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Season of Mist: Loud and Misty, Here in Philly.

July 24, 2014

SeasonOfMist01Text by Chad Sims. Image by Christopher Fascenelli.

Though few Philadelphians know it, their city is home to a branch of international metal label Season of Mist. The label’s roster includes some of the biggest metal bands around.

Season of Mist was founded in 1996 in Marseille, France by Michael Berberian. Initially, the label specialized in black metal and other closely related genres but over time, they expanded to cover the scope of heavy music. Now the label is home to hard rock, death metal, grindcore, punk, hardcore, doom, post rock and more.

SeasonOfMist02In 2001, metal label Nuclear Blast moved their Philadelphia office to Los Angeles. One of the employees left behind by Nuclear Blast started the Season of Mist office. The cheap operating costs of North Philadelphia allowed the then-nascent label to run a U.S. home base.

“The European and American markets are very different,” says Chief Operating Officer Gordon Conrad. “Europe is a lot more traditional. Also, there are styles there that are massive, like pop chart topping massive, that barely exist here. Symphonic metal with clean female vocals is huge there. While in the U.S., newer, fresher sounds tend to sell.”

Conrad took the reins in 2011. At that time, the label was struggling a bit but the input of Conrad and his team gave the label a better understanding of the U.S. market.

“We do a little of everything – marketing, production, publicity,” Conrad says. “We help bands plan tours, get their visas in order, get sponsorships if they want that, all that stuff. A lot of our bands are pretty DIY, so they might not even have a booking agent.”

Though many of the label’s bands are relatively obscure, they also have some of the biggest names in heavy music including Kylesa from Savannah, Ga., Morbid Angel of Tampa, Fla. and perhaps the most notorious metal band of all time, Oslo, Norway’s Mayhem. The Norwegian band carries this dubious distinction because of ties to murder, suicide, arson and more (though, in fairness, most of this was by former members).

Part of working with genres outside the popular spectrum come the somewhat unusual conditions of the market.

“Most of our sales are still physical media,” says Conrad. “Metal fans are loyal and they want to own the physical CD or LP. Most of our releases only sell 10 to 15 percent digital download. Most other releases in the music industry are now at around 50 percent or higher. When I talk to people who work in indie rock they are blown away by how much physical media metal fans buy.”

Some fans want the gatefold, double vinyl, with a poster deluxe edition. Others don’t want to spend that much and just want the regular vinyl. Some want the CD. They sell cassettes. Even in digital, they offer different formats.

“Internet fans are the people on blogs who are more into the technicality and musicianship of bands like Disperse, Cynic and Exivious,” adds Enrique Sagarnaga, who handles publicity for the label. “They can find the bands and download them right there.”

The Internet has allowed people to find more obscure bands or even bands that are no longer together. Some of these incredibly influential but not terribly well known bands have even reformed and landed on the label, including Cynic, Atheist and Floor.

“Once someone writes about a band on a blog it is up there forever, you never know who is going to find it, or what is going to come of it,” says Al Colbourne, who heads up sales.

Season of Mist is not the label most associated with Philadelphia but in the last year or so, they have helped put out loud records for bands based in Philly and New York to those from as far away as Canada and Wales. They also have some big releases on the horizon with Mayhem and Baltimore’s Misery Index.

A label that works with loud bands from Philadelphia, Canada, Wales and beyond, and sells records around the world could have set up shop anywhere. Few might have guessed they would have chose Philly.

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