There are a few people so into this whole metal thing, that if you take the metal element out of them or the interest, honestly they just remain an empty vessel. Mr. Bart Gabriel on the other hand is in not like that at all, so a chat with him is always going to be interesting even if this chat isn’t about heavy metal at all… well, now that i’m thinking about it, if you take the metal out of him he is literally going to die!!
Your name is a synonym to Metal management in the 10’s but your story begins way before. Give us a small bio of how you got into Metal (as a fan) and then as a journalist.
Bart Gabriel: My adventure with Heavy Metal started very early, I was literally few years old. Fast forward to 1995, when I was much older. I landed at the Motorhead concert, and I saw there that guy who was in charge, and who was telling others what to do. He was the tour manager. Not that I’m a control freak, but I realized that while there are many great and super talented musicians around, only very few people know what to do with them, how to take care of their careers, how to make sure they sound good and so on. This is also one of the reasons why I do not play in any band – so many great bands and musicians around, and so few guys that know what to do with their talent. About being a journalist. Well, writing somehow always been very easy for me, so at the beginning I started a fanzine with my brother, then I joined the Metal Hammer magazine crew, and some time later I started to worked for several other magazines from Japan, Holland and Germany as a freelancer. Finally I became editor in chief of a printed magazine, which for a while was the biggest one here in Poland. That last adventure didn’t end very well for me, but actually allowed me to get a perspective, and I’m very happy with how it all ended and where I am now. To be honest, while I enjoyed doing interviews, I never really liked to write reviews. Because who am I to tell others what is good and what is not? We all have personal tastes and we like some things less, and some things more. Especially now, in 2017, you can go to Spotify or YouTube, check the album, and decide if that’s something for you or not.
What would you sacrifice to re-live the sense of the first time you listened to Heavy Metal? How often you recall this memory?
Bart Gabriel: I don’t need to sacrifice anything, as that enthusiasm is still inside of me, that kid who heard King Diamond, Maiden or Priest albums for the first time, is still alive and well. When Iron Maiden or Judas Priest release new albums, I’m still buying it on the release date, I run home, and I listen to the entire thing sitting in front of my speakers, with the booklet in my hands, I’m reading the lyrics and credits. You will also very often meet me in the front row at concerts, banging my head, throwing the horns, singing along and so on. Okay, not that very often, because I’m more than 185 cm tall, so I realize that people behind me are pissed, but it’s still happening, haha… I’m always and first of all a fan, then a manager, producer, and everything else.
You come from a country that was behind the iron curtain and not so popular for its metal scene back in the 80’s-90’s. How difficult was to become first a journalist and later a manager for an extreme genre like metal in Poland? And how things changed for former soviet countries speaking about Metal?
Bart Gabriel: Poland never been a Soviet country or a part of the Soviet Union. True, we were behind so called “Iron Curtain”, along with countries such as East Germany, Czechoslovakia (now: Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Bulgaria or Romania. Our government, or better, people that were in charge in Poland, were under huge influence of Russia, as in 1945, during the Yalta conference, where heads of the United States, UK and Russia (three main anti-Hitler allies) were deciding post war organization of Europe, Stalin demanded the supremacy over Poland and 1/3 of Germany. Roosevelt (president of the United States) and Churchill (prime minister of the United Kingdom), agreed with his demands as they didn’t want to risk a conflict, and not really needed us or cared about Poland, and even allowed him to fight with all kind of Polish armed forces, which could potentially be against him. So yes, it sounds surreal, but the National Army and Polish soldiers that were fighting with the Nazis during World War II, were now the enemies. So a lot of people will agree with me, that for us the World War II in fact ended in 1989, when Poland became independent. Most probably this is also why people of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia are mentally a little bit different than the rest of Europe, why we want to stay democratic that hard, and why we don’t want other countries or unions to tell us what to do. We learned our lesson, which was very hard and very painful, we have an experience that other countries don’t, and we fight back instead of marching in silence. But we’ve never been a Soviet country, and Poland is not an ex Russian republic. I remember the ’80s very well, and of course everything was way, way different than in the ’90s and later. Metalheads and basically all the non-standard people had a lot of problems. I actually remember that even in the early ’90s, when I was wearing let’s say an Iron Maiden t-shirt, Police was stopping me to check my documents, to ask where I go and where I live, and if you were wearing a belt with spikes, you could be sure it will get confiscated (not to mention having a bullet belt was equal with huge trouble). Metalheads were potential threat to the system, we were the enemies of the society, the rebels. Because of that Polish Metal fans were very wild, liked caged animals – full of energy, which could explode at any time. Probably that’s one of the reasons why traditional Heavy Metal wasn’t very popular over here, Polish Metal fans always preferred wilder, and more aggressive genres, so the ’80s were dominated by Thrash Metal over here. Sure, bands like Iron Maiden were like gods over here, but if you will analyze albums of Polish ’80s Metal bands, you will find very few Heavy Metal albums. Even the bands that started as traditional Heavy Metal acts, like for example Turbo or Kat, switched to Thrash Metal very quickly, as this was demanded by both the crowd and their managers. I started my activity after that period, in the middle of the ’90s, so it wasn’t really that hard like it would be in the ’80s, when every kind of artistic activity was a potential threat to the system, and was hardly censored. The only problem that I remember was that a lot of people didn’t take me seriously, as when I was organizing first concerts and when I was managing first bands, I was underage.
What do you miss the most from the days you started the zine with your brother? How did you start writing for magazines in Europe?
Bart Gabriel: For sure I miss being younger that I am now, haha… I hadn’t the experience and knowledge I have now, so I wouldn’t say that I really miss something from that period. Back then we had no emails, we were writing letters to each other, and we were using phone more often, so for sure the contact with bands and other people was more personal. Many friendships which started back then survived until now. That’s also how I started to work for other magazines – contacts were turning into friendships, and people who became my friends wanted me to be part of their crews.
Tell us more about the “Secrets of Steel” webzine.
Bart Gabriel: At some point, when I was working for few different magazines at the same time, and my articles were published in German, Dutch and Japanese languages, I wanted to make them available in English as well. So I started the Secrets Of Steel webzine, but then had to close it, as I had no time for it. Few years later I did similar thing and I started the Tyrants Of Steel webzine, but again, I had to close it down due to lack of time.
And one day you started the Dragonight Agency that turned into Gabriel Management, right? How difficult was to get into music industry?
Bart Gabriel: Not exactly. First was Bard Music, with the name taken from the fanzine I had with my brother. Then as my brother continued with the fanzine for a while without me, I worked under several other names – as Dragonight Agency, Bart Gabriel Productions, Bart Gabriel’s Hard Rocker Management and few others. It wasn’t very professional, I know, but I simply didn’t care, as I was focused on the job or the projects for which I was responsible, not on myself. So it had no special meaning for me under what name I work, because people who should know it’s me, knew it anyway. Some years ago when I was registering my own company, without any additional partners or co-owners, I registered it for my own surname, so that’s how the “Gabriel Management” name was born. Difficulties in getting into music industry? The main one was my age: when I was starting I was very young, very naive, and very often I had no resources to finance things I wanted to do. When I was starting I was basically a teenager with big plans and big passion, but with empty pockets.
When and how did you start with Skol Records?
Bart Gabriel: Skol Records started in 2009, when I was releasing CD single of Crystal Viper. The single wasn’t in regular sale – it was a part of a board game, but we thought it will look cool if there will be some label name on the disc. I always been very much into Vikings and history of the Nordic lands, and I really liked the Faithful Breath album entitled “Skol”, so this is where the name comes from. I also always liked Michael Whelan’s artwork which landed on the cover of Cirith Ungol’s “King Of The Dead” LP, and Manilla Road’s Smiling Jack, so I wanted our logo to have this horned helmet. By the way: yes, I know that Vikings had no horns on their helmets. But actually, warriors of some of the pre-Viking tribes in the Nordic lands used to wear them, so that myth isn’t that far from the truth.
What do you see on the bands you sign on Skol Records? How do you find bands for your label and what should they do in order to make you get interested for them?
Bart Gabriel: First of all it needs to be a Heavy Metal band. We receive tons of applications from all kind of bands, but I have no ambition to turn Skol Records into a regular label. We specialize in traditional Heavy Metal, and this is something that won’t change. I try to be up to date with what’s going on, so I’m basically checking and looking for unsigned Heavy Metal bands, both young and old, all the time. At the same time I know my limitations, so when I know that a band I like would get better conditions in other label, I either help them to sign the deal with someone else, or at least I recommend them.
Your label has released a couple of tribute albums. Should we expect something new after the Exciter, Riot and Anvil albums? Probably something more obscure or underground or something about the Polish 80’s scene?
Bart Gabriel: You never know. Right now I don’t plan such thing, but it may change. You know, it’s no big secret that I lose money on all these tribute albums – when you will compare the actual cost of the entire thing, mechanical rights, the artwork, booklet design, pressing etc. – not to mention we give away like 1/5 of the pressing for free – with the sales, the balance doesn’t hit the zero level. But I don’t care, as this is something I do as a fan. So who knows, maybe there will be another tribute album on Skol Records in the future. Any ideas?
You have been writing some lyrics for famous bands, but now it seems you stopped writing. Why and which is your finest moment as a lyricist?
Bart Gabriel: Yes, some of my lyrics were used by bands such as Manowar, Sabaton, Crystal Viper, Metalucifer, and few other bands where I promised to keep it secret. It’s not that I stopped writing, as I actually never really started. Sometimes I receive an offer to write something for someone, or someone asks me for help, and if the circumstances and my schedule allow me to do it, then why the hell not. Writing lyrics actually always been very easy for me, I don’t know why, but that’s true.
Which is the band you wish you will work with in the future, or all your dreams came true when you collaborated with Heavy Load?
Bart Gabriel: There are many great bands I would love to work with, of course it would be killer to work with some of my favorites, like King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Exciter or Raven. I think I would be also able to produce very cool sounding Metallica album, I would take them back to the “Ride The Lightning” era, haha… Yeah, I’m very happy I work with Heavy Load, that’s a great band that has a very special place in my heart.
(If you are aware of) Should we expect a new album from the Swedes or is it just the re-issues?
Bart Gabriel: I can’t say too much for now, but as it has been already announced, they are preparing something special for their 40th anniversary next year. They will defy the powers of the dark sea!
Tell me why Heavy Metal has once again risen from its ashes. I see bands like Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol being popular when the same bands were almost dead for 20-30 years. Why all these bands were not so popular in the 90’s? And why young fans have turned their interests on them?
Bart Gabriel: Yes, it’s true that bands like Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road are now way more popular than in the ’90s. Of course we can’t talk about some huge popularity and outstanding numbers, but it’s true, and I think there are two main reasons behind it. First of all, the Internet. It’s now much easier to discover good bands and valuable music, to find own niche. So if a potential young Metal fan doesn’t want to follow trends and listen to bands from biggest labels with biggest promo budget only, and wants to discover something he will like, he has a choice. A lot of choices, as Heavy Metal and Rock music have no borders, you will never say “okay, I checked all bands and all albums that exist”. That’s not physically possible. So there is also an adventure factor in this, because it’s like exploring new world. It’s not only about the two bands you mentioned, but about Metal, Hard Rock and music from the past in general. Music, which was way more real and honest, full of emotions, music played by talented musicians who very often had alternate and unique visions, and weren’t afraid of trying new things. They were very often creators, not followers. And we can’t say the same about that many current bands, right? I know many people who started their adventure with Heavy Metal from most popular bands, but then started to dig deeper, and became die hard fans of less known acts. Many older Metal fans are very proud, they laugh when they see kids in let’s say Sabaton or Five Finger Death Punch t-shirts, they call them posers. I’m not like that, because I know that some of those kids will start to dig deeper, they will discover these Classic Metal acts, and maybe they will start supporting them by attending their shows and buying their albums and their merchandise. Or maybe they will even get inspired, and will start own bands. Who knows! Second reason is the human factor: Heavy Metal is way more than just a music, it’s a scene, the people. When you go to a huge major festival, you are surrounded by 10 or 20 000 people, and you are anonymous. When you are at a Heavy Metal club show, you are surrounded by 50 or 100 people who like the same bands which you like. So you are either surrounded by people who already are your friends, or who are your potential new friends.
Where do you see the true metal sound going in the next 10 years?
Bart Gabriel: It depends what True Metal means for you. For me True Metal is this one played from the heart, honest, based on emotions, and played for all the right reasons. Bands such as let’s say Nunslaughter, Sabbat, Destroyer 666, Desaster, Nifelheim – they are all True Metal in my book. When it comes to general Metal sound, I hope that people will finally open their eyes and ears, and will again start to appreciate hard working and talented artists, and musicians who actually play their instruments, and sing their own songs without the help of electronic devices, that tune their voices or mask lack of talent.
Give me your top 5 of all times and the top 5 of the bands that were born after 2007.
Bart Gabriel: Okay, this is hard as there are many, many bands that have special place in my heart. If I would need to choose only five, it would be King Diamond and Mercyful Fate (together, as one piece), Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Candlemass and ex aequo Bathory and Black Sabbath. When it comes to younger bands, I would list Savage Master, Enforcer, Visigoth, Eternal Champion and Night Demon. I would also need to mention here Metalucifer and Sacred Steel, as I have mad respect for both bands for what they do, Cirith Ungol and Mythra for coming back and making that kid in me happy, Manilla Road and Raven for doing their thing no matter what, and of course Crystal Viper, as they keep me busy and few times restored my batteries.
The epilogue is yours!
Bart Gabriel: Listen to music you like, and support the bands and artists you like. They need you, fans are the most important piece of the Metal scene, and it’s you who decide if the bands will survive or if they will give up. Keep on buying real albums and official merchandise, let the bands know that you appreciate what they do, and that it makes sense.