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Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade 30 years strong and counting

This year marked 30 years for Metal Blade Records, the benchmark of heavy metal record labels. Here is a Q&A with founder/owner Brian Slagel.

This year marked 30 years for Brian Slagel‘s Metal Blade Records, the benchmark of heavy metal record labels. Launched in 1982 with the legendary metal compilation, Metal Massacre, Metal Blade has introduced the world to heavy bands from Armored Saint to Zoetrope. And Slagel, with his finger on the pulse of evolving metal trends, continues to sign promising new bands like Whitechapel and Greek black metallers Satan’s Wrath.

Whether or not you agree with all of his signings, Brian Slagel has contributed so much to the heavy metal genre, and continues to do so. It is something we need to thank him for. Let’s hope it continues for another 30 years, and then some.

The following are some some quick questions with the man himself.

You’ve had a lot of under-appreciated bands on the label over the years. Trouble, Liege Lord, Omen, Savage Grace … There has been a lot of great stuff that — for some reason — didn’t take off as hoped.
Brian Slagel:
Yeah, there’s so much of that and it’s really kind of a bummer that things didn’t, you know, work out. But it’s a difficult business and looking at it thirty years down the road, through all of it, you can somehow see one way or another why something did or did not happen. But just the fact that the music’s out there and even the bands that didn’t make it — certainly in the ’80s — are probably more popular today than they ever were. I think a classic example of that would be a band like Cirith Ungol. They were sort of out there and didn’t fit into anything and they are way more popular now. There are all these kids that weren’t even born when their record came out but are big fans of the band now. Kind of funny.

You once said that you wished you had a chance to sign Metallica, but did you ever envision them becoming as big as they are now? They’re like the Led Zeppelin, or something of that magnitude, of Heavy Metal.
Slagel: No. Neither did they, for sure. They’re still, to this day, really good friends of mine and, it’s funny, whenever we get together every once in a while after a couple glasses of wine you are like, ‘Huh? How on earth did this all happen?’ It is really, really incredible.

[pullquote_right]I am probably more excited about new music lately than I have in a long time.”[/pullquote_right]

Do you believe the change of Dave Mustaine to Kirk Hammett helped clear a path to success?
Slagel: I don’t know if that did. I mean, musically, both of those guys are phenomenal players, and Dave’s had an incredible career in Megadeth, but certainly the dynamic within the band, Kirk fits in a lot better, with James and Lars being so visionary to what they want to have happen.

Some people seem to hate the fact that Heavy Metal took off. They liked the fact that it was underground. In the ’80s, when Metal first took off, they were disappointed.
Slagel: I think it’s always that way when any scene, and the people who are involved in it at first always become bummed out when it becomes popular. That repeats itself over and over again.

What do you think ruined it in the ’80s — the late ’80s going into the ’90s — for metal? Do you think it was because of a lot of major label signings …
Slagel: Yep.

… trying to change bands. And I take as an example, Raven. A favorite band of mine and then they come out with a record on a major label and it just doesn’t sound the same.
Slagel: What happened was it got so big and huge and kind of corporate that people who didn’t have any idea about the music started getting involved in it. And once that started happening, you’re right, they started telling the bands what they should look like and sound like and to be successful they need to have a ballad and all these other things and that completely ruined it because that went from being a real credible music genre to being this packaged corporate nonsense. And that’s what really killed it.

And throughout the 30-year history of Metal Blade, you’ve always open-minded about all sub-genres of Heavy Metal. I mean, Ratt was on the first Metal Massacre compilation, and there were several bands signed by Metal Blade that were just sort of hard rock. You seemed like you were never into the sort of thing where you would say ‘This band’s a bunch of posers.’
Slagel: Yeah, well, I like all sorts of different styles of music, certainly within the metal genre, so we can have Kings X and Galactic Cowboys and at the same time we can have Cannibal Corpse and Whitechapel or whatever. I always liked all different types of stuff so we tried to keep as diverse a roster as awe can as long as it was good.

What do you think of the metal scene today? I know you can probably pick out a band on your own label … but in general how do you feel about it?
Slagel: I feel good. I think it’s in a really good place, actually, now. All the bigger bands — Iron Maiden, Metallica, etc — are probably bigger than they’ve ever been. And a band like Cannibal Corpse is bigger than they’ve ever been now. And you have a whole new crop of bands that are coming, too. I think within the last couple years I’ve been excited about really good things. For example a band like Goat — who kind of came out of nowhere from Sweden  — have this really amazing sound. Very ’70s and early ’80s influenced. I think you are seeing a lot of that stuff kind of creep into the scene now. There are a lot of good bands out there. I am probably more excited about new music lately than I have in a long time, so I think it’s in a good place, you know. Time will tell but it feels really good.