Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Relapsing about metal samplers

It was around the early to mid-90s is when my metal listening habits started evolving from the basic ‘meat and potatoes’ metal to more extreme territory. Sure, I dabbled in some of the fringe metal genres up till then (death, grind, industrial), but the majority of my metal was your garden variety Sepultura, Pantera, Fear Factory, etc.

There are a number of ways I was discovering new music at the time which helped me learn about a lot of great bands. Word of mouth, concerts, geeking out over the ‘Thank You’ credits of my favorite records (or even just the shirts the band was wearing in their group photo), the occasional mixtape, etc. One exciting way I discovered some new bands was through record label samplers and compilations. In a short tape or CD you had a high ratio of new bands you never heard of to a low amount of time spent discovering them. It was great.

One label that really gave me a me a shot in the arm via samplers and label compilations was Relapse Records, specifically in their mid to late 90s period. Through their free samplers I discovered Brutal Truth, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Nile, Amorphis and a variety of others over the years. I got the chance to ask Relapse founder and head honcho Matt Jacobson some questions about their comps and samplers to explore this important aspect of metal-dom.

***

M.I. So, Relapse has quite a few compilations, both free samplers and the inexpensive label compilations, name at least a couple that are your favs. I know, I know, it's like choosing between which of your kids is your favorite, blah... but seriously, pick a couple and explain their significance to you.

Matt: You are right, it is tough to pick... but my two favorites off-hand are ‘Corporate Death’ and the very first ‘Contaminated’. ‘Corporate Death’ was our first comp and it was packed with killer music from Macabre and Mortician to Disrupt and Incantation. Most of all though, the art, text and over all package just made me laugh. We rented suits and took a bunch of pictures inside our CD pressing plant that had a narrative about the Relapse multi-death corporation! The front cover has a skyscraper with a Relapse logo on top. The funniest thing about it all is that a lot of people seemed to think that we were really some giant corporation... but really we were barely more then kids working out of the basement of a house! The first ‘Contaminated’ was just at a great time... lots of shit happing with Relapse and our bands in that era. That comp kicked off the series of comps of the same name. Plus, the overall package was something we were really happy with. It had a great cover, a mini Relapse discography inside and a fold out poster that featured beautiful photography / artwork of my friends wife naked in rope bondage with a gas mask on (editor's note: said artist is Relapse regular, and general awesome dude Paul Romano). Good stuff!

M.I. Did any bands ever take issue with either being on the samplers or the choice of song used? I mean, Mortician for example, you might as well just roll the dice for their selection of songs, they're all so similar, but I'd imagine some artists are a little more picky...?


Matt: I am sure that happened with a track selection here and there but I can’t recall any examples off hand.

M.I. Personally I got into a lot of Relapse bands from your comps, specifically 'Spectrum Fest' (which came out late ‘96/early ’97) and the early '99 sampler "Solid: Strip Mining the Underground..." - What can you remember about each of them?

Matt: There was ‘Spectrum Fest’ and ‘Spectrum Ale’ samplers... both had killer artwork and were full of great stuff. We even brewed a super limited edition promotional micro brew beer around that campaign. ‘Solid…’, I remember that one being a challenge in that prior to that one the concept and themes for each sampler just came together without even trying. With ‘Solid…’ (tracklisting) it felt like we struggled to put it all together and I was concerned that it was a bit forced... but when it was all said and done it turned out great and most importantly it was filled with killer music that people responded to.

M.I. Assuming customer acquisition is priority #1 of label samplers/compilations, what other functions would you say these music collections helped to provide for Relapse?

Matt: I think our samplers also served to shape and convey our identity. Relapse historically has had broader/weirder scope then most other labels in our space and our samplers really did give people the chance to “sample” our music and learn about the range of things we were releasing.

M.I. Relapse definitely has a more broad/weird scope, and to tie in with the previous question, that's exactly one of the great things I liked about the 'Spectrum Fest' sampler. Specifically Trial of the Bow jumped out at me: what are they up to these days? They seemed to have faded into obscurity...


Matt: Trial of the Bow was fantastic. I am not sure if you know, but before Trial of the Bow the members were 1/2 of Disembowelment. I think they went on to the teaching profession, design and music I believe.


M.I. In the spirit of Metal Inquisition, that is exposing many of metal's moment's of hilarity (whether intentional or accidental - mainly the latter) can you share a funny or otherwise unbelievably true moment in relation to any of Relapse's past compilations?

Matt: We put out a free label sampler with cover art that looked like the Slayer logo, but instead of saying “Slayer” it said “Relapse”. It was meant to be both a homage and a parody. Not everyone saw it the way we intended. Not long after we started giving out the sampler we got a cease and desist letter from a law firm and also an angry phone call from someone representing the band. Nearly yelling, the person said, “Slayer has built this franchise and Slayer intends to protect it’s franchise in the same manor in which Coca-cola or Disney would protect theirs”. I thought, “That is pretty metal!” We were forced/intimidated into destroying all of the remaining CDs.

M.I. With the digital age progressing further, and labels doing more digital download samplers I have a feeling that actual CD samplers might eventually end up on the dusty shelf next to tape trading and other metal nostalgia. Your thoughts?

Matt: I have to agree. Everything changes. I’ll keep the CD sampler next to my laser discs!

***

I'm curious what others favorite Relapse samplers may be? Or how about any other metal label samplers in general?

98 comments:

  1. i'm surprised you didn't bring you "Release your mind". I'll never forget the period when they tried to cash in on every metalhead's "merzbow phase"

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  2. Good interview! I too had the Corporate Death comp (loved that one!), along with Spectrum Fest and the first Contaminated. Although it wasn't Relapse, I do believe my favorite comp was the Traces of Death III soundtrack. I did a LOT of mail ordering through Relapse back then (I wonder if my mom looked at the order forms to see exactly what it was she was ordering). After a while, the Relapse roster got a little too out there for me, but they were definitely there for me in the beginning when my death metal tastes were developing.

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  4. I liked this site a lot better when it was all about being stupid...

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  5. I had all of the samplers discussed here. Great stuff!

    My favorite sampler of all time has got to be Nuclear Blast's Death is just the Beginning II. Dismember, Deceased, Winter, Incantation, Amorphis, Master, Pungent Stench all had spectacular cuts on that thing.

    Century Media's Identity series was pretty good. I discovered Strapping Young Lad on the third one.

    Most of the bigger labels (Relapse, Earache, CM) don't have many interesting bands anymore, consequently, I can't even be bothered to download the free samplers they put out.

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  6. The only one I had was the Slayer logo lookalike. I'd probably have held on to it if I knew it was going to be a collector's item.

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  7. Imagine the backlash had it been styled like a Metallica logo, and their legal team responded with a screaming, angry phone call...

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  8. Yea, I also discovered Strapping Young Lad from the Identity sampler from Century Media, volume three.

    I think after Identity 5 was where I started to lose interest in that series, but had some good stuff here and there up till then.

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  9. Interesting, at seems we all discovered SYL from Identity 3 :) Also discovered Arcturus there too, which I think was the best find.

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  10. in 1993/94 there was a t-shirt shop that sold ONLY rock t-shirts...no cds/no jewlery/no nothing...then all of the sudden, i guess with a bulk order, these blue cassettes "Earache 1992" sampler appeared on the counter top and were free if you bought a shirt. No artwork, just black lettering on blue J Card...i knew most of the bands but ironically, this is the only way i had ever heard Confessor or OLD...still to this day i don't think i've heard any other songs aside from the 2 contributed from each band...

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  11. "If you want us to write for your dumb magazine, review your terrible record, or wear your retarded clothing, you can ask us. But seriously, it's almost guaranteed that we won't like whatever it is you do"

    i find that pretty amusing- since you apparently DO like a lot of stupid shit..like all this crunk and scene and metalcore sissypants shit and wigger slam buttfuck crap

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  13. didn't slayer just rip off the wehrmacht / bundeswehr eagle for their logo anyhow?

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  16. Thanks for this, that Solid comp pretty much opened the flood gates for me when I was 15. I'm still kicking myself for loosing my copy.

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  18. I bought a few samplers: Identity 2 and 3, five years of Nuclear Blast, and Death is just the Beginning 2.

    I agree about both the ID series and the Death just the beginning.

    Samplers were a good way to get your band PR in the pre-internet dark ages.

    It is a different world and it makes me feel old...

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  19. I actually really liked the free samplers that came with Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles magazine back when I read that mag. Discovered some good bands through that!

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  20. At Death's Door by Roadrunner was just amazing. I still own that thing on cassette!

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  21. Hell yes! I credit "Traces of Death III" and "Spectrum Ale" for turning me to the DARK-SIDE! While all my peers were bandwagoning on the "grunge" train, these two CD's defintely set me apart and opened my ears to a genre of music I would've never known existed. Sure, Roadrunner and Century Media jump-started loads of kick-ass bands (Machine Head, SLY, Fear F, Nevermore...), but where else could someone find and hear Blooduster, Mortician, Merzbow and Brighter Death Now? Nowhere, except for Relapse! So, "Thank you" Relapse! Thank you very much. And going along with the free stuff like sampler cd's, you gotta' include Resound! Agian, Relapse was my only resource for finding and buying all sorts of weird shit! (including the "slayer" sampler/t-shirt!). Relapse ruled my world in the late 90's!

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  22. "Solid" was actually the sampler that brought me into the underground metalin 7th grade. To this day, Relapse is my favorite label (even though i question some of their more recent signings)and it's all thanks to that slab of plastic

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  23. HEY GUYS, wake up. If you're not going to update this blog with the same frequency or enthusiasm as before please come flat out and say so, sparing us mortals the trouble of stopping by on a daily basis only to get our hearts ripped out of our bodies. It's fkn depressing!

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  27. Traces of Death III was an early comp/soundtrack I owned by them though I can't say I got into any of the bands on it. Relapse continues to try and fail predicting new trends in metal trying to score a hit, I can't think of a single decent album they've put out in a long time, maybe that Exhumed album Slaughtercult, but they still have a good mailorder distro.

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    Sad...

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  36. I always loved the Grindcrusher compilation they put out in '90 or '91. Metal hails.

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