Some Heads Are Going To Roll.... Brain Slagel Speaks Out
Metal Blade are the Godfather's of metal music, having started out in 1982 by Brian Slagel who worked in a local record store who tried to promote local gigs in L.A. It soon became clear that Brian would soon start to release the Metal Massacre releases which featured various artist's including Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth ad many more. Having built a reputation in and around L.A. the word was getting out that brian was doing so well that he soon started to set up what is now known as 'Metal Blade'.
The label to me released some of the finest albums of the 80's, with such bands as Fates Warning, Helstar, Omen, Liege Lord, Savage Grace, Lizzy Borden, Slayer, and the list goes on. I managed to chat with brian about the history of the label, his favourite albums and about his new book. Here is what he had to say, keep the blade alive!!!
Well Brian it's a pleasure speaking to you, we have met before very briefly at Wacken 2001 I believe. I hope you are having a good day? We are hear to talk about you're label and the fact you have a book that has just been released. So let's get this party started by asking you the following questions.
Yeah Jason, nice chatting to you, so I'm going to start by asking you as a child growing up what sort f bands did you listen too? Also how did you get into Rock & Heavy Metal?
"Well when I was a kid there wasn't much music in my house and my dad liked Johnny Cash a lot of Country stuff and my mum was more into Neil Diamond and I never really got a lot of exposure to music really. When I was 11yrs old I went to one of my cousins house who had just bought 'Machine Head' by Deep Purple and he played that for me and I instantly loved what I heard, it was insane!! So next day I found it for $1 and a week or so later my neighbor said if you like Deep Purple you should check out Black Sabbath. I guess that started me on the path to Heavy Metal music.
I got into Kiss, Judas Priest, UFO, Iron Maiden, Motorhead all those great bands from the 70's and 80's."
Do you have a favourite band of all time then?
"Yes it's Iron Maiden for sure. I love Judas Priest and the 1st time I saw Iron Maiden they were opening up for Judas Priest in 81. (ED: What is you're favourite Judas Priest album? Mine is 'Screaming for Vengeance' ) Well mine would have to be 'Stained Class' and Kerry King is a good friend of mine and he loves Judas Priest. Liking that Priest album was one of those that when it came out it was so different from anything else I had heard. You had that super fast double bass drumming and some heavy riffs like 'Exciter'. As for Iron Maiden it would have to be 'Number of the Beast'."
My 1st show was Blackfoot in 81 with Samson in my home city of Hull, what was you're 1st gig and where?
"Mine was Kiss just before the live album came out and that show was really crazy because it was insanely loud and it was the 1st time I smelt pot and wondered what the smell was. I love the whole Kiss shows, there amazing.
Was you influenced by the smaller NWOBHM bands?
"I was a massive fan of that whole scene, those bands really influenced by them and I had all 7" singles by all the band from that time and 12" too, I just loved that era. There were so many cool bands that were around back then and inspired me and a lot of musicians over here."
Is there any member of you're family who likes Heavy Metal music?
"No it's just me, there were no members of my family liking this music when I was growing up. Just hearing that Deep Purple album made me a fan of this music."
Do you play an instrument at all Brian? If so which instrument?
"I cannot play any instrument, I have tried to play the guitar and I tried t play the drums but I can't play anything at all. (Ed Has any musician on you're label ever tried to teach you how to play guitar or drums?) Well they all threatened to teach me to play (laughing) but I am a hopeless case."
Before we talk about Metal Blade how did you get into the music industry?
"Well I was a kid working in a local record store and like you I had a fanzine called 'The New Heavy Metal Review' too. I was also booking a few local shows in L.A. and there were always some great bands hanging out like Motley Crue, Ratt and Bitch and nobody would pay attention to them back then. There were no cell phone or internet back then and nobody knew about these great bands and so I decided to do something about it.
All the major labels couldn't care less about these bands back then, So compilation like 'Metal for Mothers' which had the NWOBHM stuff on it and they were a big influence on me. So I thought it they can do it then maybe I should try it too. So I decided to start doing them myself with U.S. band which became the 'Metal Massacre' releases. So I made the 1st Metal Massacre with the intentions of it not turning into anything successful or a label and it sold really well through a local distributor.
The distributor said I know you don't have any money but you seem to know what you are doing so we will give u a pressing deal and distribute it for you. The 1st band was Bitch then Armored Saint and that started the label."
What name did you have for the label back then you must of had some ideas?
"I was originally going to call it 'Skull & Crossbones' but a member from Blonde had started a label called that, so I wanted the 'Metal' in the name of the label so 'Metal Blade' popped up and that's it!!"
What bands were on the 1st Metal Massacre release? Bitch, Armored Saint, was Metallica on that too?
"Yes they were, Ratt, Malice, Cirith Ungol, Metallica, and I was friends with Lars back then as he had moved from Denmark to L.A. and a friend of mien named John and I were the only 2 people in L.A. who knew about the NWOBHM and John saw this kid wearing a Saxon t shirt at a show which ended up been Lars and he asked where he got that t shirt from, He said he saw them in Denmark and so we ended up been good friends."
Out of all the Metal Massacre releases you did, which was the most successful one you released?
"Well they all sold in similar numbers and I think #5 had the most bands on it, which had Omen, Voi-Vod, Over Kill, Fates Warning, Hellhammer and Metal Church."
My 2 favourite Power Metal bands were both on you're label.. Omen and Helstar, love the records you released. You released about 85% of my favourite releases back in the day ,so thank you Brian.
"I am a huge fan of both of those bands. I'm glad I released so many of you're favourite albums Jason.
Are you releasing any new Metal Massacre releases?
"No not really we kind of stopped doing them in 1995 with the odd one here and there. We did one in 2006 just because we signed a bunch of modern bands and we thought we had the brand we might as well use it. We also did one last year 2015, we may do more we are not sure yet, who knows??"
Looking back at all the releases you put out do you have any favourites?
"Well I love all of them, but Armored Saint is one of those bands that I 1st signed and I love their music. They were the 1st band that got signed to a major label after leaving us. When they did press they would always mention me and the label and I have been friends with them for years now. Their guitarist David passed away and things with Chrysalis were not going too well so when they broke up I wanted to release some of their demos they had not released they were too good to be ignored.
So I begged them to get back together and I would put out their next record. So finally they agreed to reform and to get Dave who had worked with Alice in Chains to produce the record and have Q Prime who had worked with Metallica to manage the band. The album did well and John joined Anthrax for 10 yrs and then they made a comeback and still doing it today. We at Metal Blade really thought that Armored Saint were going to be huge, John is one of my all time favourite singers.
(Ed: You released one album back in about 85-86 by a band called Bloodlust who released 'Guilty as Sin', Why didn't you release it on CD? King Fowler from October 31st released it) That is a good question. Sometimes we have licensing deals that and we end up loosing the rights to it, I'm going to write that down you made a good point there Jason.
I love Omen, they were around at the time when L.A. started to become more glam and there was a little core scene that had Omen, Savage Grace, Slayer, and I still listen too Omen records all the time. I love the 1st Omen because it was the 1st one, but I like 'Teeth of the Hydra'. You know the song 'Holy Mythra' from 'The Curse', it has a riff in there that Metallica have used on their new album and it is really fun to hear it because I doubt that James was ever thinking of stealing that riff. I haven't talked to James about it yet but I will do soon haha."
What about Helstar, what's your favourite album with them? You should print Omen and Helstar t shirts Brain.
"I love 'Nosferatu', its a fantastic album, well it's the rights to artwork by the artist so it can be a little difficult to get the rights sometimes."
When bands like Omen and Helstar and many more reformed did you ever consider resigning these bands?
"Well I still talk to them but it can always be difficult and sometimes the label goes in a different direction or the band does and it can always be tough. We try to work with bands that we love and can work with and some of the bands are now doing it part time which can be very difficult to work with."
Another band that you had on you're label in the early days was 'Trouble'. I love that bands music, tell me about them and you're favourite album.
"I love that band, they were the 1st band we signed that were not from L.A., a friend of mine from Chicago sent me a live tape of them and 2 demo songs and I was blown away I had to talk to the band right away. When we made those records the band are from Chicago and studio time was so expensive there, it was pretty impossible for them to make a record there. We had Bill Metoyer who had a studio in L.A., so the 1st record they just got in a van and drove to L.A. and we made that 1st record in 10 days."
What does you're family think of you doing Metal Blade?
"Well they all know I love doing it, it is my live and I never want to retire as I'd get very bored and I want to keep my brain working (laughing)."
How many members of staf do you have from the early days still working with you?
"We still have a lot like Mike Firley he has been with the label for 30 yrs, Tracey Vera has been with us 30yrs, Daniel and Andreas from Europe label has been with us about 20yrs and Andy Turner (UK) with Will who are awesome and they have been working with us forever too."
Tell me briefly about the book you have coming out. How big will the book be?
"Well it comes out 29th August and it is a pretty quick and easy read to be honest. It has a couple of 100 pages and I think it's about 4-5hr read and I am very proud with the way it turned out and there are not as many pictures as we would of liked to have had. I think there are 12 pages of pictures because in 1994 we had a storage unit which had all our old stuff in it got destroyed in the earthquake we lost the lot. We got some cool pictures but not near enough what we wanted to use because of the earthquake."
Why did you want to do this book now in you're career?
"Well we were trying to think of something we could do for the 35th anniversary with boxset's and it made sense that we made the book now and to get the stories out now whilst we can. We started working on it a couple of years ago and it's coming out here shortly."
Well Brian I want to thank you for talking to me about the label, best of look with the book, do you have anything to say before we finish the interview?
"Yes thank you to the fans for their love and support, staying true to our label. I hope you like our future releases and also enjoy reading the book."
Thank to Brian Slagel and MRr T for the interview.