Label Spotlight: Redefining Darkness Records

Welcome to our first edition of Label Spotlight, a feature dedicated to some of the best underground labels in metal. There’s so many outlets releasing extreme music today, but it takes a keen ear to seek out the ones emitting the most worthwhile noise. Redefining Darkness Records is one of those labels.

We’ve covered Redefining Darkness Records a lot here at Decibel, both online and in print. And there’s a good reason for that: Thomas Haywood has really good taste, including straightforward death metal like Sentient Horror and Detherous, atmospheric black metal like Schattenfall, crusty thrash-death like Hot Graves, gruesome death-doom like Consecration, and the monster-worshiping insanity of Oxygen Destroyer. The label doesn’t have a signature sound, per se, more an eclectic approach to metal excellence.

It’s one of those labels I’m always excited to see when I’m looking for new releases to cover. First of all, it feels good to support labels run by dedicated fans of the music, and not totally jaded industry hacks just going through the motions. Second, I always know I’m promoting quality material, whatever shape it happens to take. And now that he’s been at it for awhile, and even put on his own fest last year, it made sense to give Thomas a chance to tell us more!

A few things really stand out here. His observation that there’s just too much music out there might sound simplistic, but as someone who covers new releases, it really is overwhelming. I also love the seat-of-your-pants part about starting his label on a 0% credit card cash advance. Let’s hope he’s paid down any deferred interest since then (always read the fine print, kids!), he’s definitely earned it.

Check out my interview with Thomas below, along with samplings of what Redefining Darkness has to offer:

What is the vision behind Redefining Darkness? Is it about a particular style? Or do you seek out a certain attitude or aesthetic?

It began as a clear focus only to release death and black metal; basically, anything of the “evil persuasion” in extreme metal. It has since evolved into being open to more microgenres linked to the two.

How did you get started? What were the practical steps you had to take to make your vision go from an idea to a functioning business?

I actually did a lot of research. Once I exited the music business, from being a professional musician, around 2010, I took a couple of years away to get my life straight. As things began to level out, I got the itch to do something in music again. During that downtime, I picked up a gig writing reviews for a blog and they would eventually ask me to do some audio interviews which actually became the impetus for launching the Into the Darkness podcast.

I still had a ton of friends in bands and some that had moved on to new bands or had side projects, so on top of hearing all this new music writing for the blog, I had a connection to bands that could use help putting out a record. The business side of music was the one thing I had never done, so I thought “Why not?’… It was basically calling to me.

Once I made the decision to move forward with the idea, I took a look at the landscape of underground metal at the time, which was between 2012- 2014, and noticed there were a lot of niche/boutique labels popping up. These labels tended to focus on one particular style or at least had a limited scope. One in particular I saw sky-rocketing at the time was Dark Descent. I looked to them and a few others as inspiration and began to put a plan together. I ended up taking out a loan via a 0% interest cash advance on a credit card to pay for all the start-up stuff like a website, logo design, registering an LLC, etc. Based on the boutique label approach, I decided to launch two labels — Redefining Darkness and Seeing Red Records. I love too much music to limit myself to only releasing the darkest of the dark, so Seeing Red enabled me to release other bands I believed in and wanted to get behind.

Tell me a little about Sentient Horror, I’m a big fan of those guys. How did you find out about them, and what convinced you that Redefining Darkness had to work with this band? I particularly like how they do the “new old-school death metal” sound really well without making it sound played out and derivative.

I reached out to Sentient Horror early on. The label officially started in May of 2015 and I discovered them on Bandcamp and reached to them in Nov/Dec of 2015 when they were still called Sentience. There were actually two labels courting them at the time, myself and Testimony Records, although I don’t think they reached out until Jan 2016. I found the band super refreshing and unique even though they certainly had that “throwback” sound.

You have to remember what was happening at that time. The whole “primitive death metal” revival was just starting to get legs. Black Breath started really incorporating the “HM2 Swedish Sound” back on their 2010 album Heavy Breathing. Gatecreeper‘s and Mutilatred‘s first EPs released in 2014, and Revel in Flesh and Entrails were picking up just a few years before then. The Entombed sound was all the rage and there were a lot of bands jumping on the bandwagon quick. Sentient Horror certainly had a bit of that, but they took it to a whole new level with top notch musicianship, which was far different than the other bands popping up, not to mention, they were inspired more by Edge of Sanity than Entombed.

Running an independent label that caters to a specialized or niche set of tastes would have been difficult even at the music industry’s peak in the late-90s and early-2000s. What do you see as the biggest challenge in today’s environment, and how have you found a way through it?

You are certainly right about that, although I would argue that there were certainly some exceptions to that, especially in the hardcore scene. Today, there is simply too much music. There are no other answers needed. Too many labels, too many bands, too many releases, which creates too much competition when it comes to vying for features in magazines or blogs, submitting to playlists, and applying for festivals. We could have a whole Ted Talk solely focused on shows, tours, and the booking side. It’s all a mess right now and it’s going to get harder and harder for these smaller bands to break through.

You put on a fest for the label last year. How did that go, and will it be a recurring annual gathering of the Redefining Darkness family of bands?

I did — it was something I got the itch for, as I hadn’t tried before and I love a good challenge, but it was also in response to what I mentioned above. I work with a lot of bands that I believe deserve a shot on a legit tour as an opening act or support slot, but many of them don’t get the opportunity. I wanted a place to feature them where we could provide a crowd that was hopefully larger than their typical show crowds and give them a real chance to shine. I invited many journalists in the metal community, was fortunate enough to get some good friends in town, and had an excellent crew. The event was held in Youngstown, which has always been more of a pass-through city than any hub for a blossoming scene, but it is perfectly set one hour from both Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Also, the club we chose, the Westside Bowl, was ideal in its capacity, amenities, layout (with two stages) and the incredible ownership. The fest was certainly a success in how it was run, the experience attendees had, and the bands involved. Of course, we could have always used more people, but I couldn’t have been happier with the result. We are taking a break this year as there were some other moves that needed to take place that took up a lot of time, so I didn’t have enough time to dedicate to it for 2023. I would certainly like to bring it back.

What are some records you’re really excited to unleash on the world in the near future? I for one am feeling starved for more Kaiju-monster content that sounds like 80s Kreator … which is to say … any new Oxygen Destroyer coming out soon?

Well, we started off heavy with two releases out of the gate this past January from longstanding underground stalwarts Faithxtractor and adding to the NWOBDM, up-in-comer, Seven Doors. Two priority releases for the year are next, with brand new ones from Wretched Fate and Angerot. Wretched Fate‘s debut album, Fleshletting, was the first vinyl I ever pressed back in 2019 and is still a favorite of mine. In press releases, I herald them as “The Future Kings of Swedish Death Metal” and I think anyone who has heard them would agree, including Bloodbath! Angerot are another one that sort of get overlooked on our roster, but are certainly one of the pillars. The songwriting on the new record is some of their strongest and as usual they have a list of guests that reads like a “who’s who” of death metal (e.g., Andy LaRoque, Sammy Duet, Jack Owen, Steve Tucker, Simon Olsen).

I’m definitely excited about the whole year as you know there will be zero duds. By the time this article comes out, we’ll have sent out the press release for Ohio death/doom four-piece, Vadiat, which is composed of a host of metal veterans, followed by some tasty slabs of death coming from Spain, Finland, and the UK. Oxygen Destroyer are almost done writing their new album, but it won’t be out until 2024, although stay tuned because we do have something fun in the Kaiju camp we are working on this year.

Also, check out Torn From the Grave, a new merch megastore the label launched with its partners in 8MERCH and features a ton of bands, including Redefining Darkness and Seeing Red acts, along with some exclusive official merchandise from some more notable bands in the scene like Inhuman Condition, Temple of Void, Hellripper, Ufomammut, Tsjuder, and much more!