Brian Slagel – Swing of the Blade: More Stories From Metal Blade Records
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 09/05/2023
Review by Laura Barnes
Brian Slagel seems to have more energy than most people on the planet. As founder and CEO of Metal Blade Records, Slagel’s contribution to the global metal scene has been immeasurable. Slagel was the man who first signed Slayer, the man who’s label snapped up Cannibal Corpse just in time for death metal to get popular. If you don’t know his name, that’s okay – you most certainly will know his work. Consider him a Heavy Metal Kingmaker, and the kings that he has made are mighty: Amon Amarth, The Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel and Cannibal Corpse are just a selection of the many bands that spent their younger years under Metal Blade’s wing. Somewhere within Slagel’s busy schedule, he has also found the time to write. His first book, For The Sake of Heaviness: The History of Metal Blade Records charted the rise of Metal Blade from its humble beginnings. Now, Swing of the Blade: More Stories From Metal Blade Records helps to pad out this story with various insights, anecdotes, and encounters that Slagel has had over the years.
There is something refreshingly down-to-earth about Swing of the Blade. Industry memoirs can be plagued with indistinguishable anecdotes about taking drugs with a revolving door of celebrities, and genuine disagreements can be washed, dried and sanitised into ‘misunderstandings’. Fortunately, Brian Slagel is as straightforward as they come. He admits when he’s pissed off, he admits when he’s disappointed, and honestly, the guy has been in the music industry so long that he’s really not trying to impress anyone anymore. If Slagel mentions a musician, it’s never a namedrop – he talks about people like King Diamond the same way you’d mention your cousin Dave.
There are certain points throughout the book, however, that leave you feeling like there’s more to the story. The chapter about Metallica, for example, provides a sweet look at Slagel’s unique relationship with the band, but doesn’t reveal much beyond stuff the average Metallica fan already knows – they’re kind to their fans, they’re constantly accused of selling out, and that snare on “St. Anger” was pretty damn weird. Similarly, the passage about As I Lay Dying reads somewhat strangely. Describing Tim Lambesis’ attempted murder charges as an example of someone dealing with fame poorly seems to oversimplify an issue that is far too complex for a memoir about a record label to handle. His theory about people being drawn to art by bad people was certainly an interesting one, but without the necessary exploration to make this idea compelling, it quickly passes the reader by. At times like this, it is clear that you’re reading the memoirs of Brian Slagel: The Businessman moreso than Brian Slagel: The Person.
For this reason, it is when the book focuses on Metal Blade’s lesser known alumni that it really shines. The story of Armoured Saint’s endless bad luck becomes an inspiring tale of loyalty, friendship, and determination as Slagel reveals that the band are able to live comfortable and happy lives working as musicians. The passages about John Arch’s experiences with stage fright and mental health issues are dotted with wisdom, and Arch’s eventual return to music is a gleaming example of the human spirit and resilience.
Sure, this is a book about the music industry, but it’s also a book about people. I’ve always loved metal because, for me, it is the music of the underdogs. Swing of the Blade… is a sacred text of the underdog, jam-packed with stories about people who decided to march towards their dreams regardless of the risks. If you’re after a very personal, emotional roller coaster of a book, then Swing of the Blade… might not leave you completely satisfied, but if you have even a fifth of the passion that Slagel has for music, then this book is well worth the read.
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