Master of Metal; Brian Slagel has been in the trenches for a quarter century.
COLUMN: SCOTT MCLENNAN
When Brian Slagel launched Metal Blade Records 25 years ago, a battle cry around the fledgling operation was "Heavy metal will never die."
The catchphrase proved prophetic, as heavy metal remains one of rock music's indestructible cornerstones, and Metal Blade itself is still a hugely influential architect building upon that foundation.
From Metal Blade's beginnings, when Slagel released the first recordings by Metallica on a compilation album, up to the present as home to such trend-setting bands as The Red Chord, Unearth, The Black Dahlia Murder and As I Lay Dying, Metal Blade has lived up to the cutting-edge imagery of its moniker.
Metal Blade's legacy of both stoking the heavy-metal fires with new talent and ensuring that unrepentant hell-raisers such as Cannibal Corpse build long-running careers will be celebrated at the ninth annual New England Metal and Hardcore Festival happening Friday and Saturday at The Palladium in Worcester.
The festival's opening day will feature the return of Norway's black-metal titans Dimmu Borgir plus Bury Your Dead. Singer Mat Bruso from Worcester left Bury Your Dead last year and was recently replaced by former I Killed the Prom Queen singer Michael Crafter (and in that wake, IKTPQ announced its breakup earlier this month). DevilDriver, Walls of Jericho, Kataklysm, Kylesa, Skinless, The Devil Wears Prada, All Shall Perish, 100 Demons, Nora, The Human Abstract, Still Remains and others are also on the Friday bill.
On Saturday, Metalfest gives itself over to Metal Blade with the label's roster supplying performances by Unearth, Cannibal Corpse, The Red Chord, The Black Dahlia Murder, Lizzy Borden, Job for a Cowboy, Goatwhore, Shai Hulud, Demiricous, Hallow's Eve, Cellador, Beyond the Embrace, Architect, Animosity, Psyopus, If Hope Dies and others.
The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival opens at noon each day.
Tickets are $35 per day, with a two-day pass available for $65. Two stages will be in operation each day of the festival, with the music running until the wee hours. Tickets are available online at tickets.com, and at Strawberries record stores and the Palladium box office.
Metal Blade has long been an integral player at Worcester's annual metal blowout, and last year while Slagel was attending the show he and festival organizers from MassConcerts started talking about Metal Blade's milestone anniversary.
"They said, `Hey, want to do a whole day of Metal Blade bands?' and it evolved from there. I knew they would work hard to make it happen, and we wanted it to happen because the New England metalfest has a great reputation. It hasn't been easy pulling it together, but we are making it happen," Slagel said.
Metal Blade night boasts an impressive scope as it covers the label's earliest forays into the L.A. metal scene via an appearance by Lizzy Borden and runs right up to the current fascination with the sorts of extreme thrash generated by Job for a Cowboy. Bands such as Unearth, Black Dahlia Murder and The Red Chord represent the thoroughbreds in the Metal Blade stable that have kept the label in business for a lot longer than anyone had the right to expect.
The Red Chord, a band formed in Revere and which considers The Palladium "home court," is a good model of how Metal Blade sustains itself. Red Chord singer Guy Kozowyk said he and the rest of his band mates got their musical bearings listening to various underground acts releasing work on Metal Blade.
"I was about 14 when someone introduced me to death metal. I'd read the lyrics to Cannibal Corpse songs. I got into Suffocation, and that just shaped my musical direction. When you go from Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots to Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation at an age when you are shaping your influences, that kick-starts a musical direction for you," said Kozowyk, whose The Red Chord has its next Metal Blade release coming in a few weeks.
Kozowyk said he is proud to be part of the Metal Blade story and is quite frankly surprised the story is still going.
"The label is still kicking butt and doing it in a young man's game. They started that label when those of us in this band were just being born," Kozowyk said. "I think there was a time when people thought Metal Blade was dead in the water. But then they went out and found a bunch of bands that were fresh and did not betray the roots of the label. They picked up on bands like us, Unearth, As I Lay Dying and are now viewed as still being the front-runners for metal."
Slagel estimated that Metal Blade has released around 2,000 records. In addition to the Metal Massacre compilation he put together in 1982 while running the New Heavy Metal Revue fanzine, Slagel's fledgling record imprint released the early music by Slayer, Corrosion of Conformity, and later, Lamb of God.
"It's been great to have worked with great bands at the beginnings of their careers and to help them develop those careers," Slagel said.
Slagel was working in a Southern Californian record store when he formed the basis of Metal Blade, and that locale proved fertile for growing the label. Now Metal Blade is a global influence, pulling bands from around the world, and traffics rather briskly in Massachusetts, where both Unearth and The Red Chords come from.
Since the Flood is Metal Blade's most recent Massachusetts acquisition, and in keeping with Metal Blade's hunt for the new, the band does not sound much like its Bay State peers.
"It's really a big deal. We're the odd band on the label since we don't really sound like Cannibal Corpse or the bigger metal-core bands. But in this case, being different means the label is more excited to work with you," said Since the Flood's Luke Buckbee.
Since the Flood released its 2005 debut "Valor and Vengeance" on the Ironclad imprint run by Unearth's Trevor Phipps. Metal Blade works with a handful of affiliates such as Ironclad and Kozowyk's Black Market Activities as he develops a farm system of sorts. The success of that incubator network can be seen in such grads as Lamb of God, which went from Metal Blade affiliate Prosthetic Records to its current home on Epic.
Buckbee said that the flagship imprint liked what it heard on Since the Flood's debut and worked out a deal to release the follow-up "No Compromise" earlier this year. "No Compromise" is a fresh blast of old-school hard core. It is easy to hear what Metal Blade liked about Since the Flood. The band's frantic pacing and tight arrangements are pure hard-core, yet singer Chuck Bouley effectively cuts through the musical maelstrom, dodging blasts of metallic guitar riffage and sprays of jagged rhythm, to deliver a fresh arrangement of hard core's themes of persevering against all odds. The music is both familiar and fresh sounding.
If you gamble on music, Since the Flood is a pretty decent bet. Metal Blade, though, has had its more questionable signings. Metal Blade at one point had The Goo Goo Dolls on the roster, a move Slagel attributed to the label's attempt to cross into a punk market.
But the triumphs far outweigh the slip-ups in Metal Blade's 25-year march through the underground. And while Slagel's business acumen is undoubtedly sharp, it is the passion he and others at Metal Blade have for the music they release that is equally important.
"I still remain a fan," Slagel said. "I think that's why we existed this long."
Scott McLennan can be reached at email@example.com
New England Metal and Hardcore Festival
When: Noon Friday and Saturday
Where: The Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester
How much: $35 per day, $65 for a two-day pass
CUTLINE: Brian Slagel
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Apr 22, 2007|
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