It was the Monday before Christmas. We had spent the morning blasting Metallica across the office, in friendly competition with festive flute music on the stereo of our sister magazine, Prog. We had spent the afternoon in a meeting about the next two issues, spinning up ideas to make Metal Hammer sing in 2017. Then we were asked to gather in the middle of the room, where an unsmiling man and a woman were clutching a thick stack of envelopes. They informed us that Metal Hammer’s publisher, TeamRock, had gone into administration. We no longer had jobs. And as for the magazine, its future was uncertain.
Everyone looked at each other in shock. Some people started to panic about their rent or mortgage payments, and made hurried phonecalls to family members. Others hugged. There were tears. In a dreamlike state, we collected our redundancy letters and wandered to the pub for a few Jack and Cokes, where the news started to sink in.
Beyond the financial worries, there was a sense of grief. For many on the editorial team, working at Metal Hammer was more than just a job – it was a way of life. We all grew up reading the magazine, and spent nights at gigs, weekends at festivals and countless hours listening to music. We did it because we love metal, we wanted to share our enthusiasm, and were proud to be part of Hammer’s rich history.
Last year was a landmark, as Hammer celebrated its 30th birthday. We put out our special collectors’ issue containing 30 new interviews from the great and the good, acknowledging the past and, more importantly, looking firmly towards the future. We recorded the Metal Hammer: In Residence series of podcasts for Spotify, interviewing everyone from Iron Maiden to Bring Me The Horizon. We shouted about upcoming bands from Creeper to Calligram. We also continued to support global metal, and had devoted a page to Mumbai’s blackened death-metallers Demonic Resurrection in the issue before our publisher collapsed. We were on sale in Asia, Australia, North America and online. Our voice was louder than ever, our reach was wider than ever, and we were committed to pushing things forward. With the closure of the company, it felt like Hammer had been cut down in its prime.
Despite our disappointment, what happened in the pub that Monday night was remarkable. Firstly, our phones lit up with messages of support from friends in the music industry. Secondly, we found out that Orange Goblin’s Ben Ward had started a JustGiving crowdfunding campaign with his girlfriend, to raise £20,000 for TeamRock’s ex-staff, who had been left without December’s pay or severance money.
It was a huge surprise when donations started flooding in from readers, mates, family and bands all over the world. The target was quickly smashed, and the comments on the page made us cry. “As we say in the pit – if someone falls, you pick them up,” read one. “Thanks for doing this to the staff of my beloved magazine, Metal Hammer, which has got me into so many bands over the years,” said another.
Over the next few days and nights, Ben’s phone was constantly buzzing with notifications from the crowdfunding page, as a stream of well-wishers donated and left messages. “I think it was a very good indication of how much love and affection there was for not only the staff of the magazines, but the magazines themselves, and how much people do look forward to receiving their copy of Metal Hammer through the post each month,” he reflects. “You read through the comments – how many people were saying there was going to be a massive hole in their lives. It was a bit overwhelming.”
As the hours wore on, the campaign gained momentum and was featured on US music industry website Billboard, UK media site Press Gazette, The Guardian website, in London’s Evening Standard newspaper, and on BBC Radio 5 Live. We were left speechless as legends such Avenged Sevenfold, Machine Head and more donated to the fund and posted on social media.
Avenged highlighted the role Hammer had played in bringing metal to the masses. “Metal Hammer, Classic Rock magazine and Prog magazine will no longer exist,” they posted on Facebook. “If you have ever travelled in the UK, you would notice that on every magazine stand, heavy metal was prominently featured by these three magazines next to all of the other print that is acceptable in the mainstream. Now that it’s gone, it pushes metal and rock even further away from the average consciousness. Some believe in keeping heavy music underground. We don’t. This music means so much to so many, including us. Our music should be inclusive, and losing Metal Hammer is a major blow to all of us.”
Meanwhile, Machine Head posted some pictures of their previous covers, from the 90s to the present day. “Bummed to hear about Metal Hammer UK,” Robb Flynn said. “We had/ have some good friends at Hammer, and they gave Machine Head a lot of love over the last 22 years.”
The new year rolled around. On January 5, Orange Goblin played a benefit show at London pub the Black Heart. Tickets sold out in 11 minutes. Hammer’s editor, Merlin Alderslade, took to the stage along with other ex-employees of TeamRock, to raise horns and beers to the room in thanks, before the band tore through the likes of The Devil’s Whip and Red Tide Rising. “It was a lot of fun – it was great to play a small stage like that,” enthuses Ben today. “But the special thing for me was when the staff came onstage and said a few words to thank everybody. It meant a lot.” The gig was a reaffirmation of the power of togetherness, but we weren’t sure yet whether it was Hammer’s send-off, or simply the closing of a chapter. Two days later, we were happy to see the issue we’d sent to the printers before Christmas unexpectedly hit the stands, featuring three brand-new cover artists: Asking Alexandria, Halestorm and Sabaton. We also had a fourth, limited-edition cover devoted to Anthrax’s 30th anniversary tour of Among The Living. It was a poignant moment in a time of uncertainty. We had been excited about the next generation of music, and speaking to the next generation of fans. We hoped the magazine would somehow carry on.
Lzzy Hale posted her cover on Instagram, and wrote a stirring tribute: “It’s amazing to be honoured with the cover of Metal Hammer,” she wrote. “It is also bittersweet because the rag’s future is devastatingly uncertain. I say ‘uncertain’ instead of ‘no more’, because I feel like we as fans will not let this hard rock spirit go quietly.”
She was right. Thankfully, a few days later, Hammer was saved. The issue you’re holding in your hands is not only our first back with our old publisher Future, but proof that if you shout loudly enough, your voices will be heard. Meanwhile, the crowdfunding campaign reached a total of just under £90,000, helping many, many people at a difficult time. We are humbled by the outpouring of generosity from the rock and metal community, and forever cheered by your words and actions.
We are especially indebted to Orange Goblin, who showed that our scene is compassionate and loyal to the last. Twenty years since first appearing in the magazine, Ben is still championing its existence. “I think it’s fantastic news that Hammer is going to continue,” he smiles. “It’s essential for the heavy metal scene, and I’m just one of thousands of people around the world that will be glad they’re still going to receive their monthly issue. Thank god.”
The last couple of months have not been easy, but it’s clear that Metal Hammer, together with Prog and Classic Rock magazines, touched more people than we ever realised. We will keep bringing you the music that matters. We will not let you down. And in the words of Dio, metal will never die.