How Cacophonous Records changed extreme music
Having brought the likes of Cradle and Dimmu to an unsuspecting world, Cacophonous Records’ history is entwined with the birth of black metal. Can their resurrection herald a new, dark dawn?
In an era when there are almost as many record labels as there are bands making records, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when labels were fewer and further between, not least in the world of extreme metal. Back in the 80s and 90s, being signed became a genuine status symbol not least because, pre-internet, having a label behind you was often the only way to get your releases into the hands of fans and your music into the ears of potential listeners. No Bandcamp, YouTube, Spotify or Facebook back then – hell, we didn’t even have MySpace.
It was against such a background that the explosion of second wave black metal took place and almost all the key releases of the 90s were scattered over just a handful of labels: Osmose, Candlelight, Deathlike Silence, Fullmoon, Misanthropy, Merciless, No Fashion and, of course, Cacophonous Records, who helped launch the likes of Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Bal-Sagoth, Gehenna, Primordial and Sigh.
Now, after more than a decade’s silence, Cacophonous is returning from the abyss, with its shadowy founder Frater Nihil once more at the helm. This year is set to see a slew of new releases, not only archive material but fresh recordings by completely new signings including The King Is Blind and The Infernal Sea. But before we look to the future we must venture into the dark past, to understand just why the label was so important...
The roots of Cacophonous are actually embedded in another iconic UK label, Vinyl Solution. Growing from the Portobello Road record store of the same name, it offered a diverse roster from the worlds of techno, hip hop and hardcore punk, alongside significant thrash and death metal bands such as Cancer, Macabre, Cerebral Fix and Bolt Thrower.
Initially folding lyric sheets in exchange for a few records, before eventually taking over the mail order, Frater Nihil – then known simply as Neil Harding – was pretty well-versed in the business by the time he was offered a position overseeing the label. Almost immediately he set about to separate its metal component and turn it into a new self-contained label; Cacophonous was born.
The plan at first was to just release seven-inch records and this is what he did, showcasing underground acts such as Sigh, Kawir, Psychic Pawn, Megiddo and Monolith. The latter was a homegrown thrash/death metal band perhaps most notable for featuring drummer Nick Barker, a soon-to-be member of Cradle Of Filth – as it turned out, it was a crossing of paths with Cradle in 1993, and their induction of Barker, that would set the course for both parties.