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Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel Reflects on the Label’s 30 Years in the Business

Jeremy Saffer

Hip hop has Russell Simmons and his Def Jam Records legacy. When it comes to rhythm and blues, Ahmet Ertegun and his work at Atlantic Records helped bring artists like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin to the mainstream in the ’50s and ’60s. But when it comes to heavy metal, few have done more for the genre than Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel.

“When it comes down to it, we’re just huge fans of heavy metal and everything we’ve done in the past 30 years has been out of a love for the music,” Slagel tells Noisecreep.

The 51-year-old is on the line with us discussing Metal Blade’s 30th anniversary. It’s hard to believe, but the Southern California-based label’s first release – a 1982 compilation called Metal Massacre – featured a then unknown local act called Metallica. Although the landmark album also included a track from Sunset Strip heroes Ratt, Slagel has largely steered clear of the more overtly commercial bands of the past few decades.

“The glam metal scene got really huge in the ’80s, but I didn’t want to sign those kinds of artists because it’s not the kind of stuff I listen to. It wouldn’t have been true to what I love. Back in the ’80s, the music I listened to was the opposite of that hair metal stuff – sound wise and image wise – and there was never a moment where I felt like I had to sign those kinds of groups because they were selling well. I just didn’t care,” says Slagel.

Watch Fates Warning’s “Silent Cries” Video

Throughout its rich history, Metal Blade has issued groundbreaking albums from the likes of Slayer, Fates Warning, Between the Buried and Me and countless others, but Slagel feels some releases slipped through the cracks: “I think Lizzy Borden and Armored Saint should be much bigger, commercially, than they are. But I realized early on that it’s not just about the music most of the time. An album’s success sometimes has to do with the timing of its release and the people the band is aligned with. Sometimes it’s just pure luck. I can think of many bands in the history of the label that I think should have been more popular, but those are just two examples.”

Watch Lizzy Borden’s “Under Your Skin” Video

In Metal Blade’s early days, Slagel would sometimes take things personally when an album wouldn’t take commercially: “I would pour my heart and soul into every single aspect of each release, especially the first 10 years of the label. So yeah, it really hurt when an album wouldn’t do well for us. But I’ve learned that you have to have a thick skin in order to survive in this business. It’s like that age-old idea that if you get knocked off the horse, you have to dust yourself off and get back on it. I was so young when we started this label and I’ve learned so much about that aspect of it throughout years.”

Watch Artists Congratulate Metal Blade on Its 30th Anniversary

Slagel tells Noisecreep that he’s had well over 200 employees come through the Metal Blade offices through its first three decades and admits that it wasn’t always easy to find the right people to help him bring his vision to life: “We’ve been lucky in the last 10-15 years to have a great staff here in the offices. But in the early days, I brought in a lot of friends to work at the label and you learn that it’s not always the best thing to do that. During a certain part of the ’80s, we probably had 40 people working in the office at the same time. We’ve also had 13 different people that came out of Metal Blade than went on to work at major labels after the left us.”

30 years in and Metal Blade shows no signs of slowing down: “We’re actually mapped out the release schedule into 2013. There are a lot of great albums in the works. We generally try and have one big release come out each month. We work closely with the bands, managers and booking agents to make sure every release gets the right push. I can’t wait for everyone to see what we have coming out!”

Head to this link to check out a fantastic new bio on Metal Blade’s history and head here for some cool contesting and sale items in celebration of the label’s 30th anniversary. Also, Brian asked us to mention his Twitter handle @BrianSlagel so you guys can keep up with his various projects, travels and hockey-related tweets!

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