Brian Slagel founded Metal Blade Records 40 years ago in LA as a way to capture and promote the nascent heavy metal scene in his hometown. It has since become arguably the preeminent label for heavy metal worldwide, launching the careers of everyone from thrash metal superstars Metallica and Slayer to death metal giants Cannibal Corpse and The Black Dahlia Murder.
Today, Slagel partially runs the label from his home in Las Vegas. Metal Blade’s offices remain in Southern California, but Slagel made the move to here in 2016, seeking a change of pace, a relative lack of traffic and a chance to watch a new NHL franchise start from scratch. He has ingrained himself in the community since then as a Golden Knights’ and Raiders’ season-ticket holder, a restaurant connoisseur and a constant concertgoer.
That’s why he wouldn’t consider anywhere else but Las Vegas to host the biggest event in Metal Blade’s ongoing 40th anniversary celebration—an October 5 House of Blues concert featuring current Metal Blade artists Killswitch Engage and Visigoth, along with special guest Fit for an Autopsy.
The Weekly caught up with Slagel at one of his local office spaces to discuss about the milestone, the show and much more.
What does 40 years mean to you? It means I’m old, right? No, but you really don’t think about that sort of stuff when you’re just taking it day by day. You have an anniversary every five years, where you kind of have to do something, and I’m usually like, ‘Whatever.’ But for 40, a lot of the people in the music industry were like, ‘This is pretty important. This is a big thing. You guys should really celebrate it.’ So I said, ‘Oh, I guess so.’
Would you have guessed Metal Blade might have this kind of longevity 40 years ago? Never in a million years. In the very beginnings, [in] the metal scene in LA, none of us ever thought metal anything was going to get as big as it has. Looking back on it, it was just amazing to be in that city at that time. You had Mötley Crüe and Ratt on one front, and then Metallica, Slayer and everything else on the other coming from the same city at the same time. We were all just dumb, young kids, and we loved the music. I couldn’t play an instrument, so I figured, well, I guess I’m going to try this.
How did this one-off bill with Killswitch Engage, Fit for an Autopsy and Visigoth come together for your celebration? I really wanted to do something in Vegas, because I live here and it’s a fun place to do a show that’s easy for people to come in. But the problem we had is, every single one of our bigger bands is on the road this fall and [already] playing Vegas. So, we didn’t know where to go, and then I started talking to the Killswitch guys. They had an off-date from the Lamb of God tour and were able to get here. The show is early, because they have to leave and play the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento the next day.
Initially, we had a couple other bands that were going to be on the bill, but a million reasons happen, and we were struggling to get a package until we got this band Visigoth from Salt Lake City that’s younger and I really, really love. And then Killswitch’s agent said, ‘What do you think about Fit for an Autopsy?’ They’re not on Metal Blade, but they’re good friends of mine and have an off-day from the same Lamb of God tour, so I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a fun bill.’
Killswitch Engage and Fit for an Autopsy both have roots in the hardcore scene. Has it been fun to watch how successful they’ve been in the metal world? Metal almost died in the ’90s, until the whole cool metalcore scene came up in the early 2000s. That really breathed life into this whole thing. I don’t know if we’d be here talking right now if that didn’t happen. That’s really when everything turned around.
The metal world before that was not the most friendly between the bands and the people. There was a lot of competition, and it wasn’t, ‘One for all, all for one.’ That’s the hardcore scene. All these bands were for everybody else, and that whole vibe was just so great. It started with the bands itself and led into the managers, agents and everybody around them.
A record from around that time, Unearth’s The Oncoming Storm from 2004, is probably my favorite Metal Blade release ever. That was probably the first big record we had from the metalcore scene. It just blew up. We knew it was going to do well, but we didn’t realize how well. It’s a funny story: They were free agents and looking for a new deal. We were, for whatever reason, late to the party. But we wanted to see them, so we were going to their show in LA even though their manager said, ‘They’re going to sign with this other label.’ We were like, ‘OK, we just really want to see them.’ So we went, saw them, met them and hung out afterwards for a little while. Their management calls us back the next morning and said, ‘I don’t know what you guys said or did but now they want to sign with you.’ They’re awesome. Those guys are still good friends.
Do you have a favorite under-the-radar Metal Blade release from over the years that embodies what the label is about? I always go back to Armored Saint’s Symbol of Salvation. They were one of the first bands we had signed in the early days, and they were the first band we had signed that went to a major label. They were so great to us—they were getting interviewed in all these big magazines when nobody knew what Metal Blade was, and they were talking us up. They gave us a lot of national attention we didn’t have before.
They went through the major label thing, and it didn’t really work out for them. Their guitarist, Dave Pritchard, passed away. But they were trying to get a deal before that and had all these amazing demos, incredible songs. Dave wrote a bunch of that stuff. I went to them and said, ‘Look, this is probably the best material you guys have ever done. You can’t just let it not come out.’ So, we made that record that I absolutely love it.
The only problem was, I believe if it come out in 1989, it would have been huge. But it came out in 1991, when Nirvana and grunge basically wiped metal off the face of the Earth. But it was special to me, and you look back years later, and it’s been in the Decibel Hall of Fame and gone down as a pretty seminal record in general.
What are you most looking forward to about the future? I think metal is in a really good spot. There are a lot of new bands coming up that we’re pretty excited about. We just had this young band that’s got a big buzz called 200 Stab Wounds that played Psycho Las Vegas. I don’t get blown away by much these days; I’ve seen thousands of concerts, but there was something special going on there.
I’m excited for bands like that, and even the older bands just keep putting out really great records, like the last couple Cannibal Corpse records and the Amon Amarth record we just put out. They’ve been around so long, at some point you’re like, ‘All right, they’re going to trip up and not make a great record.’ But they’ve been so good. The scene is in a good place.
METAL BLADE 40TH ANNIVERSARY Killswitch Engage, Fit for an Autopsy, Visigoth. October 5, 6:30 p.m., $35-$59. House of Blues, concerts.livenation.com.
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