Op-Ed: What the Hell is Napalm Records Up To?


Napalm-RecordsMoonspell. Satyricon. Kamelot. Sirenia. These are the kinds of bands we expect to see on Napalm Records, the long-standing independent Austrian metal label.

Coal Chamber. American Head Charge. Cold. Not quite what you’d expect from a label that specializes in European cheese metal… but all three bands have signed to Napalm over the past year, spearheaded by Napalm’s newly supercharged North American office.

Those three bands are a huge departure from the label’s past. They’re also not the bands you’d expect a label trying to gain a foothold in a new market to sign. If Napalm is making a play into the U.S., signing a bunch of washed-up nu-metal bands that were at the lower tier of the movement to begin with seems like a really bizarre way to go about it. More than a few of us having been scratching our heads in puzzlement since this spate of signings began. Why would any label waste their time on American fucking Head Charge?

So: what gives?

There’s another record label with deep European roots that’s been making a similarly aggressive expansion into North America of late: Spinefarm. Their approach has been considerably more varied: they’ve signed young, up-and-coming acts like Toothgrinder and Santa Cruz, genre mainstays like Anti-Flag and 36 Crazyfists, big names like Atreyu and underground favorites like Electric Wizard and Venom.

Conversely, Napalm’s approach seems to be very focused, and very specific: “Let’s sign a bunch of washed up, C-rate nu-metal bands.” No ifs, ands or buts.

And although it may seem odd, if you think about it, this isn’t a bad business strategy at all. There’s something to be said for signing bands whose value you can pinpoint, and the brass at Napalm can pull a decade-plus of album charts, show grosses, merch sales and the like to calculate an exact monetary value these bands are worth. Sure, it’s not the “cool” thing to do, but Napalm was never really concerned with being “cool” to begin with — just look at their roster.

Additionally, there is a precedent here, sort of: in 2008 and 2009 a newly staffed-up eOne (formerly Koch) began plucking established metal acts out of the water — High On Fire, Satyricon, In Flames, Otep, Hatebreed, Kittie and Throwdown, to name a few. Some of those signings are sexy, others not so much, but they share a commonality: established bands whose worth can be quantified much more easily than an unpredictable young band who might or might not stick.

The eOne comparison continues to hold when you look at how the label has conducted its signings since then: there are a couple of exceptions, but on the whole eOne is not really a label that’s known for developing young talent. But why spend time and money developing talent from scratch when other labels like Relapse, Prosthetic, Metal Blade, Profound Lore, etc can do it for you and then you can reap the benefits later? eOne is doing just fine with their business model, as is Nuclear Blast — another label whose new investments are primarily in established bands — and I suspect Napalm will be just fine without their own internal farm system too. It’s worked for them just fine for the past 15 years.

So, in a way, what Napalm is doing in the U.S. right now makes complete sense. My knowledge of the European power/folk/pagan metal market is surface-level at best, but my impression of bands like Delain and Leaves’ Eyes is that they’re steady and reliable. Like many of the bands traditionally on Napalm, they’re established enough to where you know what you’re gonna get with them; their popularity isn’t going to suddenly skyrocket on the strength of a hit and, likewise, their fans aren’t suddenly going to jump ship en masse due to changing trends. They are what they are.

And that, in a nutshell, is how Napalm’s recent, nu-metal-centric U.S. expansion can be viewed: it is what it is, even if it isn’t sexy.

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