When I started the label in 1982, I never ever thought we’d still be going all these years later. I think one of the reasons we are still around is that all the bands on Metal Blade are friends of mine. It is a big family, and that certainly helps in terms of why this label continues to do well. I also feel we have constantly embraced new technology when it’s come in. We have never been afraid of what it means. So, when CDs first arrived we used that. And now in the digital age, again we have made sure that it is part of the Metal Blade philosophy. We are always thinking ahead and adapted our approach to take in the state of the art. But choosing 11 albums from our catalogue… that is so tough. This is my choice today, but it could always change tomorrow. So, with apologies to all those bands I haven’t been able to include, here goes…
ARMORED SAINT – Symbol Of Salvation (1991)
This was the second band I ever signed to the label. And they were the first one to then move to a major company, Chrysalis. And once they were at a big label, these guys never forgot about Metal Blade, and always mentioned us in interviews, for which I was very grateful. But they had problems with Chrysalis, and then guitarist Dave Pritchard died from leukemia in 1990. They had done some demos with Dave just before he passed away, but as far as they were concerned it was all over. However, there were some very good songs on those demos, and I talked to them about doing one final album. And they agreed. We got Dave Jerden in to produce it, and the record came out so well; we even lifted a solo Dave did on the demo version of Tainted Past. They are very old friends of mine now, and I was so proud they did this album, and how well it turned out.
VARIOUS – Metal Massacre (1982)
Of course I have to include this. The album that started the label. Look, I never intended to form a record company. At the time, I was running a fanzine and working in a record shop. But I was seeing all these exciting young bands around the LA scene. What I didn’t want to happen was that those bands would be forgotten and just disappear. I had seen that happen before with bands like Xciter, guitarist George Lynch’s first one. They were really good, but never released anything, so who knew about them. So, I decided to get Ratt, Cirith Ungol, Malice and Steeler to agree to put songs on this compilation. I also got my mate Lars to put together a band and be part of this. I think his band went on to do quite well!
FATES WARNING – The Spectre Within (1985)
I know Fates Warning fans would usually go for Awaken The Guardian, but for me this one sounds better. Yes, I do like Awaken The Guardian, but this one is a personal choice. I always liked what Fates Warning did. They were playing progressive metal when nobody else was doing it, and they still look for ways to push the boundaries. This album I believe was revolutionary for the time.
CIRITH UNGOL – King Of The Dead (1984)
This lot were always weird and different to anybody else at the time. They came from Ventura in California, which is about 45 miles north of LA. And what they were playing was psychedelic metal for want of a better description. Cirith Ungol played with almost everyone at the time. Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Armored Saint, but they never quite fitted into what was going on back then. Now, they have become a huge cult band. People you would never have expected now worship the band and love this album.
AMON AMARTH – Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)
“One of our more recent releases. They have been with us for so long now, since 1998’s Once Sent From The Golden Hall. And this is one of their seminal records. They started out as an underground death metal act from Sweden. But then they began to get more melodic and really kicked into gear. I recall hearing the title song for the first time, and absolutely loved it. I told the band it had to be the opening track on the album, but Amon Amarth had already decided to have it as track seven. But I persisted with them, and they thankfully agreed in the end!”
VARIOUS – New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ‘79 Revisited (1990)
Lars called me one day and said he wanted to put together a compilation to celebrate the 10th anniversary of NWOBHM. He asked if I would release it on Metal Blade. Of course I did. This was the music I grew up with, and played such an important part in shaping what I have done with the label. Besides, having the opportunity to say that Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were on Metal Blade, even if it was just for one song on a compilation, was just too good to pass on! But I know Lars had certain problems, because some of those bands didn’t exist any more. This was in a time before the internet was around, so it was tough to track the relevant people down. Typical of Lars, though, he would never give up. For instance, he was keen to get hold of Holocaust, but had no contact for him. So, he got hold of the phone book from Edinburgh, the band’s home city, and called every John Mortimer in there, until he came across Holocaust’s vocalist. And, as a result of the Holocaust track on the compilation (Death Or Glory), the band reformed!”
CANNIBAL CORPSE – Butchered At Birth (1991)
Yes, the band had much bigger albums in their career. But this is the one I truly love. It showed the were so different to all those other death metal bands. And the cover is insane! When some people saw it they asked me if I was really gonna put it out like that. Absolutely I was! Just to shake people up, the way Alice Cooper used to do – and I was a big fan of Alice growing up. Inevitably, it got the band a lot of attention. Besides, they’re great guys and very smart.
SLAYER – Hell Awaits (1985)
It’s my favourite Slayer album. Of course, Reign In Blood is a great metal album, but this one has more dynamic, and I feel is the better record. I was lucky enough to be in the studio with them the whole time while they created the music – and it was a privilege to witness the genius happening. These guys were just 18 or 19 at the time, and it was thrilling to hear the riffs and song structures they were coming up with. Usually, when you’ve been in a studio for so long working on one album, as I was with Hell Awaits, you really can’t stand to listen to it any more when it is finally done. But with this one, I couldn’t stop playing it, and had it on constantly for the next six months.
WITCHKILLER – Day Of The Saxons EP (1984)
This was a Canadian band who I thought would be huge. But they imploded. This EP, though, was just so good. Witchkiller were a traditional metal band, very much like Anthrax, if you want to compare them to anyone. They were all set to do an album, when they split up. The guitarist, John Dillabough, went on to work for Marshall in Canada for a long time. And the vocalist Dominic Sciascia… well, when I was on the road with Metallica for The Black Album, James Hetfield told me he was their pyro guy, so at least he was still involved with music.
BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME – Coma Ecliptic (2015)
I’ve always been a huge fan of this band. Long before I signed them, they opened for The Red Chord, who were on Metal Blade. I went to see the show in Oklahoma City, and afterwards took both bands out for dinner at a traditional diner, about 10 miles outside of the city; it was a place a lot of bands would go to. I picked up the bill for 20 people, but it only came to $85. But Between The Buried And Me were so grateful to have a free meal. When their manager called me some time later and said they were looking for a deal, I was delighted to sign them. This is such a complex, progressive album, and I love the direction in which they’re going. At times, it sounds a little like Dream Theater. As a non-musician, I’m in awe of what they do.
RIOT – FIRE DOWN UNDER (1999)
Yes, I know this isn’t strictly a Metal Blade album, as it was first put out in 1981. But I love this band, and when they got this album back under their control and their manager asked if I would re-release it, I was so happy to do so. For me, this is one of the greatest metal albums of all time. Such an incredible album. Now, it doesn’t sound so heavy. But back in 81, it sounded truly heavy.
Listen to our playlist on Spotify: The Best Metal Blade releases
To listen to Metallica’s first recording of Hit The Lights on the Metal Massacre compilation, click here.
Brian Slagel was talking to Malcolm Dome. For more information on Metal Blade and their releases, visit their official site.