“Heavy Metal Will Never Die!”
These words are not just the battle cry of every heavy music fan or the chorus of a song from a band famous for body oil and loin cloths. These are the final words in Brian Slagel and Mark Eglinton’s For The Sake Of Heaviness: The History of Metal Blade Records. The book not only serves as a way to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Metal Blade, but it serves as a partial memoir and life in metal of label founder and CEO, music historian, hockey fan, and all around great guy Slagel. To say metal and rock fans owe him an unpayable debt would be a gross understatement.
Slagel’s story begins in his pre-teen years in southern California. As he discovered rock music and the bands of his day such as Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, UFO, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and more, his passionate fandom was born in an age when you had to really work hard to discover new music that wasn’t popular. This founded a life-long love of music that has driven him to discover new bands and uncover scenes, while honoring what came before. As a hardworking, hustling teen, he devoured new bands, fell into his own little scene in SoCal, making friends over bands, and hitting up record stores, evenutally working in one, running it one day and running a fanzine.
People have heard the story many times on how he played a part in the formation of Metallica, other significant milestones in their history and how his friendship continues to this day with the band. Lars even contributed the Forward. His early fandom of the hard rock and glam rock scene, showed what and what not to do when forming a label. The creation of the Metal Massacre compilations spread awareness to legions of young metallers who discovered bands they might never have known. The early origins of bands like Slayer, Armored Saint, Exodus, Metal Church, Motely Crue, Megadeth, Guns ‘N Roses and countless others are touched on where they crossed paths. However, while significant these stories are, the weaving of anecdotes that connect he marrow from Brian’s late teens to his early days owning Metal Blade alone make this book a must read. All the people Brian met along the way, the ups and downs of the early days of the label only served to strengthen his resolve and teach him what he needed to know to get further along. Every mention is dripping with history like a crazy DaVinci Code for the story of metal where all these people meet, make deals, make music, and transform into a movement.
The early days and dealings are covered in a level of detail I certainly wasn’t expecting. Learning about the hits, near misses, and occasional struggles definitely take you back in time, whether you were cognizant of metal music or not. Through a series of deals in the 80s and 90s Brian had a hand in shaping public awareness of bands that weren’t on the label, but seeped into the public consciousness. When it came to bands like King Diamond, Cannibal Corpse, and GWAR, he’d rather walk away from a powerful media partnership with a brand that was eventually the most powerful media company in the world, rather than sell out and interfere with the integrity of those artists.Tracking the ups and down’s of music, the later chapters of the book focus on the the last few decades of the label, the changes and growth there, and the impact the current wave of modern bands have such as Amon Amarth, Goatwhore, Behemoth, and many more.
Co-written with Mark Eglinton, author of many bios of rock and metal musicians from Rex Brown, Nergal to James Hetfield, there are tons of great sidebars and interviews, adding color and context along the way. Ultimately, success has never changed Brian and you see repeated examples where he and label could have benefitted financially again and again, but made the choice to take care of an artist or a relationship, rather than make a buck. It has never been about the money, only the music. Lucky for us all that Brian and Metal Blade have persevered for all these years, and hopefully will be around for 35 more glorious years of music.