Many moons ago Relapse Records introduced me to noise. That’s probably a bit hard to imagine for younger folks that only know the label as the beard metal stronghold it is today, but trust me, way back when Relapse was releasing some seriously bonkers shit. You see, Relapse used to have a sub-label called Release Entertainment and it was to noise, dark ambient and experimental music what Relapse once was to death metal, grindcore and the like.
Evidence of Release Entertainment ever even existing is disturbingly difficult to come by in 2014; there’s one lone sentence about it buried in the label’s Wikipedia entry and the same goes for the “about” section of the Relapse website:
“Soon, Yurkiewicz and Jacobson — both huge fans of post-industrial experimental music, electronic ambient and noise – started Relapse label offshoot Release Entertainment to issue music within the aforementioned genres.”
And that’s literally it. From what I can tell, all the Release Entertainment releases are out of print. What’s left of them can be had for about $5.99 a pop via the Relapse webstore, and a few of the artists are listed in the alumni section, but for all intents and purposes, it seems as if the label has attempted to erase most evidence of Release Entertainment’s existence (hell, I couldn’t even find a decent .JPEG of the logo to accompany this piece).
For the life of me, I can’t understand why Relapse would choose to eradicate this portion of their legacy. If it weren’t for Release Entertainment, I (as well as many other metalheads of my generation, I’m guessing) would have had no idea that there was such a thing as the Japanese noise scene, or that genres such as dark ambient and death industrial existed. Release introduced me to a whole other world of music that was way beyond any of the metal I was listening to in terms of pushing the envelope of extremity. Death metal didn’t have shit on albums like Merzbow’s Venereology, Masonna’s Inner Mind Mystique and Brighter Death Now’s Innerwar.
“Venereology was my first release on a death metal label. So, my target was “death metal” itself. I used more serious dead visuals than on the usual death metal albums. For me, it’s like J. P. Witkin or J. G. Ballard. The rhythm in Venereology was a little slower than in my past releases, but more heavy. Also, the tone of Venereology was lots of overlevels and dirty sound. It’s important to know that I made Venereology while drinking lots of beer. These essences are all influenced by death metal. But not musically. I liked something more extreme than the death metal rules.”
—Merzbow (excerpt from a 1997 interview w/ Corridor of Cells)
Merzbow was the first Release Entertainment artist I was introduced to via the aforementioned Venereology album, and it was goddamn terrifying. I can’t for the life of me recall what possessed me to buy it, probably the catalog copy that promised it to be “the most extreme recording you’ll ever own!” The booklet art made me want to toss my cookies, but the music itself was even more nauseating; punishing waves of distortion, feedback and white noise that seemed determined to turn my brain into a pile of hammered shit.
As horrifying as it was, Venereology proved to be a stepping stone that lead me not only to other Release noise-makers of the time, but eventually to other “out there” bands and artists such as Sunn O))), Wolf Eyes, Prurient, Skullflower and John Zorn. It dragged me kicking and screaming out of my rock/metal comfort zone and forced me to think differently about what music is and has the potential to be, as well as what it means to create something extreme.
Release wasn’t all ear-destroying noise though. The sub-label also featured acts such as Amber Asylum and Vidna Obmana who brought a more minimalist approach to the table. In fact, one of my favorite albums to be released under the Release Entertainment banner is Zombi’s Cosmos, a collection of cinematic, synth-driven instrumentals that recalls the classic horror film soundtracks composed by the likes of Goblin and John Carpenter during the late seventies and early eighties. While these sounds were of a much more soothing nature than Merzbow, they were still quite unlike anything else in my CD collection at the time and made for a very different kind of trip outside my musical known universe.
From what I can tell, Release Entertainment existed from 1992 until sometime in the early 2000s. Relapse continued to release noise/dark ambient/drone albums by the likes of Angel of Decay and Bastard Noise in limited editions under another sub-label called Desolation House up until around 2009, but there’s even less information about that floating around. It makes me more than a bit sad to think that there’s generations of kids coming up in the metal underground who will probably have to work a lot harder to discover this alternate dimension of extreme and beautiful sounds.
The thing is, I get why this stuff has gone out of print. I’m guessing Relapse makes a hell of a lot more money re-packaging Mastodon’s back catalog in every format imaginable than it would by re-issuing Pulse Demon or Defiance of the Ugly By the Merely Repulsive. But the least they could do is create a Release Entertainment Bandcamp page similar to what they’ve already done with Relapse’s massive catalog. Granted, a handful of Release albums are hidden at the bottom of the Relapse Alumni Bandcamp page, but this is only scratching the surface, with no mention of them originally being put out under the Release imprint.
Is it possible that Relapse doesn’t understand the importance of what they did with Release? If this is the case, they need look no further than this year’s awesome Full of Hell / Merzbow collaboration for proof, it’s just one of a thousand examples of great developments in extreme music that likely wouldn’t exist if the label hadn’t sought to bring more unusual sounds to the metal masses. Whatever the case, an important part of the label’s legacy as well as the history and evolution of extreme and experimental music is being lost, and it’s high time people got their heads out of their asses before it’s gone forever.