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Metal Blade Head Honcho Brian Slagel Discusses the Label’s Vitality

Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel isn’t some ‘suit’ making decisions behind a big desk in a corner office. He’s a metal fan done good, and chances are you’ll see him at a metal show, decked in a black T-shirt sporting the logo of one of the bands signed to his label. He’s known for opening the doors for Metallica, since he included the biggest band in the world on a compilation back when they were neophytes. Needless to say, Slagel’s legacy is enduring and will endure, and he chatted with Noisecreep about the vitality and viability of Metal Blade in 2009.

Metal Blade has always signed a lot of bands. How are you able to be so prolific?

We are able to adapt … in terms of the music and how we do business. Also, it helps that everyone who works at the label is a huge metal fan, enjoying everything from speed metal to poppier-style metal.

What are some of the best benefits of being a niche, ‘culture of metal’ label?

The underground has always been strong, even in the early ’90s when metal was considered dead. The underground was always thriving; there just wasn’t any mainstream attention being paid to it. The underground scene is always consistent. The last big economic recession was in, what, 1986? Those were some of Metal Blade’s biggest years, though, since whenever there is a recession, people look for inexpensive ways to escape from reality, and music is that method of escape.

Talk about some new and current Metal Blade bands that are on the verge of blowing up.

Whitechapel are poised to be one of our bands that goes to the next level. They have followed the Job for a Cowboy model, where we put out the first record after the band had developed a huge web presence and things just exploded from there. They are only going to get bigger … Another band that may be a little lower on the ladder, since they are just starting out, but have a good buzz, is Lazarus AD. They are more like old-school thrash done well. They’re like a new band based on an older style, and it’s exciting.

Back to the point that Metal Blade puts out a lot of releases in a year. How has the label adapted amid the current financial market and crisis?

We have to be fiscally responsible as much as possible. We sign bands early and develop them. Five years ago, it required a huge amount of financial commitment, from touring, a recording budget and promotional dollars, to sign a band, but with the new model, the band can make money by touring and through their merchandise. What we as a label do is sell records and recorded music, and it’s less expensive when we’re not footing all the bills and a band is able to do their thing. We try not to overdo it, but also to do it the right way.

You are often at your band’s shows, sporting other Metal Blade bands gear. You still ‘live’ the metal life. Did you ever expect to achieve this type of success in this genre?

If you asked me when I started if I thought I’d have a successful career in metal, I’d have said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I am a huge fan who was in the right place at the right time. I never started out hoping to be a record executive. It was the furthest thing from my mind. In the learning process, I made every mistake there was to be made, and I learned and moved on. And it’s more fun now, since there is so much good music out there. It’s exciting for me as a fan.

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