Back when Black Sabbath invented heavy metal music in 1969-70, there were no metal labels and punk hadn’t kicked off yet. The band’s first record, ‘Black Sabbath’, was released via Vertigo records – a British label looking to sign progressive bands.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that metal labels really started to stand on their own in the music business. In Europe, Roadrunner, Century Media, Peaceville, Nuclear Blast and Earache were launching heavier and heavier bands to a global audience, while in the US, Metal Blade and Epitaph were kicking off careers. These names were responsible for signing some of the biggest acts in heavy history, including Slayer, Mayhem, Death, Anthrax, Misfits, Autopsy, King Diamond and more.
The 1990s continued the metal success story, with upstarts Spinefarm, Season of Mist and Napalm nabbing the very best Euro talent, while Relapse was busy pushing out quality records in the US.
The industry began to change in the early 2000s. It was at this time when ‘the big 3’ mainstream labels – Universal, Warner and Sony – were looking to buy into the success of metal. Universal was the first to make a move, picking up Spinefarm in 2002. Warner followed with a successful acquisition of Roadrunner in 2007, then came Sony’s takeover of Century in 2015. Nuclear Blast was the most recent label to change majority ownership, with Believe buying a controlling stake in 2018.
Over in Australia, heavy music received a big boost in 2011 when Jaddan Comerford started UNFD in Melbourne. It remains independent today and boasts an enviable roster and alumni.
One of the most recent wins for Australian bands came in 2018 when Nuclear Blast announced it was setting up a permanent base camp Down Under, putting John Howarth at the helm.
There are many more labels out there injecting time and money into the genres people have loved for 50 years. Safe to say metal and punk are in good health for the future.
Take a look at the key info for 12 of the world’s most influential metal and punk record labels.