Earache Records started during the summer of 1986 in the Nottingham apartment of founder Digby Pearson, who for years previously was a prominent scenester and avid fan of the 80's Underground Hardcore scene, following bands like Discharge, MDC and DRI etc. Dig's apprenticeship in the rudiments of the music industry was served by stints as a writer for Punk fanzine Maximum RocknRoll, promoting American HC bands' tours in the UK and self-releasing flexidiscs of bands such as The Stupids and Heresy.
|Noticing the beginnings of a crossover of the Hardcore Punk and Thrash Metal scenes, Digby, without any particular fanfare, set about releasing records by those bands he considered pushed the envelope of Hardcore to its most extreme, soon discovering an obscure Birmingham oufit called Napalm Death. Their brand of hyper-speed ' blast ' beats with political and social lyrics, - dubbed 'Grindcore' by the band themselves - made their debut LP 'Scum' an instant hit with fans and ensured widespread notoriety for what was, by some measure, the most extreme and harsh music ever released to the public. By their second album 'From Enslavement to Obliteration' in 1988, Napalm Death had, against all expectations, broken into the mainstream by debuting at Number 1 on the UK Indie charts , scoring the label's first NME front cover and radio sessions with noted BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who had typically supported the sound from its inception.
In turn the label grew from a bedroom operation into something more organised - Earache signed a whole host of acts that were coming together to become the leaders of the 'Grindcore' scene and its more metallic offshoot, 'Death Metal' - including Floridian satanists Morbid Angel and Sweden's downtuned death-heads Entombed. Liverpudlian gore group Carcass' medical-atrocity album covers resulted in a raid on the label's offices from the UK Obscene Publications Squad to seize copies of their 'Reek of Putrefaction' and 'Symphonies of Sickness' albums, but no charges were actually made.
Digby Pearson 1987
During this time, Earache's output was not just limited to Death Metal records but embraced all manner of similarly extreme offshoots, from Industrial-Metal pioneers Godflesh and Pitchshifter, to the sludgy Doom of Cathedral, and laid-back Californians Sleep, one of the earliest Stoner Rock bands. Noted musicians from the avant garde such as John Zorn and Bill Laswell also contributed.
By 1992, with the Grind/Death Metal scene gaining attention worldwide, many Earache releases began appearing in the national Album charts in the UK, as well as similar sales charts in Sweden, Germany and USA by sheer numbers of fans buying the releases. Earache had by that stage become the by-word for extreme music, being home to most, if not all, the leading bands in the scene.
In 1993 the label entered into a license deal with Sony Music in the USA, the natural assumption from all sides was that with Major label backing, Earache's extreme bands would form the next wave of platinum rock acts. The expected sales breakthrough did not materialise however, as US radio programmers at the time were still enthralled by the Grunge-lite sound and it would be another 6 years before any heavy music was embraced by radio and US fans alike, in the form of the Nu-Metal explosion.
The Sony deal was short lived, but the fallout caused by failure to sell in America affected things badly. Carcass signed directly with Sony though the band folded soon afterwards, meanwhile other Major labels engaged in a signing frenzy for Earache's extreme metal stars: Morbid Angel signed to Giant, Entombed to East West, and Sleep to London. After the dust had settled, many of the leading acts on Earache's roster were gone, but the label had, crucially, its fiercely Independent status and extensive back catalogue intact.
Post Sony, Earache immediately scored big with Swedish melodic Death Metal band At The Gates, but the labels iconaclastic tendencies were exemplified by dabbling with hardcore techno via the US Industrial Strength label as well as UK cyber/techno act Ultraviolence. These signings were far removed from the Extreme Metal scene Earache was known for and synonymous with, but during this period Welsh act Dub War scored the label 5 UK singles chart hits and for a couple of years were Earache's most succesful act in the UK.
Since the turn of the millenium, Earache has fostered underground metal talent by setting up the "Wicked World" imprint for new acts, while still developing breakthrough bands like The Haunted from Sweden, plus the unique talents of Norway's dark-goth Mortiis, as well as Australian grind mutants The Berzerker and Poland's young Death Metal prodigies Decapitated.
To emphasise the coming sea-change in the scene, and that Earache was 100% committed to unearthing new talent, 2 of the labels long-term legacy acts Napalm Death and Cathedral were dropped from the roster by late 99, after just over a decade of recording for the label. Both acts promptly signed to other labels, and continued on with their careers,with Napalm Death railing against the perceived injustices of their 10+years stint with Earache on their first non-Earache release "Enemy Of The Music Business" for the Dreamcatcher label. Such grievances were quickly proven to be groundless however, and a year later the band helpfully co-operated again with Earache on a career-defining 'Best of' 2XCD Compilation the band entitled "Noise For Music's Sake".During 2002-4, Earache's important legacy acts were introduced to a new generation of metal fans via some more well-received band-approved 'Best of' compilations: Cathedral's 2xCD "The Serpents Gold" and Carcass's two Best of's, "Wake Up and Smell The.." and "Choice Cuts", all became fixtures in any self-respecting metal fans collection.Typically,the label was one of the first metal labels to release footage on the new digital audio-visual format of DVD, since it had meticulously documented most of its bands on film over the years and had duly amassed a sizable archive of prized footage.Earache released the debut DVD's of Carcass, Napalm Death, Cathedral, Entombed and Godflesh, as well as 2 compilations of promo clips on DVD, known as the iCRUSHER DVD series. The Haunted's DVD "Caught On Tape" charted at Number 1 on the Swedish DVD chart in early 2003.
At around this time, Earache also formed yet another sub-label to bring new talent to fruition:Founding 'Elitist Records' with an outside A&R guy,Lee Barrett,at the helm. Bands like Italian jazz-core sensations Ephel Duath and later, the UK's new breed of extreme power metal, Biomechanical came to prominence through this route.
The expected sea change arrived- and it was a tsunami.Earache had a ringside seat, but no direct involvement, as a whole new set of bands from other labels exploded onto the scene: Post-2000, the global Independent Metal scene became massively popular, with US masked-metal giants like Slipknot, Euro female-fronted gothic metal like Nightwish, hard-working USA Metalcore acts like Hatebreed/Shadows Fall, as well as Emo/Screamo bands like Thursday/Lostprophets, all beginning to set previously unheard-of sales statistics for ostensibly 'extreme(ish) metal' releases and so came to raise the bar and re-define the metal scene in the early noughties. By contrast, Earache's new bands' achievements were much more modest, as we still preferred to sign bands which have a more individualistic take on the extreme metal ethos- but still, Mortiis had two singles reach the Top 60 UK National Charts, Sweden's Cult Of Luna rapidly became many scenesters faves, and newly-signed sharp-suited satanists Akercocke received plaudits and many 'album of year' accolades in the press.
The global explosion of interest in metal and extreme metal in particular, led to the publication of the book 'Choosing Death' in 2004, in which noted scenester Albert Mudrian admirably detailed the history of the death metal and grindcore scenes, and rightly placed Earache's key role as the central catalyst within it.
In a surprising move to some, the then longest-serving act on the label, Death Metal veterans Morbid Angel, were released from their contract after 15+ years of excellent service.The band and label parted on friendly terms, but ironically, papers were exchanged on the same day as original singer David Vincent made his unexpected return into the Morbid Angel fold,after almost a decade away.In a further ironic twist, Florida's other Death Metal stalwarts Deicide signed to Earache in the same year, after fulfilling their contract with long term home, Roadrunner. Deicide's 2004 debut for Earache, 'Scars Of The Crucifix', marked a significant return to form and many old and new fans embraced it, becoming the labels biggest selling album in years, returning the Earache name onto the USA Billboard Charts.
More Billboard Chart action came during 2005- a Top 200 placing in fact, for platinum-selling Californian Nu Metal act Adema. The band featuring Korn singer Jonathan Davis' half-brother Marky Chavez on vocals, were perhaps a strange choice given the labels more extreme output, but label founder Digby had always been an avid fan.
In the same year, Italy's political HC/Metallers Linea 77 scored a remarkable Top 10 National Album Chart placing in their homeland with their 'Available For Propaganda' CD which was a well deserved reward for the culmination of their tireless gigging and MTV support.
2005 saw the label tighten its belt somewhat and had to make tough decisions to stay afloat. To this end the closing down of the underperforming Elitist sub-label suddenly became highly acrimonious as bitter recriminations and bruised egos broke out online. Earache also - without any fuss - ended its licensing deals with UK's Codebreaker label, who's founder had quit citing heavy financial losses, as well as USAs Willowtip. From then on, Earache decided to concentrate its efforts and financial resources on its own acts instead of other people's choices.
This action was precipitated partly by the drastic fall in worldwide sales of CDs as a new generation of younger fans would rather download digital files from the internet, mostly illegally via file sharing sites. Apple had recently launched its legal music store ' iTunes Music Store' to go along with the huge selling iPod Mp3 player, but the actual income from digital sales to labels was still insignificant at this point.
Earache reacted to this opportunity and in January 2005 launched its own digital download Mp3 website at www.metaltracks.com which sold the label's complete 4000+ catalog of tracks, without DRM and as Mp3's, for reasonable prices.It was among the first such site on the net offering Extreme Metal Mp3's and was reasonably successful, until hackers and free-loaders exploited its flawed software, rendering it useless 2 years later. The experience with metaltracks.com proved firsthand that many fans will gladly pay for downloadable music, but also taught the label a valuable lesson how in the coming digital-sales era, many more actually don't see any need to pay anything at all for music.
During 2006-7 Deicide assumed the mantle of the labels most visible and most controversial act. TV documentaries about the Satanic frontman Glen Benton were aired on the Discovery channel and the BBC. When it was alleged by a politically motivated website that the US Military were using Deicide's music to interrogate detainees/prisoners at the infamous Iraqi Abu Graihb prison, national newspapers both in UK and USA ran with grossly sensationalist stories. Amidst the controversy, Earache released a clutch of live Deicide DVDs as well as the new studio album "Stench of Redemption", which marked its place on the Billboard (Heatseekers) sales chart once again.
At around this time an edition of the UK's monthly magazine METAL HAMMER came out with Deicide on the cover. By sheer chance we noticed that on every single page, from cover to cover, appeared an Earache artist, either current signing or former artist. It prompted a wry smile in the Earache offices, but went un-noticed by everyone else. There is no better example of just how pervasive and entrenched in the metal scene the label had become.
Away from the music, diversification became the buzz word in the wider Music Industry, still reeling from rampant downloading of music, and the rise and growing influence of a new social networking site which offered music for free, called MySpace.
Earache diversified as best it could, and scored another first by being the first metal label with its own branded PlayStation 2 console game on general sale. EARACHE EXTREME METAL RACING (PS2) was a low priced, pretty simple but fun Racing/Shoot em up game boasting a soundtrack of over 3 hours of Earache's extreme music, which hit UK game store shelves in February 2007.It even appeared for the first week as a top 40 seller in the Amazon games chart. The developer could not gain releases in other countries however, so the game did not have the level of impact the first exclusively Death-Metal and Grindcore themed PlayStation 2 game possibly warranted.
The wholesale downloading of music for free had some unexpected outcomes - a new generation of fans became familiar with the early 90's output of Earache, so that re-issuing of our early -now considered classic- releases with extra value in the form of DVD documentaries - where the artists recall the making of the albums on film - soon became a large part of our schedule. Earache adapted to hiring film-makers to travel the world to make documentaries with our ex-artists, because the stories many of them have to tell were intriguing, and had mostly remained untold. The excellent fan-feedback and sales successes of the Dual-Disk CD/DVD format means we expect to make full-scale film documentaries for the forseeable future.
MySpace had only launched in 2004, but by 2007 had become a music industry phenomenon. By offering free music, being simple to use, and taking the ability to network with fans to previously unimaginable levels, most bands abandoned their own hard-to-maintain websites in favour of MySpace pages. MySpace and YouTube offered truly world class level of services, which previously would have cost many thousands of dollars a month to purchase. Many new bands took the opportunity to use these free tools to maximum effect, forging careers for themselves without any record company backing at all. Its hard to express how much these websites completely transformed the landscape of the music industry.
The UK's Bring Me the Horizon had cleverly made maximum use of these social networking sites and so earned themselves a legion of worldwide fans. Earache picked up the license for the USA release of the band's debut album "Count Your Blessings" from their UK label, Visible Noise, and got the band touring America. CD sales were immediately spectacular, ultimately leading to the band being picked up by Iron Maiden's management company and a deal with Epitaph for the follow-up.
Earache pays particular attention to what is happening at the grass roots of the scene, and in 2007 the label noticed a tiny but growing trend in the underground for retro-Thrash music.New bands formed by teenagers were suddenly not playing the predominant Metal-core or Death/Black/industrial/ gothic styles, but instead chose to play old- school original thrash metal, which had been a long-derided style from 20 years previously.
The average age of Earache's roster of acts was reduced as Evile, GAMA BOMB, Bonded by Blood, SSS and Brasils VIOLATOR were all signed up, and showcased as 'New School Thrash Metal' bands on the compilation "Thrashing Like A Maniac" released in January 2008. Municipal Waste became its leader as they had been on the label since 2004, and by their efforts of constantly touring the globe in the intervening years, had become the acknowledged pace-setters of the new Thrash Metal scene.
Newly-signed Thrash bands came to dominate the label's efforts during the 2007-8 period, and although CD sales were modest, the influence on the global culture of the metal scene was immediate, as the old guard of Thrash acts, embraced the new brigade.MEGADETH and EXODUS took out Evile on their European tours.KREATOR likewise with Muncipal Waste in USA. Within a few months, it appeared as if Thrash metal had regained its place once again in the affections of metal-heads worldwide.
One person who noticed was the Director of Music at software house Harmonix ( originally responsible for the GUITAR HERO franchise) his new, now rival, company were launching the ROCK BAND game system, and a deal was struck with the label to release some Thrash-themed content for it. The 'Earache Thrash Pack' of 3 bands At The Gates, The Haunted & Evile was released to the public as Downloadable Content (DLC) for the ROCK BAND PS3 and XBOX360 in May 2008, and once again, our early involvement in video game sector paid off handsomely, as ROCK BAND became a global billion dollar entertainment success.
2008 saw the reformation of the old Earache bands - the live music scene and the festival scene in particular was booming, and with it a pent-up demand for the new generation of fans to witness the original bands which had hung up their guitars over a decade beforehand. Carcass and At The Gates had spectacular runs across the globe, with Earache anticipating the reunion with a set of deluxe re-issues of the complete Carcass back catalog.A festival in Italy had IRON MAIDEN headlining with a supporting cast of Carcass, At The Gates and Morbid Angel, showing how much their fan-bases had grown, even while inactive.
2009 is the year the global credit crunch has taken hold. Change is most definitely in the air. The major labels are struggling and even some long standing Indie labels like Peaceville have exited the scene. Likewise, more new genres began to appear on the label's radar. While Earache had popularised Death Metal in the 90's , the new brigade of 2009 teenage death heads are combining the roots of Death Metal with simple but effective breakdowns borrowed from the Hardcore scene. Death-core is the current and accurate description and Earache debutants Oceano, by upping the ante on the Death-core sound, scored a Billboard (Heatseekers) placing for album 'Depths' in April 2009.
2009's saw yet another new scene come to life on the label - NWOBHM bands playing True-to-the-roots Heavy Metal were becoming visible at shows, so Earache complied a sample to showcase the best of the bunch, and in Feb 2009 'HEAVY METAL KILLERS' was released. Debut album releases are set to follow on from this still- tiny NWOBHM scene by the likes of Cauldron and White Wizzard.Later in 2009 will be the important, make-or-break follow up albums from the likes of Municipal Waste and Evile.
Now known worldwide as the label for all things extreme and innovative in music, Earache's contribution to the underground scene is immense, having signed a remarkably high percentage of the leading and most innovative acts in the genre, as well as selling over 10 million records in the process, all the time remaining a truly Independent label, which is still 100% owned by its founder, Digby Pearson.
Earache's commitment to innovation in the extreme metal scene remains as steadfast as the day it started in the bedroom back in the 80's.