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Relapse Records: Solid Metal.

December 1, 2014

RelapseRecordsSmall01Text by Chris Brown. Images by Timothy Becker.

In 1993, three years after forming in founder Matt Jacobson’s parents’ basement in Aurora, Colorado, Relapse Records released its first compilation. Highlighting the label’s roster at that time, it included acts such as Suffocation, Incantation and Anal Cunt. The disc’s cover featured a tall skyscraper adorned with the Relapse logo. The liner notes featured photos of Jacobson and company in suits, sitting around a boardroom.

For a company still operating out of a basement, the presentation couldn’t have been further from the truth and yet folks were duped.

“When you have your product out there with the bigger names,” Jacobson explains, “people just assume you’re that big.”

Relapse’s operations didn’t stay in the basement for long. Jacobson’s parents announced that they would be moving to Minnesota and Jacobson opted not to follow them. Instead, he moved the label to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where his business partner at the time had a space for them to work.

Eventually the lack of any semblance of a scene and the town’s conservative and “culturally suffocating” nature forced the label to move once again. It had reached a point when staying in the area was actively affecting business.

“We had a record that we were getting ready to ship,” he says. “On deadline day, the printer that we were working with returned the art files and said they wouldn’t do the job because they were offended.”

In 2000, Relapse left Lancaster and the team set their sights on Philadelphia.

“Philly just offered a lot of what we didn’t have before,” Jacobson says.

However, opening up a business in a major city brings with it some hefty tax implications. To avoid that potential burden, the label set up shop in nearby Upper Darby, where they continue to operate to this day.

Coinciding with the move was the fact that the label was becoming more in demand.

RelapseRecordsSmall03“From 2000 to about 2005, two things were happening,” says Relapse Vice President Rennie Jaffe (above). “People were still buying CDs in mass before the pirated MP3 explosion and extreme metal was blossoming commercially.”

Over that five-year stretch, Relapse released albums by bands like Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan, Nile and High on Fire. All four bands would go on to major labels. As those bands grew in popularity, Relapse continued to add to their roster.

Today, they find themselves releasing albums by bands who have been influenced by former Relapse artists. Jaffe cites the psychedelic doom outfit Inter Arma from Richmond, Virginia as a group shaped by Mastodon and High on Fire.

“They were probably in middle school when Leviathan came out,” Jaffe says, referring to Mastodon’s seminal 2004 album which, among critics, is considered to be the most important metal album of the last 15 years.

The Relapse influence, in fact, extends even further than bands. In the past few years, Ardmore-based Tired Hands Brewing Company has worked with Relapse artists such as Baroness and Tombs to develop limited-edition brews celebrating the bands’ latest releases. Tired Hands founder Jean Broillet IV grew up in Upper Darby and is a tremendous fan of heavy music.

“I don’t have to educate those dudes on Tombs or Baroness or Death,” Jaffe says of the Tired Hands staff. “That all comes from [Broillet]. He’s just genuinely into it.”

Next year, Relapse will celebrate 25 years as a label. Their office space in Upper Darby has gotten smaller over time. What used to be mail-order inventory room is now a kung fu studio.

But according to Jaffe, the label is releasing more albums now than ever before.

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