Founder of Metal Blade Records and “Massive Hockey Fan” Brian Slagel has just released a book on his memories of the past 35 years at the label and giving personal insight into some of the most famous stories in the metal scene. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have an in depth chat about the book and his thoughts on the metal scene as a whole these days. Read on for the full transcription…
(Interview conducted prior to release)
I’m super happy with the way it came out actually. I had forgotten however that people are going to review it and ask me about it so that’s been a fun experience! I’ve had a lot of people bugging me to do a book for many years and I’ve always brushed them off and said “That’s what old people do!” When we started thinking about what to do for our 35th anniversary though, we kinda thought that a book would be a good way to tell a load of stories before I start forgetting them!
Arguably one of the most famous stories is of Cannibal Corpse and Ace Ventura. Can you remember what your initial reaction was?
So, they’d got an offer to do this movie and back in those days no one really knew who Jim Carrey was. So, I was sent the script and I was honestly like “Oh man… this is really corny and horrible” and I didn’t really think it would be good for them. We had some discussion with the band and I ultimately said that it was up to them and they weren’t too sure either but they decided to go on and do it.
I remember when I got the phone call from the director and they invited me to the LA screening of the movie and I ended up sat between the director and the producer! I was super worried as I didn’t know what to say to them but I ended up loving the film and it did wonders for their career. You never know with these things and it could have gone horribly wrong. But, thankfully it did rather well and they made the right choice.
Keeping on the Cannibal Corpse theme, I know you can’t reveal anything, but what’s the new album like?
Yeah, we’ve been finishing it up in the past few weeks and I think it’s finally done! It’s pure Cannibal Corpse and I love it. On this one the guitars have taken over a little bit and there’s a lot of really cool riffs in there. I hope other folk love it as much as I do.
What would you say is one of the biggest issues affecting small and new labels these days?
I think it’s really difficult now as there’s so many ways of getting music out these days. You’ve still got the physical which you need the distribution for, you’ve got the bandcamp and the iTunes and Amazon which are the digital, and then there’s streaming as well now. It’s really difficult for new labels to get their stuff in all those places and get paid the amount they should.
I do think once everything has settled down, it looks like the streaming platform is going to be the one that stays around for the longest. Our streaming revenue is going up everyday and I think within the next few years we’ll start to make a lot more money from it. I do know it’s a struggle these days which bums me out as I’d like to see the new labels come up and do well.
Then again, some of the big labels can get acquired by even bigger labels. For example, Century Media was acquired by Sony and that was interesting to see. I mean, as an Independent label owner I would have liked for them to stay independent but they have to do what they have to do I guess.
What are the 5 things you look for in new band these days.
First and foremost it is about the music. I have to like the music and I like a lot of things so that’s one thing. There needs to be a good team behind them as well which means they need a good manager, lawyer, merch company and label. It’s kind of like the 4 tyres on a car. They all need to be working together to ensure perfect running which is super important on a business level for a band. If you can get some kinda social media thing running then that’s a huge bonus as you’ve already got some exposure already. The bottom line at the end of the day is that it’s hard to be in a band. It’s hard and you need to accept that and bust your ass to get there. You’ve got to have the love of the music and if you have that attitude, then you should do well.
Are there any bands that have impressed you recently?
There’s loads of them! One in particular is Visigoth. We signed them recently and they’ve got this old school metal vibe which is really cool. If These Trees Could Talk are another really awesome band. The first time I heard them I was blown away and their latest album is awesome. Igorr as well are quite interesting. Their new album is a little different from what we normally do but they’re quite awesome and I figure that they’ll do quite well.
What’s your opinion of the metal scene these days?
It’s always hard to answer that. Certainly back in 80s there were a lot of interesting bands coming out and I still think that there’s a lot of interesting bands coming out these days. As a fan, I’d say it’s no different and I still really enjoy listening to new music.
There’s a load of them. Back in the day I would have loved to have kept working with Metallica. However, they had no money and I had no money so that was one. Another one was Guns ‘N’ Roses back when they were starting out. I was invited to go and see them and I declined as I thought they were a glam band. I guess they did ok!
Another was the Cowboys From Hell album from Pantera. We were kinda short of money at the time and unfortunately we had to decline that one. Looking back, we maybe should have scraped some money together but we’ve had plenty of great success stories anyway. Another one was Rammstein. I first saw them on TV when I was in Germany when their first album came out. We were talking to their manager at the time about potentially signing them and then the small label they were on got acquired by what is now Universal. They then ended up going with my friends at slash and they’ve done really well for themselves.
How did you end up getting to the current Metal Blade?
It started out as a t-shirt design actually! We were doing some new t-shirts for the label at the time and we figured it would be cool to do a t-shirt like that. It did so well that we eventually decided to make it the logo for the label.
What albums are you personally looking forward to coming out soon on the label?
Obviously the new Cannibal Corpse album. It’s always awesome to have the new Cannibal album out but I think this one is one of the strongest they’ve done. There’s also a new Black Dahlia album which I’m really looking forward to. Cannibal’s not coming out for a while though but that’ll be worth the wait. I was hoping that the Kind Diamond DVD was going to come out this year but that’s got delayed sadly.
Compared to back in the early days, what would you say has changed in the media scene?
All that stuff is changing so quickly as is the music industry as well. You know, everything is transitioning from print to online which can be really challenging as everything is digitised now. I think the biggest change I’ve seen is that there’s no long in depth interviews anymore. People’s attention spans have changed so much that it’s quite difficult to have any long content anymore.
Describe yourself and the label in 3 words.
Ah, the dreaded question!
For myself, Massive Hockey Fan and for the label, Very Old Label.
For the Sake of Heaviness is available now from all good book publishers.