Label Profile: Heaven and Hell Records

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Heaven and Hell Records is a rising force in the metal underground, bringing life back to long-dead bands and records and unearthing new talent by means of reformation and reissues. Like a lot of small underground labels, the day-to-day operations are handled by one man, Jeremy Golden, whose responsibilities are seemingly endless. Golden has learned along the way as the label has grown and evolved from a small hobby-type business to a reputable name in the metal underground that releases quality titles on the reg.
Golden spoke with Teeth a while back about all things Heaven and Hell, the good and the bad, and the following is the result of that chat.

Please tell me a little bit about the formation of the label: how it came to fruition, what inspired you to start it up, initial expectations, etc.

Jeremy GoldenI started the label sometime in 2007, can’t really nail a specific date. Things just began; I never had any preconceived plans to start a record label. I was running a small mail-order at the time just to make a few dollars to support my own CD collecting habit.

I have always worked with music in one way or another; I sang on and off in bands for years, did the college DJ thing, put on a couple of small shows, roadied years ago, and of course always been a huge fan of music ever since that Peter, Paul, and Mary song hooked me when I was four. But no, it wasn’t planned out it just kind of naturally evolved.

I took a few pointers from my friend Matt at Tribunal records and gave it a go. I remember him telling me that since I was working with metal it was going to be much more difficult than what he did, and well, he was right. (laughs)

Who was the first band signed and first  album released? How did that come about?

J. Golden: While I was just doing the small mail-order I had some connections at the time with a couple of distributors. Well, I also knew Chris Hathcock, the main man behind The Reticent, and he was about to self-release his second album. I pitched an idea to Chris that I wanted to see if I could help get this CD into some distribution and move some units. So, we struck a deal then I came up with the label name and Heaven and Hell Records was born.

The release came out and it did pretty badly. But this had nothing to do with the quality of the album at all, it was simply the fact that I was green and never thought things would be as difficult as they were. I got the title out to the few distributors I knew but I could not get any attention for it. I begged some pretty “reputable” distributors to take it; of course three years later would have to argue with them to finally get paid. (laughs)

The next year was Praetorius and Hellrazor and that is when the label would begin to become a heavy metal label focusing more on the “traditional” metal scene. More European attention picked up with those two releases and things started to do a little bit better. With those two releases some distributors were in place but now the press and media outlets were the new obstacle to overcome. I sent out so many CDs for review and barely got anything. I would send out press releases and they would be ignored. If I would re-write the press release and name drop in it then suddenly news sites would pay attention. So my advice, always connect the band somehow to Iron Maiden and people will pay attention.

The re-issues of the first two Twisted Tower Dire albums came next and suddenly raised the bar on everything. It was a big project, the packaging was nicer than anything before and suddenly our presence doubled. I think those two releases made a lot of people take notice. 

How do day-to-day operations run? You do the bulk (or all) of the work yourself?

J. Golden: I have learned to give into and accept the chaos that surrounds me. There is no set formulated way of going about things because there is just so much involved that it is often difficult to get to everything as it needs to be done. I try to squeeze twenty five hours into a twenty four hour day. Sometimes I go a couple of days straight nonstop at trying to keep this boat afloat and still it is difficult.

The day begins with a shot of orange juice, walking the dog and then it is onto checking emails. By the evening it’s onto coffee and too many cigarettes as I’m struggling through filling orders, placing orders, working out what needs to be done with the bands, updating networking sites, typing up and sending out press releases; the list just goes on and never seems to end.

Honestly I don’t know how I do it. My vision and health issues slow me down a lot that is way I have to put so much time in, and there is never enough time to stop and think about it.

Most of it I do myself. I have a wonderful girlfriend named Jamie who has been with me from the beginning and she helps out when she can. She is a career woman, a scientist or something like that. So there is only so much time she can put in. And in the past year a really good friend I have known for many years has come onboard and does as much as he can to help out. Over the years I have had a few different people help out but nothing was ever lasting, just no one was really interested or into metal. You really have to have a passion for this to do it or either be insane. I think my passion has driven me insane.

What do you look for when signing bands or re-releasing albums? How do you become involved in the re-releasing process?

J. Golden: Well, first of all it has to appeal to me of course. I really don’t care if anyone else likes it, if it works for me then I’ll do it. I once had a guy who runs a distro/label tell me that I need to be specific with what I release and stick with one genre; well, I’ll never do that simply because several genres appeal to me. I will continue to do things on my own terms and will never settle into mediocrity. He said I would not last with that attitude; well, I have not seen him put out a release in years.

The things I look for in bands [are] different with each band I think. However, with more current and newer bands I look for a band that is willing to help themselves, or at least try. Bands have to do just as much as every party involved to get their name out there. Unfortunately this practice is not all the time executed. Over the years I have started to look into bands a bit differently with a more scrutinizing eye. Situations where the release comes out and the band immediately splits up, or band will not play out to support the release and bullshit like that just got old really quick. Even in some cases bands were too damn lazy to even update their MySpace and Facebook pages. There have been cases when I have gotten interviews for bands and they would just blow it off. Maybe I should not be telling you these things but that is how it goes and it is damn frustrating at times.

The re-issues are entirely different. I understand that in a lot of cases these bands are no longer active and haven’t been for years. Blacksmith wasn’t a band at the time we started on that project. In some cases members of these bands are no longer even living. I just reach out to a member or members of the band and we go from there. Most of these guys are overjoyed with the idea of putting this stuff back out or in some cases out for the first time. And in most cases it gets more attention for the bands then the first time around and I love to see that.

I came up with the idea of the Lost Relics series because I was a big collector of obscure rock and metal bands, especially circuit riders, and I wanted to see these things out officially and looking good. We started with Demontuary, a black metal band from Texas, Ritual from New Jersey who had made some noise in the mid-80s, and Overlord from Canada, which has been noted to have put out one of the rarest pieces of metal vinyl out there. I had no idea how well this would work but it snagged some attention. The Thunderstick came out which was a little different since the material was more akin to new wave than rock or metal but damn it, it looks cool. (laughs) So it was working and the fans seemed to really like them and I figured they would because I am one of them. But there were also naysayers; this one jerk made the comment to me “all you do is release demos of obscure bands that no one knows or cares about.” Well, according to all the emails that came in from all over the world after the Overlorde SR was announced, that person was certainly mistaken. Within the first month of that release being out half of the pressing has already moved.

The disappointing part of doing the re-issues is some of the bands that I pursue turn out to be difficult over things, and it is not over what you would first think like rights or whatever. They tend to be all about the idea until it comes down to them scanning some pictures to send in for the inlay, or giving you a history of the band and little things like that. When I am trying to move the project ahead to make it the best it can possibly be some of these guys will say “I don’t have much time to open a box in my basement and get out pictures” or something like that. Then you see them on Facebook on Sunday posting about their lazy day lounging on the couch watching TV. (laughs) And I’m thinking, “Seriously man, do you want this to happen or not?” Those situations happen all the time. I tell you the metal fans would be amazed at the things I have to go through to get this stuff done, it can be frustrating. It’s not an issue that these guys don’t want it to happen; they just don’t want to have to put any effort into it. Makes one think that maybe this was the reason they did not make it the first go round.

When we started working on the Blacksmith it was perfect and they way it should always be. That guy David Smith sent me a large priority box full of pictures, demos, old press kits, nine VHS tapes of live material; I was like a kid on Christmas opening that box. But it is not like that with most other bands.

What’s been your favorite/proudest signing and/or re-release moment since the inception of Heaven & Hell?

J. Golden: That is a difficult question to answer. Each release has its appeal and unique place. The Reticent was first and certainly musically different, so that will always be special to me. Hellrazor and Praetorius were in there from the beginning and will always be dear to me as well. With the Twisted Tower Dire releases, well, that was certainly our best packaging job thus far. Thunderstick has certainly been the strangest release, and Ancient Creation and Core Device are just good solid albums. I really liked doing the Overlorde SR since they are North Carolina’s first heavy metal band and it just seemed proper that it was under this moniker for that reason.

One of our current bands, Dogbane has proven to be some of the best guys I have ever worked with. Everything in that situation is working out extremely well. The album is doing well, it is getting great reviews, and I just like hanging out with those guys. And should I mention that they are fuckin’ heavy too, we bonded in doom. I do have to admit that I cannot express what the Blacksmith project has meant to me. This was a band I listened to when I was a kid. To me I could not have cared less for bands like Metallica and Megadeth, it was bands like Sanctuary and Blacksmith for me. So being able to re-issue that material was awesome. But it was not only putting out the CD, I also managed to resurrect a band and get them recording again. To top it off we have become pretty good friends as well.

I sat outside of the ProgPower venue with guitarist David Smith and he said to me, “The greatest thing to come out of this is that I’m with those guys again and you made it all happen.” I just thought, yeah I guess I did. So it actually could very well be my proudest moment; hell I can’t think of a prouder moment in my life actually. (laughs)

Things aren’t over yet. There is some really good stuff coming up with this great thrash band called Eugenic Death. The next Witches Mark featuring guest appearances from Jack Starr, Jason McMaster, and Ross the Boss will be out soon. We [recently] released the elusive second Blacksmith album Time Out of Mind that was recorded back in 1990 and never released. And the new album Le Temps Detruit Tout from The Reticent has recently been released and it is simply amazing. So who knows what the future will hold, but one thing is for sure and that is Heaven and Hell Records will continue until it burns out or either I decide to quit and pursue my dream of becoming a shepherd.

http://www.heavenandhellrecords.com/blog/

 

 

For those who don’t know, Heaven and Hell has an awfully cool habit of picking out and signing up-and-coming bands and re-releasing true heavy metal classics, and what you’ll get with this review is a little bit of both.

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Core Device bring forth their contribution to Heaven and Hell Records, What I’ve Become.  This was actually self-released in 2010 and later picked up by Heaven and Hell.  Being previously unfamiliar with these guys, I can’t speak to their timeline aside from that info which some gracious being has provided to the great and mighty internet metal research site Encyclopaedia Metallum (www.metal-archives.com), but their 2004 debut full-length was produced by fellow Jersey boy Michael Romeo (yes, that Michael Romeo), so that should say something.

What I’ve Become is at times progressive, at times thrashy, and at times close to straight-up trad metal.  There are a lot of cool riffs contained within this album, specifically with the shreddy “Revelations,” the thrashy “Confront the Serpent,” and the galloping “Sixth Sense” (which features some haunting vocals that evoke Nevermore’s Warrel Dane).  Of course, to leave descriptions at that would do those tracks no justice, as What I’ve Become is definitely a multi-faceted fucker.  Crunchy riffs of odd time signatures give way to traditional melodic passages, which in turn give way to chunky modern sections, all overlaid with efficient but not overly flashy drumming and gruff vocals.  The end result sounds as though it could be the by-product of a massive Iced Earth/Fates Warning/Alice in Chains meet-up.  Core Device could stand a bit more growth, but they’ve got a solid foundation upon which to build.

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Next is Blacksmith’s Strike While the Iron’s Hot, a compilation of the band’s as-of-now only two previously released albums, an EP and a full-length from ’86 and ’89, respectively.  Blacksmith has recently reformed, boasting a “resurrection” lineup (for the most part), and they recently released their long-lost full-length Time Out of Mind (scheduled to hit stores in 1990 but never made it) over the summer.  So this compilation is a good refresher/teaser and a good starting point for newbies.

To put it bluntly, Blacksmith kicked all sorts of ass back in their heyday.  They were rowdy, ballsy, and had a wicked spitfire named Heidi Black belting out vox for them (at least until 1989 or so, when Malcolm “Mania” Lovegrove stepped in).  They titled tracks “Rock Hard,” “Louder than Hell,” and “Black Attack”…and were cool enough to back those names up.  A strong bass back line learned from the Steve Harris School and rockin’, heavy riffs kicked their tunes into a place in metal songwriting greatness which many strove for but few achieved.  Think of a cross between Bitch and Tygers of Pan Tang with some hint of (but not overt) Maiden influence and you’ve got an idea of what Blacksmith brought to the table.

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Overlorde SR (the SR, I’ll have you know, was added to the name recently thanks to a bunch of assholes in another band named Overlorde who claimed they’d used the moniker first) is a group of metallers from North Carolina who originally formed in 1979.  They did a couple of demos in the 80s and then apparently faded into obscurity before being rescued by Heaven and Hell and coerced into releasing a proper album, entitled Medieval Metal Too.

Make no mistakes; this is the stuff that sweaty, leathery NWOBHM wet dreams are made of.  You dig Manilla Road and Blue Oyster Cult?  Then you’re gonna like Overlorde SR.  Their style is definitely a bit morose while simultaneously being catchy and proto-metal tinged.  Smooth, almost medieval crooning vocals sit nicely above a galloping rhythm section and decidedly tasty riffing.  Yes, Medieval Metal Too is chock-full of early (not fruity) power metal in its finest form.

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This paragraph won’t serve as some summary of what was written above it.  Instead, it’ll just be used to say this:  Check out Blacksmith, Core Device and Overlorde SR.  Support Heaven and Hell Records.  If you’re into real heavy metal, chances are that you’ll find a gem or two in their catalog that’s worth uncovering.

Comments

  1. Commented by: haspts

    Keep up the goood work.


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