Brian Slagel, CEO of Metal Blade Records, has released his new book Swing of the Blade: More Stories from Metal Blade Records. In Part three of an interview with MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings, they talk about Metallica, Iron Maiden and the younger newer bands.
The new Metallica album was released the day after our interview. How does Brian see the current state and the future of Metal? He begins by putting me right on one matter that I had taken for granted. “Well, first, I have not heard the Metallica record,” Brian says. “For both Metallica and Iron Maiden, I like to wait. I like to be a fan and just wait until the whole thing is out. So, I’ve heard the four songs in some pieces, but I’ll listen to it, I guess, tomorrow night or whenever it comes out.”
“But, that being said, there’s an interesting thing coming on in Metal right now. I think it’s probably as healthy as it’s been in a long time, a lot healthier in terms of the long term. In my opinion, you got three different levels. You’ve got obviously the Maidens and the Metallica’s and the AC/DC’s and the huge bands that are still huge and still actually making good music. And then you’ve got these underlying bands that have been slowly moving up the staircase, like Amon Amarth, Ghost and Lamb Of God and Mastodon and Gojira. All these bands are starting to play arenas.
“Amon Amarth, for example. You know, they can headline and sell out of 5,000 to 7,000-seat arenas in Germany and parts of Europe. They sold out the Forum in Los Angeles on the last tour, which still kind of blows my mind. And then this summer, they are going out with Ghost, and they’re doing what we call over here the sheds, which are like these big, 16,000 seat outdoor venues. And the ticket sales have been incredible.
“So, I think those bands as they as they climb up the ladder, are gonna be the ones to take over when these other bands eventually retire. And now you’ve got all these new artists coming in, and I’ve probably been more excited about new stuff lately than I have been in a long time.
“I’m old. I’ve seen a lot of shows. I’ve heard a lot of bands. I don’t get super excited about a whole lot of new music as much, but there’s stuff coming out now that I’m super excited about like we have. We have, you know. Just to pick one from each genre, we have Visigoth from Salt Lake City. They’re young kids that play old-school Metal which I think is absolutely incredible. They’re phenomenal, live, and they’re really good.
“And then we just signed this new band, 200 Stab Wounds, a kind of a cross between Cannibal Corpse and Power Trip because they have a lot of both elements to it, even though they’re a lot heavier and insanely amazing. There are a lot of other young bands coming up, like a band like Lorna Shore that has a really great buzz. It used to take a lot of time for bands to get there, and some of them are now able to skip that. You know, we gotta wait a long time to get to whatever level it is. And you’re starting to see bands like that get a little bit bigger. So, I think it’s as healthy as it’s been in a long time. And as I said, I’m really excited. You know, not just me, but a lot of people are excited about this new crop of younger Metal bands coming through.”
Those are interesting thoughts from Brian on the state of Metal and one I think I would generally agree with. On a personal level, Brian talks in the book about the fact he has only ever met Steve Harris twice. Is there anyone who he is still starstruck by? “Not particularly,” he says. “You meet so many musicians, and you just realise they’re just regular people, just like all of us are. Certainly, in the early days, I would be. But Steve Harris is the one. That’s still one where I don’t know what to do or what to say or anything. One of my good friends is Frankie Bello from Anthrax. And first, Anthrax is super tight with Maiden, and I tell it to Frank, and he just laughs, ‘Those guys’.
“I’m good friends with Rod Smallwood, which, if you had told 18-year-old me that I’d be friends with Iron Maiden’s manager, I would say you’re insane. There are two people I haven’t yet met that I would like to, although I’d be a little nervous. The first is Angus Young from AC/DC. I’ve met Brian, who’s an incredible, wonderful guy. And the other is Tony Iommi. I don’t think any of us would be here if it wasn’t for him. I know Geezer (Butler) well. He lives near me, and he’s great. Bill, we’ve done stuff with Bill Ward over the years, and you know I’ve met Ozzy a handful of times, but I’ve never been around when Tony has been.”
As we continue this discussion, Brian tells of a close encounter where he nearly got to meet the legendary guitarist at the Revolver Awards but acknowledges that this might have been one occasion where he would have been short for words. “It probably would have been, ‘Hi. Thank you.’ That’s about it.”
Brian makes no secret of his love for Iron Maiden. We chatted about his favourite albums, which he lists in the book. I reminisce about my first Maiden show on the World Piece Tour in 1983, whilst Brian managed to see the band pre-Bruce Dickinson, as he recalls in Swing Of The Blade.
Our conversation turns into the typical pub chat. Brian ranks The Number Of The Beast as his favourite album, with the other top five Killers, Powerslave, Seventh Son, and The Book of Souls. I wonder if that’s a definitive list, or does it change depending on mood? “Well, yes and no. I mean, The Number one is never going to change. Number Of The Beast, to me, is the greatest album of all time, and that’s never going to change and Hallowed Be Thy Name is the greatest song ever written.
“But from there on, the other stuff will move around a little bit. I’ve always been a big fan of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, but when they kind of redid that tour, I got super back into that record and forgot how amazing it is. And it’s interesting because that record did huge all around the world but didn’t do that well in the States, which I thought was kind of shocking. A quick shout out to my buddy Chris Jericho, who I’m good friends with and also a fellow absolute Maiden nerd.
“I’ve been on his podcast a bunch of times talking about Maiden, and he kept bugging me over the years to listen to the Blaze Bayley stuff, and I had never listened to it. In my brain, it never existed. Blaze is a great guy and a phenomenal singer, by the way.” At this point, Brian acknowledges the health issues that Blaze is battling, and I tell Brian that Blaze was recovering from his heart surgery which had taken place just hours before we spoke. We both send Blaze our best wishes.
“He’s a good guy and a phenomenal singer,” Brian says. “Just not the right guy for Maiden. So, Chris kept pushing me to listen to those records. When I had time during the pandemic, I did listen to them and thought, actually, they are not that bad. The band still do Sign Of The Cross and Clansman from them live, and they are incredible songs.
“I listened to those records, especially X-Factor, and it’s a dark, heavy Iron Maiden record. I texted Chris and said alright, dude. But they would still be in my bottom two Iron Maiden albums!”
As Brian has got older, has he slowed down at all? Does he still get to as many shows as he used to? “It depends,” he says. “I don’t go to nearly as many shows as I used to, and even since the pandemic, it’s still a little weird going to shows. I’m a little bit more selective. I’m probably going to more hockey games, but it depends on the week. I mean, some weeks they’ll be three shows I must go to, and then others it’ll be a couple of weeks before I go. It always seems like it’s always feast or famine. Like, right now, there’s not a whole lot going on over here. But in May, I think I’ve got nine shows I have to go see.”
In Swing Of The Blade, Brian describes how he watches sport as his relaxation rather than take holidays. But he’s also expanded that into his podcasts which he started. How did he take to podcasting? “It was fun to do, and it was fun because it was something a bit different. If you don’t know, I did a podcast called Metal Misconduct that I did with Shawn Roarke, NHL.com director. And we would interview athletes about their love of Metal.
“He brought the idea to me, and I said, well, yeah, I mean, that sounds like fun. But, especially these hockey players, their interviews are boring, and they have no personality. How are we going to get them to talk for more than 10 minutes? But we started doing it. And good Lord. Yeah. Sometimes we do an hour, and we could have gone on for two hours. We had guests on multiple times.
“They are such huge fans of the music, and one thing that you realise with athletes is that when they talk about something they really like, the personality comes out, and you see who they really are. They are taught to be non-controversial, all this sort of nonsense. So, it was a lot of fun. We also did Major League Baseball, Wrestling, MMA, football. I mean, almost pretty much every sport.”
I recall that former US football goalkeeper Brad Friedel was a big Metal fan. “They’re everywhere. I’ve learned that,” laughs Brian.
As our time draws to a close, I ask Brian where he sees himself in ten years’ time. “Oh well, hopefully still alive, that’s for sure,” he smiles. “Retirement isn’t on my agenda. I don’t really plan on doing that. So, I wanna try to do this as long as I can and keep the label alive as long as I can. Being independent and not having to sell out to a major or anything, where we aren’t able to make our own decisions because that’s the most fun.
“For me, I can wake up in the morning, and I can just do whatever I want. I don’t have to ask anybody, can we do this? We just do it. So, the boring answer is business as usual. We’ve got a phenomenal staff, and that certainly makes it a little bit easier for me some days.
“The fans are, for the most part, really great. It’s fun to continue doing this and especially because there are a lot of newer bands as I mentioned earlier. That makes it exciting. And we’re delving into other things. We’re doing vodkas and beers, and that stuff is fun to do. There’s a lot of interesting opportunities out there for us.”
To read the interviews 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 ordered from https://www.metalblade.com/swingoftheblade.