Founded in 1982 by Southern Californian Brian Slagel, Metal Blade Records has been a leading force in the genre for over thirty years. After all, the label has housed—if not initially exposed and popularized—many vastly recognizable and/or influential acts, such as Lizzy Borden, Fates Warning, Cannibal Corpse, Spock’s Beard, Amon Amarth, Six Feet Under, The Goo Goo Dolls (yes, really), and Between the Buried and Me. As a result, the story of how it became such an industry titan is inherently fascinating, and luckily, Slagel’s recently released memoir, For The Sake Of Heaviness, does an excellent job of chronicling the ups and downs of building such an expansive and beloved business. Beyond that, however, it succeeds as both a heartfelt love letter to a musical style (and culture) that shaped an entire generation (and still does, of course) and an inspirational testament to how sufficient knowledge, passion, luck, and ambition can turn a dream into a reality.
Naturally, Slagel delves into his teenage years a bit before getting to the start of Metal Blade. Following an endearing foreword by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich (whom Slagel befriended when he was sixteen-years-old), the first two chapters of the book—“My Metal Awakening” and “Metal Massacre”—provide in-depth yet informal insight into how Slagel’s obsession with the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) resulted in him playing a major role in the blossoming L.A. scene. For instance, he started his own fanzine called The New Heavy Metal Revue, began importing and promoting albums while employed at Oz Records, and perhaps most importantly, started the Metal Massacre compilation series; combined, these feats, in conjunction with other opportunities and encounters, turned him into a local authority and paved the way for him to start his own label (as a “one-man operation in his mom’s non-air conditioned garage” at first).
Once Metal Blade Records gets going in the timeline, Slagel does a nearly impeccable job of taking readers through its history, not only in terms of major roster/release milestones and setbacks (and everything in-between), but also regarding the day-to-day logistics of growing and maintaining the company financially, legally, and geographically. Because of his inherent amicability, Slagel manages to offer meticulous details without ever losing accessibility or intrigue; rather, everything he discusses is insightful and welcoming. He’s clearly still an impassioned fan of heavy music first and foremost, so his tales and wisdom perfectly combine the pragmatic truths of a self-made mogul and the ceaseless enthusiasm of a diehard devotee.
Take, for example, the following admission he makes as he discusses putting out older records from Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, and Deep Purple:
We had previously dabbled in the world of reissues to some degree. We’d done a bit of the Ian Gillian material and a few other things, all of which ended up selling extremely well. I think that’s why Warner Bros. was willing to give us the space to reissue whatever we wanted. Being allowed into the vaults to look for master tapes of some of my favorite bands of all time was surreal. I was like a kid in a candy store.
As engaging as Slagel’s own narration is, though, a major reason why For The Sake Of Heaviness succeeds is because of how many of his associates chime in periodically to give their take on various topics. Early on, there’s a brief interview with vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield about how Slagel impacted Metallica, while subsequent sections contain anecdotes from several major players, including Joey Vera (Armored Saint/Fates Warning), Kerry King (Slayer), Tracy Vera (Metal Blade CFO and GM), Brad Roberts (GWAR), and even celebrity chef Chris Santos, who ended up with his own imprint—Blacklight Media—to sign up-and-coming bands (Good Tiger, Syberia, and Eyes of the Sun, to name a few). Having these outside perspectives and reflections gives Slagel’s story invaluable context and credence, as well as a healthy dose of charismatic humanization.
Without a doubt, For The Sake Of Heaviness is a must-read for anyone familiar with Metal Blade Records, If not the genre as a whole, as it serves as a strong document of how American metal has grown over the past forty or so years (including various subgenres and controversies). That said, the book will definitely appeal to those who don’t like such sounds, too, because it also works well as an encouraging account of how someone can achieve almost anything they want with enough perseverance, humility, and know-how. Regardless of which camp you fall into (if not both), For The Sake Of Heaviness is sure to entertain and enlighten you from start to finish.