We could talk about a million things in this interview as besides running your label, you play in bands. I want this to be an interview about your label, but just mention what bands you are in and what style of music they are ok.
All right, so my main band is called MANZER, I’ve created it in 2008, we are a power-trio playing Black Metal in the 80’s vein, with influences from VENOM, SABBAT, BATHORY, MOTÖRHEAD, with doses of Heavy Metal and even Punk sometimes. I’m the vocalist and drummer, and main composer. I’ve joined the LAST OATH in 2017 on drums, it’s DeathRock / Post-Punk for fans of JOY DIVISION, CHRISTIAN DEATH, FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM… I’m busy with my solo project simply called SHAXUL, I want to play everything I love in music so my first EP is Metal Punk somewhere between BATHORY and BAD RELIGION and the full-length album I’ve just released is Dark Folk, with influences from DEAD CAN DANCE and many more. I also record as a session musician for CLAMOR IN TENEBRIS (Guatemala), AYYUR (Tunisia), CONTAMINATION (France).
Now where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you?
I grew up in a city called Chartres, close to the Parisian region. It’s a city pretty full of bourgeois and I come from a much more modest background, to say the least. I guess it may explain a bit why I was always interested in rebel stuff so to speak, and it led me to Metal and Punk music. Though I’ve always been a pretty good student. And well, since 1994 I live in Pictavia, the centre-west of France, my region of adoption, which is very inspiring to me.
How did you discover heavy metal music and did you take to it right away or did it take a few spins and then you were into it?
It was in 1989, during a school trip to Ireland. I was staying with a host family and their son was into Hard Rock / Metal. I saw some posters, covers and artworks from IRON MAIDEN, GUNS’N’ROSES, MÖTLEY CRÜE… Even in the streets, in some shops. In France it was not as popular, it has never been. I was so intrigued and attracted at the same time, so I’ve tried to investigate more and then I’ve met some guys who had some tapes. I’ve started dubbing and trading tapes like Hell haha! I got hooked immediately and I wanted to know more and more.
How did you discover underground music and what were some of the early bands you heard and liked?
I’ve discovered labels and distros from France like OSMOSE, HOLY, ADIPOCERE… That was in the mid-nineties, and then a new world was to be discovered! It’s hard to mention bands, there were so many, like SAMAEL, MAYHEM, MARDUK, IMPALED NAZARENE, SADISTIK EXEKUTION, PROFANATICA… Then I’ve discovered fanzines and it brought me to a new level! Especially to a passion I have which is Metal coming from underrated and unknown scenes in the world. So there were bands like IMPIETY, ABIGAIL, SIGH, SHUB NIGGURATH, HADEZ, PARABELLUM, PENTAGRAM… Mostly unknown in the so-called western world but some were old and legendary in their own country, yet still completely underground.
Now I am gonna ask a question about the drums. What made you decide to be a drummer and how good of a drummer do you think you are and what are some of your favourite drummers?
First I’ve started singing. Then I’ve chosen the drums because it is the instrument that always gave me so much energy while listening to music, and as the drummer from a Rock band I was singing in was selling his old drum kit, I took the opportunity. I’ve stopped for some years when I went away to do my studies and I’ve traded the drum kit for bass and amp, to play in my first serious band called HIRILORN from 1994 to 1999. Some years later I bought a Pearl drum kit I still use to this day! I don’t think I’m very good because first of all, I’ve never ever taken any lessons. Then I never planned to be “technical”, you know… As long as I can play what satisfies me, I’m fine haha… Recently I’ve learnt a lot by playing in THE LAST OATH though because it’s different from what I usually play, and I’m especially happy with my hi-hat techniques. Favourite drummers? Nicko McBrain, Abaddon, Philthy Animal, Mikkey Dee, Dave Lombardo, Max Cavalera, Andrew Whale, Zorugelion, Munetaka Higuchi, Proscriptor, Bobby Schayer…
What’s more important the bands you are in or the label you running or is it 50/50?
Actually, the label is my personal company, so basically it’s my daily job. One could say it’s the most important but of course, my bands are essential, and MANZER and SHAXUL are a part of my label so well… Let’s say it’s 50/50 but really, I don’t really think this way! Music is all my life, as simple as that! I wouldn’t be there without it.
Now back to the label. What gave you the idea to start up a label? Was it because you wanted to release some stuff by one of the bands you were in and you thought “fuck it, I’ll put it out myself?” or was it another reason?
Completely different reason, even though this is a fact that came later! In 2001 I’ve created LEGION OF DEATH Records to release limited vinyl records (mainly 7″EP) by bands from outside the western world, mainly Asia and Latin America. Almost nobody supported such bands and such scenes. I had the ambition to change this in the underground. And well, nowadays it’s true that I also have some of my projects on the label because it’s the best and most convenient way to do it, I take advantage of it!
Did you do any prior work at any other labels before you started up your own? What is and has it pretty much been yourself doing it over the years or have you had help over the years?
In the nineties, I’ve worked for some labels (END ALL LIFE Productions and DRAKKAR Productions mainly). But I didn’t sign bands and I had a special and different concept in mind. I’ve created the label with Karnage, he was also the editor of a fanzine called ETERNAL FIRE. But he couldn’t keep it for so long as he moved to Brazil and finally he completely disappeared, no news at all. So pretty quickly I had to take care of everything.
Now looking back was starting up and keeping up with doing a label harder than you originally thought. How long was it from the idea of starting up a label until you had a finished product in your hand?
With my experience, I already knew it was not so easy. And yeah, that’s tough! And honestly, people who want to create their own label should think twice! I see so many labels come and go, simply because they thought it would be easy and fun… The first LEGION OF DEATH Records release was out on the 3rd December 2001, my 25th birthday haha… I’m not sure but it was pretty fast, like one year or so between our ideas and this record. But as I’ve said I already had experience in that field, and with our zines, we had a lot of contacts already, which helps very much.
What was the 1st release you put out and what format did it come out in and how well did it do for you considering it was your 1st release?
It was the TERROR SQUAD / SABBAT split 7″EP. It got sold pretty fast as more and more people were discovering the almighty SABBAT, especially. But I wanted to feature TERROR SQUAD as they are more underrated while they absolutely kill! And well, thanks to this release the name of the label got spread rather fast.
Now if your 1st release wasn’t a band you were in, did they find you or did you find them and what was the name of the band?
We asked TERROR SQUAD and SABBAT about that, and that’s what I did with almost all my releases. Tons of bands need a label but most are useless. I prefer to choose bands I really know and respect.
Now I’m not gonna go every release you did over the past 20 years, but I’m sure you had many, many ups and downs over the years. What was your best selling release you had and what was a release that you thought would do well, but didn’t for some reason?
Nowadays I have many downs and very few ups, to be honest! Anyway, I think that the releases that sold so fast were (under the LEGION OF DEATH moniker) the ANAL VOMIT 7″EP and GOATSEMEN / LEVIFER Split 7″EP, and (under the ARMÉE DE LA MORT moniker) the HEXECUTOR 7″EP, CATACOMB double CD and MEURTRIÈRES MCD. A typical example of a release that didn’t do well is the HARFANG double CD. While Heavy Metal is a kind of “hype” again in the underground, this one is so hard to sell… It’s the re-release of all recordings by a killer Heavy Metal band from my region, from the ’80s, for all those into raw and traditional sounds! Mostly sung in French like many legendary bands from this country did! But well, what can I say… One can never foresee! I sign bands and release records to satisfy myself first.
What format’s did you release your stuff on and did you pretty much use the same place or places to get your stuff done? Did you ever have contracts with any of the bands or were they free to go elsewhere once their release came out?
The idea was to release vinyl only with LEGION OF DEATH Records. When the sales were going down I have created ARMÉE DE LA MORT Records to release CD’s as well, they sell better, at least for me. And yeah, I tend to keep the same companies to press records/discs. I never ever did a contract. To me, the underground is also about honesty and brotherhood. And the bands are absolutely free of course, of the time I release a “one-shot” release, and then they use other labels. Except for MANZER, most releases are on my label.
Over the years did you have times where you were about to say “fuck this” and just fold the label? Around how much time in any given say month was spent doing label related stuff? Do you do much trading or is your stuff in any stores?
The label being at its worst, I think about stopping all that every day for some years now. At least I want to continue with my own projects. At first, it wasn’t my company, it was a non-benefit association. So after work, most of my free time was for the label. Then it became my personal company in 2010, officially. Trade is the underground way so yeah, I did tons of trade through the years but as sales are low, I don’t do so much nowadays it is also because many labels don’t want to trade anymore. It’s all about money, fame and appearance… What a shame. It’s rare when stores want my releases as it is very, very underground! And they need more “famous” stuff so it can sell faster.
Has anyone ripped you off over the years?
Yes, a lot! By the way, I did a special page on my website. There is a list of people who ripped me off! The fact is that I trade a lot with Latin America, I won’t lie, this is a fact, there are many rip-offs out there so sometimes I play, sometimes I lose, if you see what I mean. But in the end, I always distribute stuff I’m almost the only one to have in stock in Europe because other labels are afraid to collaborate with such countries and continents…
What drives you to be in bands and to keep your label going after 20 years? How long do you see it going? Where do you keep all your releases in your house?
As I’ve said, music is all my life, my reason to live. It is very complicated to explain this, I could philosophize on that for hours but it would be boring haha… Basically, I think life is suffering, so music keeps me alive and I hope it will last until my last breath. I have my own house so there’s a living room where I put all my stocks, and I have a kind of office where I put my personal collection.
Are there any bands you wished you didn’t work with and have there been any that you had been close to working with and that they slipped through your fingers so to speak and went elsewhere?
It’s not only about music so when I work with a band, there must also be mutual respect and I could not accept people with ideas such as fascism for example. Some people and bands disappointed me but I never regret a thing, because it was all good when the record got released so… And yeah, I was ready to release some bands that finally decided my label was not good enough for them haha! No need to name bands, really.
How did you come up with the great name Legion of Death Records?
It was Karnage, the other founding member that disappeared. This is also why I have chosen another name, ARMÉE DE LA MORT Records. I didn’t want to change the original concept at all, it may sound weird to some but I am a man of principles on some subjects. So I did a parallel label and as nobody was interested in LEGION OF DEATH anymore, I’ve decided to stop using the name but ARMÉE DE LA MORT is still there.
Now I just read on your Facebook page that you are re-releasing all your Legion of Death releases on your new name which is called ARMÉE DE LA MORT Records on splattered vinyl. Is this still you? If it is why did the name change? Will there be any other formats?
I’m sorry mate but I guess you belong to the people that read the texts on Facebook real fast or not all the way through! Well, most don’t even read texts and words at all anyway haha… Look, I will quote myself: ” To celebrate (20 years), I will re-release all my back catalogue on limited splattered vinyls!!! NO, just kidding. I won’t do anything special actually. It is already very hard to fight and keep the label alive…” So you see, it was a complete joke! One must be very rich to do such a thing today! I almost can’t release vinyl for years now. Prices have risen so high, delays are awful, and well, this trend with splattered vinyls with ugly colours is stupid. That’s why I did this joke, to show that no, I am not in the mood to celebrate because my label is not healthy and this is a situation that is so disappointing in today’s underground. I already know several labels that had to stop all activities… As for the name change, it is explained before. When it comes to formats, I almost only release CD’s. No money for vinyl, a format for bourgeois and rich people nowadays. Underground Metal music should be available for a reasonable price and today the best is to buy a CD. I won’t talk about digital, which is not a real format.
Now if someone wanted to step in and release some of your stuff on CD or double LP’s etc, would you be into that or not? How about licensing it to another country like the US or places like that?
It already happened actually. Some long-time sold-out LEGION OF DEATH releases got re-issued on CD for example, by other labels. Some ask me if it’s possible, some don’t haha but there are no contracts anyway so whatever. Licensing is totally useless when the sales are already extremely low… Better trading with labels in the US so my stuff will be available, no need to license anything. For example, I’ve recently done a trade with my brother Mike from PARAGON Records in New York so he has some of my releases in stock.
Now how did you come up with the new name and logo? How often will a re-release come out? Where do you get them done and is it quite expensive to do and ship with postage being so high?
ARMÉE DE LA MORT is basically the French translation of LEGION OF DEATH, and it is also a KILLERS song, “L’Armée de la Mort”, featured on their 1992 album “Cités Interdites”. It’s my favourite French band (from the Basque Country exactly). I thought it would be a good idea as I release French bands as well. I thought about this logo because it has some elements from my region Pictavia, especially the Agris helmet, an important Celtic archaeological piece dating from the 4th century BC, found here. The logo has been drawn by Sickness 666 from Thailand, but I thought about all the details myself. I don’t re-release anything because sales are too low. As for my CDs, they are made in Germany by a very good company called HOFA. And yeah, postage rates increase all the time and now they have new laws with taxes by the customs since the pandemic. It is a nightmare and it became really hard to survive.
Now I read in another recent interview, you said the label is doing badly and I’m sad to hear that, what are some things people can do to turn this around?
I wish that people could become enthusiastic and curious like in the past. This is what is missing the most… Nowadays most people listen to mainstream bands or even the bands that sell the most in the underground. In the past, my label was doing fine because many people were eager to discover bands from Bangladesh or Peru or whatever, you know! In all modesty, I think I always released bands with great music, concept and attitude but as it’s not “famous”, nobody cares nowadays, only true enthusiasts remain… There are still some people curious to discover music but it’s on the web, they won’t buy records. Maybe merch in the best of cases… So well, I say that if you’re really interested, if you really want to support, you simply have to order stuffs from the underground labels from time to time. Some say “but I have no money”, and I know it’s hard! But it has always been like that, it’s just that people don’t have the same priorities today. Better buying a new TV, Netflix subscriptions, video games or whatever… I’ll stick to buying records and books, but sometimes I think I’m too old for all this.
You also mentioned you are still signing bands. How would a band get material to you and what music styles would it have to be without wasting their time?
I receive messages regularly to get signed. Those bands don’t even take the time to learn about my label, otherwise, they wouldn’t even write. Look, on the “Contact” page of my website, just above my e-mail address, I wrote: “Important, please read first before writing: the label does not search for bands anymore, it is useless to send messages about that. They will be erased.” And sorry to say but once again, I wonder how many people actually read. We live in a brainless consumption society and underground Metal is no exception. So I am the one to choose the bands and projects but extremely few releases are planned, they are not even announced on my site except the third MANZER full-length album, and a CD by SOPHÍE LORRAINE, a Dark Folk artist from Guatemala. I’m currently working on a new SHAXUL MCD as well.
Is all this COVID shit really affecting the label?
It affects the bands much more, I think. Because gigs are forbidden in many places. Moreover, I have a merch booth and I couldn’t do them for two years now, so sales are even lower. Little by little, it’s possible to play live again but it’s still hard. There are even clandestine gigs from time to time.
Please, please, please, plug any websites or social media sites you have.
You can find me as “Shaxul Manzer” on Facebook, or “Shaxul” as a professional page but I don’t use this one as much as the other one. Otherwise here are some links:
E-mail: [email protected]
ARMÉE DE LA MORT Records: www.armeedelamortrecords.com
MANZER Pictavian Black Metal: www.manzer.fr
Horns up for doing this interview and BEST of luck with the label and your bands. Any last words, the floor is yours.
Thanks a lot for this big interview hehe, and thanks for your kind words! To all readers, support the underground and see you on the road someday!!! A çhés fàetes!