The label was launched in the Netherlands in 1980 and was originally called "Roadracer Records". Roadrunner's initial business was importing North American metal-band recordings into Europe. In 1986 Roadrunner opened its US headquarters in New York City and later opened offices in England, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Denmark and the latest in Canada. Early successes included albums from King Diamond (the first Roadrunner artist to enter the Billboard Top 200 albums chart) and Annihilator. The label also handled early Metallica releases in the Scandinavian region. The end of the 1980s saw the release of two albums that are now considered classics of their respective genres: Obituary's Slowly We Rot and Sepultura's Beneath the Remains.
The 1990s saw the arrival of acts such as Life of Agony, Machine Head, Suffocation and Type O Negative. As the 1990s wore on, several of Roadrunner's bands managed to make an impact on the mainstream, most notably Sepultura and Type O Negative. Sepultura's 1993 album, Chaos A.D., became the first Roadrunner band to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard album chart. Type O Negative became the first Roadrunner band to receive a certification from the RIAA; this was a Gold award (and later Platinum award) for the 1993 album Bloody Kisses, which was certified in 1995. The band also became the first Roadrunner band to receive radio play. In 2000, Slipknot became the first Roadrunner band to go Platinum. Nickelback were also very successful on the label (except they were on another label at home in Canada). Derek Shulman ran the label in the late '90s.
Beginning in 2001, Roadrunner was distributed by the Universal Music Group through a share of the label owned by The Island Def Jam Music Group. This deal has now expired.
On December 18, 2006, Warner Strategic Marketing signed an agreement to purchase a majority in shares (73.5%) of Roadrunner Records' parent company, Roadrunner Music Group B.V. This deal became finalized on January 29, 2007 after receiving regulatory approval in Germany.
On June 11, 2008, Roadrunner Records was voted as the "Best Metal Label" by Metal Hammer at their Golden Gods Awards, an award that it has won the past four years in a row. The award was accepted by Sharon Den Adel and Ruud Jolie of Within Temptation, one of Roadrunner's biggest acts.
However, Roadrunner have also been accused as of being a label only interested in current or trendy alternative music, reflected by their current roster of mainly popular and metalcore acts. The most notable example of this is the treatment of the main death and thrash metal bands on Roadrunner's roster throughout the 90s including Obituary, Deicide, Death, Gorguts and Pestilence who were either dropped or left the label after ill treatment.
Roadrunner Records was majorly affected by Warner Music Group's legal dispute against Youtube, including having their account's Youtube partnership cancelled. Most of the videos on their channel, however, are still viewable. There is even a disclaimer talking about Warner's dispute right on the channel. Some of their artists, like Slipknot, have their own accounts.
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