business, while others are dwindling and losing sales, has risen roughly 5% in the past few years. The biggest worry Slagel cites in the interview is that once heavy metal gets big again, he may lose bands to the major labels. Slagel has no interest in becoming part of a major either, “I never wanted to be a major label. I wanted to stay independent. I like the feeling of an independent…” Slagel sees the near future as an exciting time saying “…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.”
Interview with Brian Slagel Pt2 http://www.metalupdate.com/interviewmetalblade.html
Interview with Brian Slagel http://www.metal-rules.com/interviews/metalblade.htm
Metallica interviewed by Brian Slagel <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffo-92TJxtE>
Metal Blade Artists http://www.metalblade.com/english/artists.php
Step into Brian Slagel’s Simi sanctum, where Metal Blade Records pounds out hits http://www.vcstar.com/news/2007/sep/06/nerve-center-of-noise/#ixzz1Gge9fZrj
Slayer artist profile Metal Blade Records http://www.metalblade.com/english/artists/slayer/releases.php