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.
Digby Pearson 2004
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.
Now in 2006 as Earache closes in on its 20th continuous year in operation, it retains its fiercely Independent status, whilst juggling the dual roles of finding and nurturing new metal talent whilst still keeping its large and ever growing catalog of legendary extreme metal releases in print for newer generations of metal fans to enjoy. To this end the label recently set up its sister Mp3 download site www.metaltracks.com where almost all the 3000+ complete catalog tracks of Earache's history are available for sale as downloadable Mp3's.
Now known worldwide as the label for all things extreme 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 8 million records in the process, all the time remaining a truly Independent label.
Earache's commitment to extremity remains as steadfast as the day it started in the bedroom.
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