There are a few metal compilations that exist in deified air, usually for being ground zero of a particular scene. Witness Metal for Muthas, the 1980 release that coalesced singles and demos from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal into one formative launching pad for Iron Maiden, or 1987’s Raging Death, famous for unleashing pre-Obituary Xecutioner, and Satan’s Revenge Part II a year later which officially introduced many to Morbid Angel.
Still, probably the most coveted metal compilation is the first Metal Massacre whose initial pressing launched the careers of underground legends Cirith Ungol and Malice, mainstream rockers Ratt and Steeler (before they had Yngwie J. Malmsteen in the lineup), and this other band you might have heard of, Metallica, whose primitive version of “Hit the Lights” closed the album.
Obviously, 35 years later, Metallica has done pretty well for itself. And so has the label that released that album, Metal Blade. The record company was formed by a cherubic young man with a love for all things metal and a penchant for sporting band shirts with the sleeves cut off, Brian Slagel. At the start of For the Sake of Heaviness: The History of Metal Blade Records (BMG Books), Slagel ruminates about the incremental steps he took as he went from metal fan to record store buyer, fanzine editor, concert promoter, and finally record label head with the release of Metal Massacre.
From there the book goes in a fairly straight chronological path detailing mostly the high points in Metal Blade’s history: releasing classic metal albums from the likes of Slayer, Fate’s Warning, GWAR, and Voivod, as well as more than a dozen more Metal Massacre compilations whose track lists read like a who’s who of ‘80s metal. There are an equal number of anecdotes concerning bands and albums that he obviously loves to this day and insider looks at the business side; one gets the feeling that Slagel spends as much time being a fan as he does running the label.
That ratio follows through with the subjects of interviews interspersed throughout the book, a mix of artists he has worked with and people who have worked for him. This was all compiled by co-author Mark Eglinton who has written biographies of James Hetfield as well as Behemoth vocalist Adam Nergal Darski and Rex Brown of Pantera. The Q&A format combined with Slagel’s uncomplicated remembrances makes For the Sake of Heaviness easy to digest.
The book is obviously a celebration rather than a warts-and-all history, which in this era of internet snark and tell-all tomes sometimes seems like a missed opportunity to filet a sacred cow or two. If he had issues with the rivalries he had with other metal indies such as Megaforce and Combat, he’s keeping it to himself. If you expected debauched tales of musicians doing lines of coke off studio consoles, you will be disappointed.
In the 33 1/3 book on Slayer’s Reign in Blood, the departure to Rick Rubin’s Def Jam and Slagel’s unsuccessful attempts to insert himself as part of the deal caused for quite a bit of acrimony. Maybe time heals all wounds, as Kerry King consented to being interviewed for the book. More likely Slagel is not someone to dwell on the negative or waste time with idle gossip.
You can say that Slagel was lucky to just be in the right place at the right time, and he seems to self-effacingly agree with that notion. But part of Metal Blade’s success is how the label and the label’s owner have kept up relationships. William Berrol, who is featured prominently in the interviews, started working with him as an attorney making $10 an hour to go over contracts in the early days and they’re still working together now. And of course Metallica’s Lars Ulrich wrote the book’s forward.
The music industry, even in the insular heavy metal ghetto, has no shortage of seedy characters, ripped-off bands, booking agents who are jerks, and arrogant band managers. For the Sake of Heaviness shows that you can be a nice guy with a work ethic and a passion and make your mark without changing very much, even those same band shirts with the sleeves cut off.
Metal Blade’s Deep Cuts
At the end of the book, selected interviewees made lists of their personal favorite Metal Blade releases. Since lists are fun and the book is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the label, here in chronological order are 35 relatively unheralded releases worth hearing that Brian Slagel released on Metal Blade or the punk/hardcore side label Death Records.
Warlord, Deliver Us (1983)
Obsession, Marshall Law (1983)
Witchkiller, Day of the Saxons (1984)
Thrust, Fist Held High (1984)
Omen, Battle Cry (1984)
Satan, Court in the Act (1984)
Lizzy Borden, Love You Too Pieces (1985)
Attacker, Battle at Helm’s Deep (1985)
Hirax, Raging Violence (1985)
Deaf Dealer, Keeper of the Flame (1986)
Sentinel Beast, Depths of Death (1986)
Détente, Recognize No Authority (1986)
Dr. Know, This Island Earth (1986)
Cities, Annihilation Absolute (1986)
Liege Lord, Burn to My Touch (1987)
Goo Goo Dolls, Goo Goo Dolls (1987)
Various, River’s Edge Soundtrack (1987)
Viking, Man of Straw (1989)
Rigor Mortis – Freaks (1989)
Eviction, The World Is Hours Away (1990)
Various, New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited (1990)
Agony Column, Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles (1991)
Anacrusis Manic Impressions (1991)
Paradise Lost, Shades of God (1992)
Epidemic, Decameron (1992)
Malhavoc, Premeditated Murder (1992)
Skrew, Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame (1992)
Sacrifice, Apocalypse Inside (1993)
thOught industry, Mods Carve the Pig: Assassins, Toads and God’s Flesh (1993)
Tourniquet, Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance (1993)
Jacobs Dream, Jacobs Dream (2000)
Yob, The Illusion of Motion (2004)
Hallows Eve, History of Terror (2006)
Cellador, Enter Deception (2006)
Bison BC, Dark Ages (2010)