We live in age where the very notion of record labels having any kind of major impact on our cultural awareness has become rather redundant. But back in the late ‘80s, when heavy music was in a wild and thrilling state of flux, Earache Records slowly, steadily and almost casually became the most important label in the metal underground and its influence continues to reverberate through our world today.
Digby Pearson (who today was announced as the winner of AIM’s Pioneer award) founded Earache in Nottingham in 1985 as an outlet for his own rabid enthusiasm for new and extreme music. Within a couple of years, Dig had completely rewritten the rulebook, not least due to the release of the far-beyond-seminal first album by Napalm Death in 1987; the immortal Scum. Death metal was still in its infancy at this point and grindcore was just a word used by Napalm drummer Micky Harris to cheerily describe his band’s furious din, but Earache cornered both markets and set about releasing a still jaw-dropping series of stone-cold classics that permanently affected the entire metal scene, taking the doom metal and industrial aesthetics along for the ride too.
Records by Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Godflesh, Carcass, Cathedral, Sleep, Entombed, Brutal Truth, Terrorizer, Vader, At The Gates, Iron Monkey and many more irrevocably altered the underground metal scene and paved the way for the decades of further diversity and extremity that followed. Blastbeats, death growls, industrial trimmings… you name it, Earache were there at the start. Through the cross-pollinating likes of Dub War, Pitchshifter and The Berzerker, Earache also displayed a remorseless passion for artists that dared to think outside the box.
So many of the sub-genres and stylistic quirks that are de rigueur today can be traced back to Earache releases, and even some of the label’s less successful ventures were remarkably prescient: check out the Industrial Strength compilation from 1995 to hear some EDM that makes Skrillex sound like Tinkerbell farting. Although still widely regarded as a touchstone label for extreme metal, Earache have shown their shrewd grasp of changing cultural winds in recent years by snapping up some of the finest classic rock bands on the planet (including the chart-bothering Rival Sons) while still flying the flag for balls-out metal via the likes of Municipal Waste, Savage Messiah, Evile and Oceano. But it is for their utterly inspirational and fearless championing of metal’s gnarliest tendencies and underlying creativity spread across 30 years of life-affirming noise that Earache will always be celebrated. Long may their reign of sonic terror continue.