30 Years of Brian Slagel and Metal Blade Part I
By: Mike Sloan
Itís hard to imagine the world of heavy music existing without Metal Blade, arguably the most influential and important record label in the history of metal music. While itís debatable which of the major players in extreme music has enjoyed the all-around better roster of ďstarĒ bands, itís undeniable that without Metal Blade and its founder Brian Slagel, the landscape of metal as we know it today would be vastly different. Hell, it might not even exist.
Slagel is largely known for not only founding the first ultra important label for the heavier bands, heís the guy who put Slayer on the map. He also introduced Fates Warning, GWAR and Cannibal Corpse to the world. If thatís not enough, heís the guy who gave Metallica their first break with his seminal Metal Massacre compilation. Itís safe to say that Metallica has been somewhat successful over the years.
Slagel founded Metal Blade in 1982 and his label has seen many of its bands crack the Billboard Top 200 and the bands on the roster enjoy worldwide tours and massive exposure. Metal Blade has offices all over the world, though the headquarters remain in Southern California, where it was created. Blistering.com recently had the pleasure of chatting with Slagel over the phone to pick his brain about what itís like to be a part of the metal music industry for three decades. Heís seen and done it all and there doesnít appear to be any slowing Metal Blade down. Read on to see what one of the most important people in the metal world had to say:
Blistering.com: Did you ever think that, 30 years ago, youíd still be standing and Metal Blade would be this successful?
Brian Slagel: Absolutely not. If someone would have told me 30 years that Iíd be sitting, in 2012, and still talking about Metal Blade, I wouldíve thought they were crazy.
Blistering.com: What was your mindset and what were some short-term goals when you first started Metal Blade?
Slagel: What I tried to do was really help out the music scene in LA. There were some really good bands that were playing and this was in the time before cell phones and the internet, none of that. It was kind of hard to help these bands and all I really wanted to do was help to expose these bands that I thought were really good around LA. And then with the subsequent releases, I was still just trying to showcase even more new bands to people who they might not have ever heard of.
Blistering.com: What is your mindset today compared to when your first started Metal Blade? Has it changed quite a bit over the past 30 years?
Slagel: Well, itís actually not all that different, really. Thereís always been one constant over the years: I just want to find new bands and turn people on to new music. Thatís the reason why all of this started and itís stayed all the way into this day. The thing with metal right now is that itís in a really good, positive place. The older bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica and Slayer are all doing very, very well. And then you have this crop of whole new bands coming in that are exciting. And some of the mid-level bands are doing well. To me, the overall state of metal is in a really good spot now.
Blistering.com: You are known as the guy who helped put Metallica on the map. How often do they thank you and when was last time they thanked you for getting them that initial exposure?
Slagel: Oh, all the time [laughs]. They are all still really good friends of mine and I talk to them quite often. Theyíve always been really cool with that and have always given me much more thanks thank I deserve [laughs] for starting that whole thing. Look; I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and those guys have had unreal success. Itís pretty amazing. Iím just happy that Iíve been able to stay really good friends with them.
Blistering.com: Was there ever a point in your career where you sat back and said to yourself, ďI made it?Ē If so, when was that and what made you feel that way?
Slagel: I donít know if there ever was one specific sort of moment. I have sat back and thought, ďthis is really sort of cool,Ē but I donít think there ever was anything like that. I think the first time I ever thought that I was doing anything halfway decent was when I was able to finally buy a real nice stereo for the first time [laughs]. But I think as times goes on and you can figure out that you can make a living doing this, thatís pretty amazing. Still, to this day, it blows me away that I can actually do this for a living. Thatís cool.
Blistering.com: With all the media going today - the social media, internet, iTunes, etc. - is it more of a challenge to make money with the albums or is that actually a myth?
Slagel: Well, I donít know if itís any easier these days because itís always difficult [to make money]. But over the last four or five years, these have actually been the best four or five years weíve ever had. Weíve been able to really navigate through all this [new technology]. If you look at it, the smaller, independent labels have so much more power than they ever had before and thatís real good. I grew up in the 1970s and the music business back then was about the same size as it is today. It went through this evolution of where all the major corporations stepped in and had all this control, but over time itís kind of reverted back to how it was in the í70s where itís much more about the music than anything else. Clearly there are challenges with [making money] but we try to embrace those challenges.