Relapse Records - Celebrating 25 Years Of Extreme Mind Grind
February 3, 2015, 4 years ago
The story of Relapse Records, and label President Matt Jacobson, starts off the way many metalheads' stories start off:"I was just 100% into music," says Jacobson. "That's pretty much all I cared about. I didn't really do very well in school, and wasn't involved in sports or anything like that. I was obsessed with music, and especially metal."
They're familiar sentiments that many of us can relate to. However, none of us went on to start metal's most innovative record label, a record label that brought quality to grindcore production values, a record label that made death metal look and sound great again, a record label that dared to release extreme music of all varieties, sales be damned. But Jacobson did; this is his story.
Before Matt Jacobson started Relapse Records, he was involved in the music scene in various ways: he did a fanzine, printed T-shirts and made stickers for bands, and was, as he puts it, an "avid" tape trader. It was through the latter that he realized how exciting it was to share new bands with people."I was so inspired as a tape trader when I would get a demo by a band that I fucking loved, and I knew my buddy in New York or Germany or wherever would love it too and I'd send them a copy of the tape and they'd freak out... I'd get a buzz off of that," says Jacobson. "It just felt so good to have them as excited about it as I was. And really the idea evolved with Relapse to be doing that on hopefully a little bit larger scale than one-on-one tape trading."
Jacobson toyed with the idea of show promotion and really wanted to work at a record store or radio station, but didn't get lucky. So he asked a local independent record label exactly how one goes about making records. He got some basic info from them and in August 1990 released the unfortunately titled Flesh Ripping Sonic Polka 7" by Velcro Overdose: Relapse was born. In Jacobson's parent's basement in Colorado. (Relapse would move several times over the years, finding homes below a Christmas store in an Amish town and in suburban Philadelphia; currently, the label's HQ is in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, while Jacobson lives in Portland, where Relapse has an office; Jacobson says there are a "couple guys in New York, too.")"In the very early days we couldn't fully accomplish it but our goal was always just to make things as professional as possible," says Jacobson. "I appreciated that, and that's not to say there's not a charm in a nice photocopied collage, too; I appreciated that also, but we wanted things to look and sound as professional as they could."
Jacobson soon partnered with William Yurkiewicz, who was starting a small label of his own; the two decided to join forces as Relapse, with the releases that Yurkiewicz had coming down the pipeline now to be on Relapse (including, among others, General Surgery, Disrupt, and Yurkiewicz's own Exit-13; Yurkiewicz has since left the day-to-day operations of Relapse and is now a silent business partner; in 2003 he started up the grind-heavy Last House On The Right Records.)
Jacobson lined up releases from some of his pen pals, like King Fowley of Deceased, and got other quality bands on board early, like Suffocation and Incantation, and the label quickly became a leader in death metal and grindcore. And Jacobson's goals to bring quality to extreme music were about to be brought to life with the help of one of the biggest metal labels around.
Early on, Relapse partnered with Nuclear Blast, giving Relapse access to the same distribution channels and marketing opportunities as the huge metal label. They used this to their advantage, although it wasn't without some backlash from extreme metal purists who thought Relapse were a huge corporation looking to exploit the underground (this was mainly brought on by the Corporate Death compilation: see Five Weird Moments In Relapse History sidebar).
Nuclear Blast and Relapse ended up splitting apart, a move that could have been fatal for Relapse, but, as former Relapse employee Gordon Conrad, who worked at the label in various positions from 1996 to 2011, remembers it, it actually helped usher in an era of wild creativity for the label."In some weird way it cleared the slate and we had to go out and find a whole new range of bands, because all of a sudden 50 percent of our release schedule was gone," says Conrad, who refers to the label's 1998 Solid: Strip Mining The Underground Since 1990 compilation as a "turning point." "In the wake of (Relapse splitting with Nuclear Blast) was the signing of Nile, Hemdale, Cephalic Carnage, Origin, Today Is The Day, Unsane, the whole Release Entertainment thing happened (Relapse's now-defunct noise/experimental imprint label), all in a very relatively short period of time, from my memory anyway. So it was pretty exciting. That was the point where Relapse became more than just a death metal/grindcore label. Things began to gel for the label being known not just for extremity, but diversity as well."
Conrad points to the band releasing The Dillinger Escape Plan's Under The Running Board EP as significant to him, and says that it embodied a lot of the spirit, and excitement, that the label carries with it."It was a feeling of, 'Okay, it's only us right now with this Dillinger Escape Plan demo,'" he remembers. "'It doesn't sound like anything else, there isn't a point of reference for it. It's our responsibility to bring this to the world. Let's do this. We have to do it.'"
As the years went on, everything just got better... and bigger. The label had the smarts to sign bands like Mastodon and Neurosis. Their visual aesthetic expanded and matured. The grindcore got crazier. The noise got noisier. Against all odds, sales got better."I do remember this one specific moment, probably a couple years in," says Jacobson. "We had moved to Pennsylvania at this point, and I was in my business partner's parent's basement working late one night, and I had this moment where I was kind of reflecting on things. It dawned on me that we had already accomplished more than I thought that we could. We still hadn't accomplished much at that point. When I had this reflection of like, wow, look how well we've already done, that's pretty awesome. Then I thought, well, god, why would I think that we couldn't do that much or more than that? Why am I surprised by this? And in that moment, I just thought, I'm not going to impose a glass ceiling on the possibilities moving forward. I should just take the idea that anything is possible and see what happens (laughs). And I've generally applied that ever since."
Orion Landau was hired on to be the label's in-house Art Director in 2000. His background helped give the label a visual aesthetic unique to extreme metal, as, by his own admission, he wasn't "necessarily a death metal guy.""I was coming from a different world," he says. "I was coming from more punk rock and indie rock. I think design-wise, maybe that's what people saw, a slightly different approach. That just came naturally. It also helped that it was a really interesting time when I came on board. Right after that was High On Fire, Mastodon... Dillinger Escape Plan was already on the label. It was a really interesting time in music. There were a lot of bands wanting something different from what was going on."
Landau says that the time when he got hired on was, in his words, "wild.""I'd never seen anything like it," he says. "It was just this sea of guys with beards doing mailorder, and when you walked into every room there was some different death metal blaring (laughs). It was totally wild. Totally unlike anything I'd ever seen, really."
Landau (who says Red Fang's Murder The Mountains is his favourite cover art that he's done for the label) says the reason he's still at Relapse is that they've never been afraid to just put out music that they love, no matter what it is (he also points out that Relapse is a democracy, with all employees contributing to A&R;: if Jeff Longhair back in mailorder thinks the label should sign, say, Flesh Parade, it'll be up for consideration)."We'll put out really some small grindcore band that we just all love then we'll put out a band like Nothing or Royal Thunder, where we just love the music and it didn't necessarily fit into categories. I love that about Relapse. When I first came on, there was also Release, so we were putting out ambient music, because Matt Jacobson loved ambient music. It's just not a very constrained record label. That helps forge the way for new things to happen, having that openness."
SOUNDTRACK TO THE PERSONAL REVOLUTION
A record label has to have some solid bands to earn its reputation, and Relapse has worked with some of the best in extreme metal. There are hundreds, including the likes of, to name just a few, Incantation, Neurosis, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Nasum, Brutal Truth, Mastodon, and Nile.
"Man, I love those guys," says Nile guitarist/vocalist Karl Sanders about Relapse. "I haven't seen Matt or Gordon for probably years now, but I still have such fond memories of those guys. They really did a lot of good things for this band, especially growing us from zero to actually being a player in the game. So, yeah... fond memories."
One of Sanders' fond memories involves Jacobson letting Sanders set up guitar shop in Relapse HQ for an overnight writing session that ended up becoming the start of Sanders' solo career."They were even so cool that when I was needing to write some songs for the solo project they let me set up my Marshalls and recording rig in their office at night, when they went home (laughs). I stayed overnight and wrote a bunch of cool shit and played it for Matt the next day and he was really supportive. He said, 'Cool, we've really got to do something with this. This is great shit.' Had he not been so cool as to let me have the office to use that night, my solo career may have never happened."
Nile achieved quite a bit of success while on Relapse, but more extreme bands that haven't broken through with that amount of death metal popularity also have good things to say about the label."Working with Relapse has been comfortable, to say the least," says Cretin guitarist/vocalist Marissa Martinez. "There's a culture at that label where we've just been... it feels like we've all been pals, like we all know each other and get along. I don't really talk to people from Relapse all that much but when I do hang out with them, it's really comfortable, it's this family of metalheads who all have the same vision or purpose. We may have some other individual ideas of what's good or what should happen or whatnot, but at the end of the day, everyone just really seems to jive."
Danny Lilker, bassist for grindcore trailblazers Brutal Truth, has had a long relationship with Relapse. He says the label has always been "awesome to work with.""We had been on Earache, but Earache had kind of lost its focus for a while in the mid-'90s; I’m not going to go into that and be negative or anything, but the point being that we wanted to have kind of a home where we’d be more appreciated, and Relapse stepped in and they were nothing but awesome the whole time. It was a perfect fit for us, and I think we did a lot of good shit with them, and it was always a pleasure to be on that label."
Lilker says that when Relapse signed Brutal Truth they were so excited to release material from the band that they hadn't even signed the contracts yet and Relapse was saying they need to put something out. Hence, the Kill Trend Suicide mini-album/really-long EP."They were like, ‘We’ve got to put something out.’ We were like, ‘Well, we don’t have a full album yet.’ They were like, ‘Fuck it, go into the studio and put this out.’ That’s why Kill Trend Suicide came out and was a 10-song EP, because that’s all we had at the time. If Metallica had 10 songs, that’d be a record, but not Brutal Truth," chuckles Lilker.
Still, it's not like every band that has worked with the label has said glowing things about them over the years. There have been well-documented words of war tossed out by members of bands over the years, which Jacobson admits he feels the sting of."It feels like shit, really," he says. "We work super hard and give our all and in a lot of cases put in a lot of not only energy but resources, financial and otherwise, to try to promote bands that we love. Typically we've often had really great relationships with bands. When you go from having a great relationship where the band is really thankful and excited for the collaboration to then all of a sudden things souring it feels terrible."
"One of the most public situations was Incantation was pretty negative about us for a long time," Jacobson continues, "but years after the fact, one day (Incantation guitarist/vocalist) John McEntee called us up after he had started his own label and was like, 'Man, I'm sorry. I just didn't realize. I didn't know.' And that felt good. Even in our tensest times with John I've always still had a decent relationship with him because there's a mutual respect, and I'm really fond of that era of the company and my life and the experiences I had and them being an important part of that history." (McEntee did not reply to a request to comment for this story.)
And that history is a large reason why bands are so excited to sign with Relapse today. Culted guitarist/bassist/noisemaker Michael Klassen says that the records Relapse put out in the '90s were some of the hugest influences on him while he was growing up.
"Disembowelment’s Transcendence Into The Peripheral and Incantation’s Onward To Golgotha are some of the first I recall from that era that were and still are a big deal," he says. "A few years later seminal records from Neurosis, Today is the Day, and Brutal Truth were all game changers for me. They forever altered how I viewed, perceived, and listened to music. It’s cool to think back that after hearing our raw, primitive, long-distance project, Relapse made it clear that we were not to sign with anyone else, they wanted it, they were the ones that were going to release it. It’s humbling that a label of their size, roster, and reputation were as excited about our music as we were."
Another Canadian band that worked with Relapse was forward-thinking grindcore group Fuck The Facts. They recorded three albums for the label; guitarist Topon Das says it was an "amazing experience," one that helped him learn a lot about the music industry, and, even more importantly, he says, the realities of doing what they do."I always hear people complaining about their labels, but I never had one complaint about our time with Relapse," he says. "They really pushed us as much as they could and we went along for the ride until we couldn't anymore. It didn't work out for us for a lot of different reasons, but I wouldn't go back and change a thing. I never have to wonder 'what if' because we really did everything that came at us. Relapse was always cool with us doing DIY releases as well, which I'm not sure every label would be cool with. Probably because we weren't selling a lot of records to begin with, so any sort of promotion was good. We made a lot of good friends there and even though we haven't been on the label for three years now, they have still helped us promote tours and some of our other releases."
Like Culted's Klassen, Relapse was an influential label to Das before he ever worked with them, which made getting signed to them that much more special.
But what about those who work on the inside? The employees (current and former) we talked to told tales of camaraderie and democracy, of a triumphant underdog story, and a group of people working at the label who loved music with a passion.
Jeff Wagner was at the label from 1994 to 1996, working as the publicist. He recalls it being, as he says, a "fantastic time" when he was hired, with the label expanding their staff and hiring people dedicated to working in specific areas, such as publicity and retail. He describes the office being "12 or 14 guys just buckling down and kicking ass, working for extreme metal and other noise."
"It very much felt like we were running a maverick operation, especially in Lancaster, PA, where I saw Amish buggies cruise by my window regularly," he says. "What's more, the office space/warehouse was tucked underneath a year-round tourist trap Christmas shop. Weirdness…appropriate weirdness."
Wagner remembers being there when Relapse signed Neurosis, which he says "helped take the label to a new level." And he says that even today Relapse has managed to hold their same ideals intact."I've been impressed with how they've maintained their integrity and identity to this day," says Wagner. "A very, very special label. I have hundreds of great memories of that time."
Running a record label and surviving through the past ten years is no easy task. At one point, Relapse had to scale back considerably, laying off employees and cutting positions."That was real tough," sighs Jacobson. "Suddenly everything was upside down. The numbers didn't make any sense anymore. We were really just trying to stay afloat. We really had to go through every aspect of a fairly complicated business trying to analyze everything and figure out how we could change to just keep doing what we're doing. Ultimately, we realized we need to shrink. We had to lay some people off. It was rough to adapt, but it was adapt or die."
One of the people who had their position terminated was Betsey Cichoracki. Cichoracki started at Relapse in 2003 as "sort of a junior publicist," she says. By 2005, she was head of media relations. In 2011, she was let go."Honestly, I was bitter about it," she admits. "I don't know who wouldn't be in that situation, but it was a business situation that I'm sure wasn't easy to make."
But Cichoracki, who is now the Community Events Manager at The Philadelphia Zoo, has plenty of fond memories from her time at the label."It was a lot of fun," she says. "I remember more of the times spent laughing, talking shop, listening to new music, and going to shows together than I do any of the stress and disagreements. And even the stressful times were often dealt with by adding humour."
She adds that trying to balance the label's underground credibility with its growing professionalism was a lot of work."It was a time of some serious growth," she says, "and there was a delicate science to earning respect from the larger music industry and press outlets as a small independent label with a core focus on really extreme music all while maintaining the respect and loyalty of the label's long-time supporters."
Dean Edington was at the label from 2001 to 2005; he was Frequency Contamination Advisor, a title he admits he made up himself. In reality, he worked in various aspects of promotion at the label. When asked what Relapse's importance is in extreme music, Edington pulls no punches."As far as I am concerned, it IS extreme music," he says. "Relapse always follows its own course; the trend-jumping and glut-signing of every band of the most popular current subgenre was never a concern. What record is great? What band is killing it out there and needs a hand? How far can we push something super extreme into the public? Pig Destroyer in Entertainment Weekly? It happened. I think as long as the label continues to lead with honesty, they will always be ahead of the game, pushing the envelope both artistically and musically."
Edington admits that it might just be the nostalgia talking, but he feels that those years at Relapse were unparalleled (even though, as he recalls about the label's office, "there were NO windows. None.")."Like anything, I'm sure there is a bit of 'my time was the best time' rose-coloring to my recollections of my time there, but I really feel that that era was unmatched in the diversity and magnitude of amazing projects we worked on."
Canadian Sean Palmerston was Relapse's Director Of Publicity And Advertising from November 1996 to July 1997. He says it was an exciting time to be at the label as Sharon Osbourne was trying to sign Neurosis and Relapse was, as Palmerston says, "very adamant in their support of the band." But the excitement didn't end there, he says.
"During my short time there the label was courting Entombed and Venom, they signed Today Is The Day and, just a few days before I left, they went to see the Dillinger Escape Plan for the first time at a New Jersey basement show," says Palmerston. "Brutal Truth was also recording their Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom album, and Deceased released their best album, Fearless Undead Machines, while I was there. It was a busy, hectic, and very exciting time. Especially for a wide-eyed 24-year-old from small-town Ontario!"
Carl Schultz, who worked at Relapse between 1996 and 2005 as Director of Public Relations and Advertising, says it's a decade of his life that he'll "always cherish.""The first four albums that I serviced to press as publicist were Agoraphobic Nosebleed's Honky Reduction, Blood Duster's Yeest, Mortician Zombie Apocalypse and Soilent Green’s A String Of Lies. I’m really happy that I was able to be a part of those early, formative years of the label. At that same time, Relapse had just signed Brutal Truth, Neurosis, Today Is The Day and Unsane. These bands were important additions to the family, because they turned new music fans on to the label and opened doors to future signings that would help shape Relapse’s direction in the 2000s. The Dillinger Escape Plan would soon follow, among others."
"Our old inside jokes and sayings will never die," says Schultz. "'No laughing!' 'No yawning!' 'Back to your area!' Congrats to Relapse on its 25th anniversary. Here’s to the next quarter century of 'Corporate Death'!"
Sean "Pellethead" Pelletier worked at Relapse from 1994 to 2004 in various positions (On getting hired: "Matt thought my name was Pellethead, so he was calling to hire me, and my mom would be like, 'His name's not Pellethead!' and hang up the phone," he laughs). He remembers before he started at the label he would order records from their two-page catalogue."I'd shut myself in my room with a highlighter and highlight that stuff. Relapse, in my mind, in a way, is still a two-page catalogue," Pelletier says, "and I'm proud of that. Even though I had to leave in 2004 for my own health and my own sanity, I still feel like I'm part of it, somehow. And I'm proud of that."
Pelletier talks about how he admires that Jacobson had the chance to sign some prominent black metal bands who would have brought lots of money to the label but didn't as he just wasn't a huge black metal fan. He says that he also admires how Relapse is still a label that takes huge risks with the bands they sign."I get some of their records now," he says, "and think, 'Wow, this was a horrible business decision, but the music rules, and I love them.'"
A SUN THAT NEVER SETS
Where does Relapse go from here? Jacobson says that when he looks into the future, he has "a very boring answer," and that it's "kind of more of the same, but I hope that it leads to lots of compelling things.""If you look at the scope of the records we put out and our history and a snapshot of any given period of time, the mix of bands and records are different and the mix of where those bands fit in that scene at that moment are different, but there's a lot of threads that run through it all, and I think that you will be able to see those threads continue," he says."Especially as you get older," he continues, "there are things that aren't going to have the same impact to someone that's my age as they do to someone that's 22. We're in a fortunate position that we have established a good reputation and we are able to get the attention of and interest of a lot of really killer bands and we're able to keep putting out things that strike a chord."
Striking a chord: it's what Jacobson has always done. I remember listening to early Contaminated compilations on headphones and just feeling like the world had changed, heart racing, adrenaline pumping. I remember hearing Calculating Infinity for the first time. I remember the way Mindrot albums made me feel. Nasum's second Relapse album may not have torn the charts apart, but it sure tore my world apart at a time when I needed extreme metal to. Surely I'm not the only metalhead out there who still gets goosebumps (literally) every time he sees that full-page Relapse ad in a magazine, eyes racing through each band to see what the label is up to this month."To me the barometer of a great label isn't SoundScan, it's the records you release," says former Relapse employee Conrad. "And is there a metal label that has a run like Relapse had from 2002 to 2008? I don't know, honestly... Creativity-wise, I don't know."
Former employee Pelletier says that when he was working in Relapse in the radio department he would go to conventions and meet people from other labels who were more about numbers than a love of the loud, and when he'd get back to Relapse HQ he would feel like he was with his "tribe," as he puts it. He says everyone at Relapse was just a diehard music fan, and that went all the way to the man at the top."I think Matt Jacobson is one of the kindest human beings, with a huge heart," says Pelletier. "He's 100 percent authentic; he earned the position he's at. He put himself up for years and years; I was with him when we were scraping by, having to bring a lunch to work and stuff like that for years when he was running this huge record company and people thought he was loaded. He's a real fan; he's never not been a real fan."
And even though his band is no longer with Relapse, the last word goes to Nile's Karl Sanders, who says that what Relapse has done for extreme metal boils down to this: "there's been a lot of bringing music to the people." (Sanders says the split between Nile and Relapse was nothing negative: "It had nothing to do with any sort of unhappiness," he says. "We enjoyed our time at Relapse. It was time to move on. As much as you want to stay in the nest and be comfy there comes a time when you have to spread your wings and grow and do other things.")"Give people what they friggin' want," Sanders says, when asked what Relapse has done for extreme metal. "It's not an easy task, what Relapse did back then, especially with the limited budgets that extreme metal had back then. It was pretty tough going, so it required a lot of innovative business thinking on the part of Matt Jacobson. So I have to applaud that. He built something out of nothing. He didn't do it by sitting around waiting for it to fall on him."
In talking it out, Sanders comes up with the conclusion that pretty much everyone we spoke with about Jacobson ended up saying one way or another: "He went out and conquered the world with what he had."
FIVE WEIRD MOMENTS IN RELAPSE HISTORY
1: Fiscal Failures
It's hard to believe that anyone would ever think that a label who released anything by Gore Beyond Necropsy was in it for the big bucks, but that was once the case with Relapse, says President Matt Jacobson. Of course, Jacobson says they kind of brought it on themselves with their Corporate Death compilation."One of the things I've always been perplexed by, and we did it to ourselves to some degree when we came out with the Corporate Death compilation... there are so many people who really thought the skyscraper on the front cover with the Relapse logo was real," says Jacobson. "People thought we were this big company. But those were taken at our pressing plant, and we rented suits because we didn't own any. To me, it was really funny. But then there were these people who really thought we were this big company. There was a point in time where we were banned from advertising in Maximumrocknroll because (MRR founder) Tim Yohannan thought we were a division of Sony. I ended up faxing him copies of the invoices from our pressing plant to prove we paid our own bills before I could convince him that we were an independent company owned by two dudes that were metalheads, and eventually he allowed us to advertise in MRR again."
2: Bands Mistaken For Signed
I was pleased as punch when the label's Contaminated 7 compilation came out in 2005 and featured a great song from melodic rough 'n' tumble punks Planes Mistaken For Stars on it. Unfortunately, the band never released anything else on the label, as the partnership never materialized; Planes Mistaken For Stars ended up signing with Abacus Records instead. File under "probably seemed like a good idea at the time": Abacus did have a great knack for signing cool bands, but they folded in 2007.
3: Odd Jobs
People working at an extreme metal label can (sometimes) pay the bills without having to work other jobs, but extreme metal musicians (almost always) need to find other sources of income. Pete Ponitkoff, vocalist of punk/grind band Benümb (who released three amazing full-lengths on Relapse) and Agenda Of Swine (one killer full-length on the label) was in the US Army, while a member of another Relapse band actually worked for the CIA (naturally, who that person is is classified information). Dan Lilker, bassist of grindcore legends Brutal Truth, currently is working doing stock at a party-supply store. It ain't glamorous, but Lilker doesn't mind."I don't have any hang-ups about it," says Lilker. "I understand that the music that I am known for is not incredibly lucrative, and that's not why I started playing music, so if I've got to have a job to supplement my income, whatever, that's cool. I'd rather not work, but I'm realistic about it."
4: Oh Man Kill Me Now
I got tipped off during the researching process of this story that there is a connection between Relapse Records and ska band Save Ferris. I approach ska the way most people approach a live grenade, but in the name of journalism I had to do it, so I checked out their cover of "Come On Eileen" (please kill me now life is no longer worth living) and then found out that former Mindrot drummer Evan Kilbourne joined Save Ferris in 1998 after leaving the incredibly underrated doom band. This was the same year that Mindrot's astounding Soul album, featuring Kilbourne on it, came out. Luckily my brain can barely comprehend this career change, which rivals Scott Lewis jumping from playing drums to the slow-motion doom slug crawl of Winter to the beyond-blast grind of Brutal Truth's early era (except both of those bands completely rule, so that's just cool, while going from Mindrot to Save Ferris is INSANE), so I'll just fool myself into thinking that ignorance is bliss and forget about this little bit of trivia... right... now.
5: Fuck The Confusion
When Canadian weirdo-grinders Fuck The Facts put out their second album on Relapse, 2008's Disgorge Mexico, the grind community was instantly... confused. Because there is a band from Mexico called Disgorge, and they are often referred to as Disgorge (Mexico)."It was based on the story of a road trip to Mexico to write the album," explains Fuck The Facts guitarist Topon Das about the album title. "When I told Relapse about it, they said, 'You know there's a band from Mexico called Disgorge and they are often referred to as Disgorge (Mexico)? Of course I knew, and that was part of why I enjoyed the album title. I told them I knew, and that I still wanted to call the album Disgorge Mexico. They went with it, and I spent the next couple of years constantly being asked, 'Why is your album called Disgorge Mexico?' At some point the guys from Disgorge (in Mexico) did write to us, in a fun, amused way, I guess out of curiosity. I sent them a copy of the CD and never heard from them again. We just recently played Mexico City and the guy doing sound was the original vocalist of Disgorge (Mexico), so we gave him a CD."
THE TOP TEN BEST RELAPSE ALBUMS OF ALL TIME
Relapse have spent 25 years putting out consistently above-average extreme music releases. Shockingly, I've heard most of them. Here are their ten best releases, ever. (Buy me a beer and I'll tell you the top 30.)
10) Various Artists - Contaminated series (1998-2005)
Alright, let's get this shit started with some cheating. I'm throwing the entire Contaminated series under one listing here. Sure, the first three volumes may be timeless classics, untouchable documentations of an era of extreme music, and volume 5 proved the label was at the forefront of the future of extreme metal, but they're all great.
Former Relapse employee Dean Edington on the Contaminated series: "I put together the tracklisting/running order for Contaminated 5.0 and the various iterations of Contaminated 6 as well as the Contamination Festival DVD and several of the Recollection video compilation DVDs. I came from a college radio background before Relapse; I had seen hundreds of label comps. I hated almost all of them on an 'album-listen' level. Sure, they were great for having tracks on hand from a bunch of bands, but as far as putting them in and listening to them as a record, most comps are pretty terrible in that department; the stale 'our most important release/band is first' comp mentality had to go. That's what I set out to do differently with Contaminated 5.0: I had all of 45 songs and 150-plus minutes to make listenable, so I set out to put it together as if I were doing a set on air. I still feel like 5.0 is the best snapshot of extreme music ever taken."
9) Mindrot - Soul (1998)
A metal album with heart-on-sleeve emotion. That works. A rare thing indeed, but California's Mindrot nailed it here, absolutely nailed it, with this incredible mixture of Neurosis and Fields Of The Nephilim. As far as I can tell, this one has basically been forgotten, instead of talked about every day with hushed, revered tones, and that's an unparalleled tragedy to me. Buy this album today. It is unbelievably heavy, both sonically and, at the risk of sounding a bit too sensitive here, spiritually.
8) Mastodon - Remission (2002)
To this day, man, I'm puzzled by the fact that Mastodon have achieved any kind of mainstream success, but I'm also happy for them and think it's completely awesome that a band as weird, as innovative, as heavy as they are are flying the flag. After Relapse put out the incredible Lifesblood EP, they dropped this full-length, and it crushes as only Mastodon can. Talk about personality: Remission just overflows with the stuff.
7) Soilent Green - Sewn Mouth Secrets (1998)
After an under-appreciated album on Dwell Records, NOLA's Soilent Green made a huge leap forward all around: visually, production-wise, songwriting smarts, confidence. Hell, the confidence alone sells this one, the band just laying down their sound as if they don't give no fucks if you can't tap your feet along to it, because you can't, and yet it totally rules anyway.
6) The Dillinger Escape Plan - Calculating Infinity (1999)
One day, everything changed. That day was actually before this debut full-length from DEP was released: it was when their three-song EP Under The Running Board came out on Relapse. That EP's "The Mullet Burden" was a warning; this full-length's "43% Burnt" was the delivery. A thousand bands have since tried, but not a single one have delivered with the soul of DEP. This album makes my muscles tense, makes me sweat, makes me feel uncomfortable; I don't actually put it on that often as I find it's quite literally too much of a good thing.
5) Neurosis - Through Silver In Blood (1996)
The only album on this list that actually makes me feel like I am dying, Through Silver In Blood is Neurosis at their peak (so was Times Of Grace, FYI; the band is so massive they've peaked more than once). Huge, consciousness-altering, life-shifting, it made previous albums like the astounding Enemy Of The Sun seem kinda rookie, which is testament to how Neurosis can move mountains like no other.
4) Nile - Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka (1998)
Death metal was down in the dumps in the mid-'90s, but with a boost in production values, graphic design, and musical innovation, this short-'n'-quick DM attack brought it all back. Refreshing in its suffocating onslaught, Nile took influence from the masters (Morbid Angel) but brought in a whole new era of sounds, vibe, and feeling with this colossal album. Gave me goosebumps then, gives me goosebumps now.
3) Nasum - Human 2.0 (2000)
Swedish grindcore titans Nasum are credited with giving Napalm Death a slap in the gonads that reinvigorated that band for a phenomenal late-career rebirth, and with albums like this, it's easy to see why. With a huge production sound, enormous grooves, and ear-splitting mind grind for miles, Human 2.0 perfected a sound that Nasum would become known for.
2) The Dillinger Escape Plan - Miss Machine (2004)
DEP manage to slide on here twice because they pulled an unpredictable left-field shock tactic twice, and it worked both times. With the stunning Miss Machine, the band incorporated a new vocalist, new clean vocals, new rock song structures, and new electronic blips 'n' bloops, and it all made sense. It was the most satisfying extreme-music suckerpunch of all time, and it has aged wonderfully.
1) Brutal Truth - Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom (1997)
The best grindcore album ever: sprawling and expansive, ugly and raw, progressive and regressive. A double LP that goes by in the blink of an eye. People call everything a "masterpiece," but they are wrong. This is the only masterpiece.
Brutal Truth bassist Danny Lilker on Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom: "I think the production is a tiny bit muffled, and that’s probably due to the fact that we were just smoking so much weed and saying, ‘Yeah, man, sounds killer.’ That’s a funny record, because we broke up for the first time after that. But when that record came out, a lot of people just did not know what to make of it and it took a couple years to sink in. The ironic part is that was the last album we did and then we stopped for a long time, and a couple years later, all of a sudden, everybody got that record, and the band was done. People were coming up to me and saying, ‘Man, dude, that record is so nuts. Do you realize what an impact that record made?’ I’m like, ‘That’s funny, because when that record was out, we were playing in front of 40 people.’ But it’s okay. That album is a lot to take in, and it took a few years for people to really be able to digest it. But I’m very proud of that record. People still tell me to this day what a crazy record that is and how it changed their lives, so I’m proud of it, man."
Relapse Records President Matt Jacobson on Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom: "One of the things that's fun about that album cover is the gentleman on the front, I guess you could call him our model, he was just our UPS driver. Our art director at the time was just like, 'Hey, man, if we bought you a case of beer could we take some photos that we could use for an album cover? He was like, 'Sure' (laughs). It's pretty awesome. I think (the art director) just liked his jawline or something."