Readers craving an inside look at the formation of one of heavy music’s most prominent labels, not to mention the many key developments within the scene over several decades no doubt enjoyed Brian Slagel’s 2017 book, For the Sake of Heaviness.
The book documented how a metal-obsessed California teen built Metal Blade Records into an industry mainstay that has endured numerous trends and continued to not only survive, but thrive.
Slagel’s many tales seemingly couldn’t be contained within one book, with this instalment featuring a foreword by Slayer’s Kerry King. There’s plenty of worthwhile content here – it’s not just the proverbial studio outtakes from volume one. Swing of the Blade serves as part memoir, part music business primer; aspiring acts chasing a record deal would do well to acknowledge Slagel’s insights.
In For the Sake of Heaviness, Slagel shared personal stories about working with Amon Amarth, The Black Dahlia Murder, Cannibal Corpse, Gwar and plenty more. Within Swing of the Blade, he includes other favorite memories about high-profile musicians and happenings, and delves into even greater detail about his lengthy relationships with Metallica, Armored Saint, King Diamond and others.
The in-depth look at Armored Saint in particular – and pondering why they didn’t become a major act when all signs indicated they would – prove to be among the most intriguing passages. The resurrection of King Diamond’s career, and successful reunion with Mercyful Fate is a page-turner. And his ongoing, 40 year-plus fandom of Iron Maiden is endearing – even if almost no one reading could relate to being in the privileged position of having seen the band live more than 300 times.
Missed scouting opportunities for Metal Blade, such as Pantera, Korn and Rammstein are detailed, alongside the histories of hopefuls like Witchkiller and Omen that just didn’t work out. While other heavy labels fully embraced nu-metal during the late ’90s and early 2000s, Slagel openly admits that Metal Blade didn’t chase that fad because he wasn’t enamoured of it. His explanation for subsequently embracing the metalcore scene makes sense, too.
Many music critics and fans have posed the question of who the next generation of metal and hard rock headliners will be, and Slagel has a connection to two prominent contenders. He charts the rise of Amon Amarth to their current status as a festival drawing card and arena act. Also, given Ghost’s incredible ascendance, Slagel’s stories of working with mastermind Tobias Forge before major labels entered the picture are entertaining and informative. Even if he’s still clearly a little miffed at how things ultimately panned out in that instance.
At less than 200 pages, Swing of the Blade won’t demand a lengthy time investment, and is written in an easy-going, likeable style. A diplomatic Slagel isn’t about to throw anyone under the bus, and there are occasions when he claims to not recall a certain detail, such as the reason for a particular band’s demise, whereby the reader is left wondering is he knows more than he’s letting on.
Now in his sixties, and with so much experience, perhaps a third book examining Slagel’s business philosophy and advice for wannabe entrepreneurs could be the next step.
(published May 9, 2023 by BMG Books)