Boasting such artists on its roster as Horrendous, Tyranny, and Thantifaxath, Dark Descent Records is one of the most revered labels in the metal scene today. Founded by Matt Calvert, the label releases everything from death metal to doom to black metal, and everything and anything that falls in between those stylistic worlds. Dark Descent has also reissued recordings by groups like Morgion, Cianide, and Mortuary Drape—perhaps educating some younger metalheads in the process.
I recently chatted with Calvert about his label and the releases that have help fuel its growing reputation as a leader in underground metal.
Before we get into the label stuff, I wanted to get some background on you. Where did you grow up and what kind of music did you gravitate towards as a kid?
I grew up in Southern California through my high school years. I graduated in 1989 and left shortly after that. I gotta say, I've always been fascinated with darker music. Whether that was metal or some real goth band, it didn't matter. I was never one for much fun in my music and I think that shows with our releases.
At what point did you get into underground death metal?
I've been listening to metal since my teen years. Honestly, I was introduced to a lot of early heavy metal stuff through my older brother, and then got into stuff friends were talking about. It led to quite a few hours scouring thanks lists, record stores, and magazines.
Digging deeper is the logical continuation for someone of my age that didn't "outgrow" metal, so there were always rather obscure artists in my listening scope. Plus, you always wanted to hear stuff before anyone else you knew, so you were always digging. Not sure if that's the case nowadays, but this was pre-internet, of course.
Did you do a zine or tape trade back then?
No, I didn't do much of that. I didn't spend a lot of time during my teen years at home. I was usually out at parties or some other nonsense that wasn't productive.
You started Dark Descent in 2009, a time period where a lot of folks were already saying that record labels were headed for doomsday. Did you seek out advice from any other label folks?
You know, I did a lot of research. I did a lot of reading on forums and other places on the net for tips, info, etc. Early on, I relied on mostly info that I acquired and a few helpful hints from Omid from Outlaw Records, YK at Nuclear War Now!, and a few others regarding manufacturing tips and the like... most of the rest has been a tremendous learning experience. In early 2012, I left my other career to focus on the label full-time, and I did consult with Chris [Bruni] at Profound Lore regarding the transition.
I would say a lot of those early mistakes helped us learn about pricing, manufacturing, etc. It hasn't always been great for the stress level.
What was your first release? If you could rate how good or bad a job you did with it, how would you grade yourself?
Ah, our first release was the Burial Invocation EP, Ritual of the Grotesque. It's very doomy death metal from Turkey. It was a CD release. There was a little bit of a buzz at the time about this band as they had sent out some promos. We were very new, having no releases at the time, so I had to do some selling. Me Saco Un Ojo managed the vinyl release, so that's how we were introduced to our strongest partnership.
An old acquaintance handled the layout and there was a mistake on the CD layout... it was very simple, but taking into account the popularity of the release (and the mistake), I think we did okay distributing this title. It is very difficult having one product and getting people to buy in, but we sold out of that title fairly quickly and repressed it late last year with updated graphics and bonus songs. B+.
Could you point to a release where you felt that Dark Descent started to make some kind of headway, and if so, why?
I've been asked this one before, but it's hard for me to point out a specific time. It seems it's been a culmination of efforts, even dating back to the first release, which was well-received. I think at the end of 2010, when we did our first batch release (Toxaemia double CD, Grave Ritual LP, several tapes), we started to sell more and more products; and with subsequent releases from bands like Timeghoul, Horrendous, Thantifaxath, Corpsessed, and all the others, we just kept gaining momentum. If you asked me six years ago if I would have envisioned the impact the label is making now, I would be only slightly surprised.
When were you able to leave your day job behind and completely focus on running the label?
That was in early 2012... April, to be exact.
Have you ever spent any money on a publicist? What are your thoughts on the subject?
We run PR campaigns for our new full-length releases. Honestly, with all the duties I have on a day-to-day basis, the last thing I have time for is the promos. I'd much rather let these guys handle it and send them out, track reviews, etc. I don't have anything against it. As far as I'm concerned, bands spend a lot of time, resources, and creativity on their art. If I didn't do my job and promote their band and help them get better gigs and some exposure, I would feel like a piece of shit.
How about print and/or banner ads?
I'm still okay with print ads. We do a number of them, from small one-person zines to bigger print magazines that fit our style.
What has been the best-selling Dark Descent release?
That's a difficult one. If you are talking about releases strictly through our webstore, the Timeghoul double CD is by far the clear winner; but overall, Horrendous is our best-selling band. Thantifaxath, Crypt Sermon, Corpsessed, Maveth, and a host of others are all very good movers as well.
On the other side of the coin, which release did you think would do better than it turned out doing?
Well, that's a tough one. I try not to put expectations on a release, but I have to, starting with the order for CD/vinyl. I have to determine how I think it will initially do and press accordingly. So, I haven't been off many times, but there have been a few titles that are slower to move than others, but that's just the nature of things. I don't think we've had anything that has totally missed the mark, sales-wise. I guess that's why we're here talking about this... the label is fine.
What is the most underrated record your label has released to date?
There's a few that have sold well but I think should be getting even more attention... stuff that stands out for me includes Emptiness' Nothing but the Whole and Phobocosm's Deprived. Both records had lots of attention and praise, but I feel they should both have a little more. I believe the next albums will fix this. Save room in your collections. I also believe people don't pay enough attention to the doom band, Anguish. Their brand of doom isn't the most accessible due to the harsh vocals, but I believe people will look back on this band in a few years and wonder why they didn't give them a try.
What can we expect from Dark Descent in the next year?
More of the same. We've got a number of artists who are always working on new material. To close out the year, we'll have the first Tyranny album in 10 years. No better time for some crushing funeral doom. In October, we have the brand new album from Horrendous and the second album from Grave Ritual. September will also bring us a new release from the Swedes Third Storm. They were one of the first Swedish black metal groups in the '80s, and they return with a new EP.
We'll have the new album from Excommunion as well as the new Interment album late this year, early next.
If you had to pick one record to play someone who has never heard of Dark Descent before that best encapsulates the spirit of the label, what would it be and why?
That's another tough one. I'd probably give them one of the bands that have been on the label the longest... stuff like Adversarial or Horrendous. These bands have two different approaches with death being the only qualifier. We primarily release death metal, but I would not call us a death metal label.
Head to DarkDescentRecords.com for more info on the label's upcoming releases.