There is a subtle beauty to the way bands are handled in the metal world. It's a different method of thinking, really, not driven by platinum status but by the fans themselves. In 2015, it seems like every metal label gave us something worth celebrating. These five did more than the others, delivering artists, albums, and products that made this year another banner year for heavy music.
Honorable Mention: STB Records, a small, boutique label with a focus on doom and psych metal, has done an incredible job this year, particularly in the vinyl department. Releases from Goya and Doctor Doom, specifically, are then perfect example of catering to your customers. Limited colors and packages, done in small batches, and done right. And watching these different configurations sell quickly and consistently is all the validation they need. With a new release from Druglord on the way, STB is poised to continue their growth for years to come.
5. Season of Mist may not have a stable full of household names, but what they have is a roster of unique acts, many of them one of a kind. 2015 was a great year, undoubtedly, with releases from Weedeater, Thy Catafalque and Carach Angren leading the way. But rather than saturate the market with album after album, artist after artist, they've kept their schedule focused and formidable. More isn't always better, especially in a music industry overwrought with filler acts. A label debut from The Lion's Daughter opens 2016, and by this time next year, we'll be singing their praises again.
4. Napalm Records has made a habit out of releasing tremendous albums, year in and year out, from some of the best and brightest the genre has to offer. They've become a constant, in the best possible way. This year, they unloaded an avalanche of records onto an unsuspecting community; Draconian, Ahab, Kamelot and Gloryhammer put out, quite possibly, their best work yet, and new signee Phantasma, featuring Delain frontwoman Charlotte Wessels, proved to be one of the surprise releases of the year. Candlemass celebrate 30 years, and Varg will burn your village to the ground. Sounds like a great 2016, doesn't it?
3. Century Media is, arguably, the biggest name in all of metal. Chances are, if you listen to anything heavy, you have at least one band from the Century Media family included in your favorites. This year, they provided some of the biggest releases, ranging from Intronaut and Swallow The Sun, to Butcher Babies and Paradise Lost. Next year is shaping up to be another huge one, led by a new studio album from Borknagar in January. Over twelve months, it's a virtual certainty that the Century Media logo is going to be stamped across the backs of many of 2016's best releases.
2. Nuclear Blast was front and center for much of the year, thanks to an extensive list of active bands, a great PR department, and a ton of exceptional releases. What other label could be home to Blind Guardian and Symphony X, but also house Slayer and Enslaved? Their variety keeps fans of all genres happy, and when you see that radioactive logo tacked onto a new music video, album cover or concert announcement, you can expect excellence across the board. Fleshgod Apocalypse will return next year, and label mainstay Avantasia will release Ghostlights in January. Yeah, we're in.
1. Relapse Records did it all in 2015. They spent the year celebrating their 25th anniversary with a slew of reissues, recaps, and new releases, and single-handedly gave the vinyl revival a face and a name. They embraced the resurgence of the format, and gave their followers options and quantities to satisfy their craving. You would be hard pressed to find one label that put out as many quality releases this year, let alone one that embraced the evolution of the genre. Myrkur became the female face of black metal. Hope Drone and Locrian pushed the boundaries wherever they chose. All the while, they continued to strengthen their brand with established bands like Torche and the Baroness side project Valkyrie. While the 26th year anniversary doesn't have the same ring to it, 2016 will be bigger than ever.