Interview / The Brian Slagel Metal Blade Records story – Part One

You will probably have heard of Brian Slagel. He built Metal Blade Records from the bedroom of his mom’s house in the 1980s. He’s now the CEO of probably the most influential Heavy Metal record company in the world. The story of his journey is documented in his first book, For The Sake Of Heaviness, published in 2017. If you haven’t read it, it is well worth spending the time to do so.

Brian Slagel, Metal Blade Records – Interview – Part One.

With the release of his second book, Swing Of The Blade, due on 9 May 2023, MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings joined Brian via Zoom to find out more about the book, how the pandemic impacted Metal Blade, and if The Number Of The Beast really is his favourite Iron Maiden album.

Book Cover / book Swing Of The Blade: More Stories From Metal Blade Records by label founder Brian Slagel
Swing of the Blade: More Stories from Metal Blade Records is out on 9 May 2023.

I find Brian in relaxed mood, and after we negotiate a few technical sound issues, the first thing to note is that the man is decked in a glorious Rush Caress Of Steel t-shirt. Given that Rush is my all-time favourite band, we are off to a good start! “I guessed right today,” Brian laughs. Indeed.

I begin by asking Brian about the response to For The Sake Of Heaviness. It’s a great read and chronicles the entire Metal Blade story. Writing a book is bound to be a challenge, so what was the expectation?

“Honestly, I didn’t really know what kind of response I was going to get. It was the first time doing something you don’t know, but it was beyond anything I ever could have dreamed, really. It was so crazy.

“We had a lot of problems when the book first came out, just keeping it in stock on Amazon because it sold so much. And I was arguing with our distributors, BMG, and they’re great, but I kept going, why can’t we get this in stock? And they said because you’re a new author, Amazon had no idea. It took them a while to figure this out. But yeah, the response was pretty overwhelming.

“I mean, there were very few negative comments about it. But people came out of the woodwork, people that I didn’t know, and said they really enjoyed the book, which was nice. And, of course, the other main response was that it wasn’t long enough. I didn’t want it to be long. I mean, it’s a story about a record label, so it’s not the most interesting story.

“I’m not in there doing salacious stuff or anything. I’m just trying to tell the story. But people wanted to hear more about the bands and more about obscure bands, and just more about various different things. I kept getting that over again. So, I talked to a few people and said, should I do another book, and they said, yeah. Do it. So here we are.”

With so many memories to draw from, actually recalling the details from events that, in some cases, are 40 years old must be a real challenge. How did Brian write the book and clarify the events? “With the first book, I didn’t write it all myself,” Brian says. “I wanted to because I thought I was gonna be a writer before this whole record label thing fell onto my lap. But timing-wise, I did not have the time.

“So, I worked with Mark Eglinton, who is a phenomenal guy and a phenomenal writer. I told the stories, and the way he writes is basically the way I talk. So, it kind of worked out perfectly.

“The first book was in chronological order. So, you just look at the releases for that year that would bring up a memory. This was a little bit harder because you had to remember things from bands and whatnot. But you know, there’s a lot of stories, and there’s a lot of stuff I’m sure I forgot. But one thing I did want to do, because of memories and trying to make sure everything is as correct as possible. I did send all the bands their chapters and said, hey, is this all accurate? Is there anything I missed or wrong or dates wrong?

“There were a few things in there that were off a little bit, but for the most part, it was pretty good. At least I got their approval. That was very helpful because I was pretty good about stuff, but there are always a few dates. I remember the Armored Saint thing I sent to the guys, and they said, hey, this actually happened here. Same with King Diamond and Mercyful Fate in parts.”

Brian Slagel - Metal Blade Records with Metallica
Brian Slagel with Metallica. Photo: Metal Blade Records/Stephanie Cabral

What I always find amazing about Brian’s stories is the relationships that have evolved. Having King Diamond call you, for example, sounds like a different world. And yet, it all started way back in Oz Records over 40 years ago.

So much determination was demonstrated, and as I said to Brian, at 62, he was probably born in the right era to be in that position. He’s reflective. “I think everybody feels that way,” he says. “Even me, I missed out on a lot of stuff in the early ’70s. Seeing the original Alice Cooper Band live or seeing Black Sabbath live. That being said, I was just lucky to grow up in a really great period of time for music and then just be at the right place at the right time, being in Los Angeles in the early 1980s when this scene just out of nowhere kind of exploded.”

Underneath it all, of course, Brian is a fan of Heavy Metal. As we shared the fact that we do what we do for the love of the music, Brian’s clear that it’s the music first followed by business. He’s open that there was never a plan, just determination, hard work, and maybe a little bit of luck.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “I think back to how all this kind of came to be. But first and foremost, I’m just a fan, and I have no musical talent, so I couldn’t be in a band. So, I figured, what else can I do to kind of help the scene? In the early days, I started the fanzine and worked at the record store shows and all those sorts of things. And then the label thing appeared out of the blue.

“And you know, I didn’t know anything about it. I took some business courses in college and a couple of things here and there, but I didn’t really know what I was doing at all. Just the passion at the time to try to help these bands out and learn how to do these various things.

“I made a million mistakes, obviously. Probably the only thing I really did learn is I learnt from mistakes because I made all of them! I made all the mistakes, but at least you learned from those. And that was a big help.

“And just over the years trying to figure out how to run a business, how to make all this stuff work as best as humanly possible. And it’s difficult because we’re really good friends with all of the bands. It still is business, and sometimes you must make difficult decisions.

“But we’ve learned over the years how to do it, hopefully in a positive way.”

Swing of the Blade: More Stories from Metal Blade Records is out on 9 May 2023.

To read more of the interview with Brian Slagel, keep an eye on https://www.metaltalk.net/tag/brian-slagel.

Swing of the Blade: More Stories from Metal Blade Records can be pre-ordered from https://www.metalblade.com/swingoftheblade.

For the Sake of Heaviness: The History of Metal Blade Records is available from Amazon.

Swing of the Blade is also available in an exclusive bundle including a bookplate signed by Brian Slagel, bookmark, patch, and a 40th anniversary medal.

Brian Slagel - Swing of the Blade -  exclusive bundle.
Brian Slagel – Swing of the Blade – exclusive bundle.

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