It’s not often the chance arises to speak to the shadowy figures who operate within the business realm of the music industry, but then few figures are so renowned for their passion and integrity as Brian Slagel, the founder and CEO of Metal Blade records and, just in case you didn’t know, the guy who gave a little-known band by the name of Metallica their first break way back in 1982, not to mention releasing seminal albums by Slayer, Cannibal Corpse and Amon Amarth. In short, Brian Slagel, whether you know his name or not, is synonymous with metal and, if you’re a metal fan, it’s inconceivable that you don’t have at least one Metal Blade release in your collection. With a book entitled ‘for the sake of heaviness’ documenting the history of Metal Blade slated for an August 29th release, we took the opportunity to speak to Brian about the process of writing and about some of his experiences as label head.
Clearly, the desire for you to write a book has been around for some time. At what point did you start collating material and how much of a challenge was it to look back over such a period of time?
I started this about 2 years ago. It was actually fun to do and look back at all the history and try and remember the stories. A lot of work, but worth it.
Looking back, were you surprised at your own resilience in such a turbulent industry – did anything stand out, in hindsight, as a period of particular turmoil?
Yes in the late 1980’s when vinyl started to go away. I did not believe it ever would and kept making it at a pace that was too much. People kept telling me I should slow down, but I loved vinyl! Then we got a ton of it shipped back to us, so much so that I owed out distributor a lot of money. This almost led to the demise of the label. I am much more careful now when we have new forms of how people get their music.
It seems obvious that Metal Blade has emphasized creative independence over market place concerns, but was there ever a moment where you felt caught between the necessary financial aspects of running a label and artistic integrity?
This happens a lot actually. There are always difficult financial decisions to make, but ultimately the music comes first. So we have found a way to make it work over all these years.
Is there any band that you regret signing?
Strangely, no! I love all the bands whether they were successful or not.
It seems that you take a very hands on role with your artists, frequently interviewing them for social media and so on, do you think that your obvious enthusiasm for the music on your label is part of the reason metal blade has endured as a label for such a long time?
For sure. I am still a huge music fan and that is my main motivation for doing this. I am still really excited to hear great new bands and work with the current ones too.
Although digital is clearly very popular in what might be termed more disposable forms of music, it seems to be the case that fans of metal and hard rock are still very much interested in physical formats, is that something that tallies with your own experiences? Are you personally a fan of physical formats and do you ever advise bands on how to make their releases stand out?
Yes we all love the physical part, especially vinyl. So it is always cool and fun to design great packages and things for the fans. I do love the ease of subscription stuff as well. I can listen to anything I want pretty much anywhere!
One thing that the internet does seem to have diminished is that sense of anticipation that comes with the release of a new record – particularly given that a lot of campaigns now mandate the release of numerous videos and clips in the run up to a release. Have you found it challenging to adapt to the various means of promoting in the digital age and how have you managed to maintain a sense of anticipation and excitement for new releases?
Yes this is always a struggle. We did with the last Amon Amarth and the new Cannibal Corpse album a kind of social media blackout. We kept both very quiet until we had info on the new records. That seemed to get people more excited than usual because they did not know it was coming.
Acquiring music is a never-ending labour of love – do you still seek out new music and is there any artist about whom you are particularly excited at the moment?
Yes I always love hearing new music. We still love finding new bands and getting them out to the people. We have so many cool new artists it is always hard to pick. Igorrr is something really different and cool we just put out. Also If These Trees Could Talk I really love. Both bands doing new styles that I think are cool.