The 25 Most Important People in Metal: #19, Ash Avildsen
As much as metal is a genre of music and a lifestyle, it is also a community. And like all communities, it has its leaders — men and women whose work, be it by design or circumstance, affects all lovers of extreme music on a regular basis.
Throughout November, MetalSucks will celebrate these industry leaders by counting down The 25 Most Important People in Metal one per day. To be clear, this is a list of the people we believe are most important to metal today, in 2016 — not necessarily the most important people overall in the entire history of the genre. Some of them are musicians. Many of them are not. Some of them are people you’ve heard of. Many of them work behind the scenes and do not routinely get to take a bow. But they all have one thing in common: more than just cogs in a machine, they are truly, undeniably irreplaceable.
MetalSucks and Ash Avildsen have something of a complicated history with one another. It’s all water under the bridge now but, looking back at our public tiff in hindsight, it seems poignant to take that incident as a microcosm of Ash’s successful career.
The Sumerian Records founder and Summer Slaughter Tour creator has never shied away from challenges or controversy; he’s embraced them with open arms as inspiration to work even harder. It’s a pretty typical music industry story on the surface: guy in a band who handles the business side of things goes on to become a booking agent, starts a label, and becomes successful through determination, grit and an astute ear to the ground. But Ash is anything but “pretty typical:” there are labels ten times the size of Sumerian and there are metal tours and shows 100 times bigger than Summer Slaughter whose founders aren’t household names in the metal community. So what is it about Ash that’s made him so recognizable in our community, and such an crucial part of its threadwork over the past decade?
The legacies of Summer Slaughter and Sumerian speak for themselves, but part of the reason those brands have been so enduring is that Ash injects his own personality into everything he does. Much like our #22 entry on this list, metal writer Kim Kelly, when you see or hear something Ash is involved with you know right away that it’s got his prints all over it. And that’s something that fans identity with: they love the personal connection from someone in a high-up position they normally wouldn’t expect it from. It’s not uncommon to see Ash responding to comments on YouTube, appearing in his band’s music videos or replying to unsigned band submissions sent to Sumerian.
He’s also not one to shy away from the dramatic. In part inspired by his love of ’80s and ’90s pro wrestling, public drama seems to find Ash — or Ash finds it — and he embraces it to his full advantage, playing it up for maximum effect. That’s not an accident: Ash knows exactly what he’s doing. What other label head would you see Tweeting about drama between ex and current members of a band on his roster? Most would steer clear completely.
And that’s to say nothing of the incredibly hard work and late hours Ash puts in, undoubtedly a huge part of the reason Summer Slaughter and Sumerian have been so successful. Now ten years deep, technical death metal has changed a whole lot since Summer Slaughter first trekked across the States, yet a spot on that tour is the single most coveted summer touring opportunity for any extreme metal band. Sumerian’s roster has largely shifted away from metal in recent years, yet metal bands still shit their pants over an opportunity to showcase for the label. Why? Because they’re both powerful and strong brands — irreplaceable and undeniably important to our scene — that have colossal staying power thanks to the hard work — and personality — of Ash Avildsen.