A beginner’s guide to Metal Blade Records in five essential albums

The album covers of Slayer's Show No Mercy, Amon Amarth's Twilight of the Thunder God, Unearth's The Oncoming Storm and Cannibal Corpse's Tomb of the Mutilated
(Image credit: Press)

Formed in 1982 by heavy metal fanatic Brian Slagel, Metal Blade Records has grown from one man’s passion project into one of the most iconic brands in the genre. The label is now one you can trust to deliver cutting-edge sounds from all sides of the metal spectrum, getting in on the ground floor to help facilitate the rise of thrash, death metal, metalcore and many more essential movements. It’s an amazingly inspiring story, and here it is told in a mere five releases.

Metal Hammer line break

Slayer – Show No Mercy (1983)

Metal Blade famously released the first Metallica song on their Metal Massacre compilation. As seismic as that event was, we can’t ignore the birth of Slayer as the first step to really putting this label on the map. Of course, the thrash metal heretics would go on to top Show No Mercy repeatedly, but their enthusiastic, youthful Venom worship remains a giddy thrill even four decades later. Would it be here were it not for the fact that Slayer went on to become… well, Slayer? Maybe not. However, by signing one of the most important bands of the genre, Metal Blade showed it was a label that you could trust with metal’s future.

D.R.I. – Crossover (1987)

They never went on to sell as many copies as Slayer, but you cannot deny the huge impact that D.R.I. (that’s Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) had on the metal scene. Their third album coined the term for an entirely new subgenre after all. The worlds of punk rock and heavy metal were kept at more than an arm’s length before the likes of Suicidal Tendencies, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags and more began to merge the two. But not many got as close to the perfect balance as the Texan crew. Crossover is as fast and chaotic as any punk album, whilst also keeping the crunch and technicality of the finest thrash. It broke down boundaries, united tribes and still sounds magnificent all these years later.

Cannibal Corpse – Tomb Of The Mutilated (1992)

Is Tomb Of The Mutilated the first or most groundbreaking death metal album? Nope. Is it even the best Cannibal Corpse album? That would also be a no. However, it represents a commercial high for a genre that really had no right to invade the minds of normal, casual music fans. With CC’s infamous cameo in Ace Venture: Pet Detective, playing Tomb…’s opener Hammer Smashed Face, they were suddenly thrust into a spotlight that no one could have anticipated. For Metal Blade to suddenly have so many eyes on one of their artists was a real coup, raising the profile of the label even higher. It also helps that, in classic Cannibal Corpse style, the album is a brilliantly gruesome collection of savage death metal.

Unearth – The Oncoming Storm (2004)

By 2004, metal was changing. The stranglehold that nu metal had on pop culture had all but gone away. In its place came metalcore and the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal, both of which brought heavy music’s aesthetics back to basics, whilst also being sonically inspired by heavier and more classic-sounding fare. The first wave of these bands to break through felt like a breath of fresh air at the time, and Metal Blade’s contribution to this changing of the guard was Boston crew Unearth. Their second studio album The Oncoming Storm may not have shifted as many units as Killswitch Engage, Lamb Of God or Trivium did, but it’s a flawless collection of melodeath-tinged hardcore bangers. 

Amon Amarth – Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)

We’re all used to the fact that Amon Amarth are a massive deal these days. But, much like the success of Cannibal Corpse a decade and a half prior, no one could really have predicted that a Swedish melodic death metal band who were obsessed with Norse mythology could ever have crossed over into metal’s highest echelons. Metal Blade deserve plenty of credit for being with the band from day one, and staying patient with them until this, their seventh album, saw them achieve their apex. Twilight… is a fantastic album, showcasing the monstrous best of Amon Amarth’s viking metal. There was also some serious ambition, signposted by roping in members of Children Of Bodom, Entombed and Apocalyptica to help AA make what was then the biggest, boldest, bravest album of their career. Considering this band’s current place in the metal world, it worked out pretty well for them, and their iconic label, in the end.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.