"Every single person at Relapse is a music fan first, which flows through to the work that we do. Beyond that, we’re lucky to have the best production team in the business, who approach each record as a challenge...which invariably results in something special."

Foreword and Q&A by Bradley Fielding, Rough Trade Liverpool Assistant Manager

Celebrating over 30 years of extremity, Relapse Records are an established heavyweight within the broad scope of heavy metal music. With humble beginnings in 1990, Relapse began in the basement of Matthew F. Jacobson’s parent's house, an underground label that started releasing grindcore 7 inches, briskly expanding into a titan based out of Millersville, Pennsylvania.

Relapse transformed itself to encompass a myriad of subgenres and artists spanning the length of the globe, always bearing the same commitment of championing extreme music. When co-founder William Yurkiewicz Jr. joined forces with Jacobson, the aim of Relapse was to release high-quality and professionally packaged records. Moving the labels’ headquarters to Pennsylvania, Relapse swiftly became the largest underground distribution centre for all things metal in the United States. Grindcore and death metal bands such as Incantation, Repulsion and Amorphis flourished throughout the early-to-late 90s, which has since garnered them a reputation as legendary bands within the genre.

At the turn of a new decade and a new century, emerging talent such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Dying Fetus and High on Fire found widespread success via the label, proving that Relapse was no one-trick-pony. They were able to branch out into unorthodox and miscellaneous corners of metal music without giving in to trends - simultaneously sticking true to their roots and continuing to unleash brutal strains onto listeners.

In recent years, Relapse has continued to evolve the label and its residents. Doom-laden shoegazers Nothing and Cloakroom have found sizable triumph on the label, as have the punishing and unforgiving noise/power violence outfit Full of Hell and monstrously sludgy Primitive Man.

In celebration of the label's consistent and outstanding output over the last three decades, we reflect on Relapse's rich history, introducing several new Essential Edition exclusive vinyl pressings and limited markdowns.

Relapse Exclusives

Mastodon - Leviathan

A thrilling concept album loosely based on the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman MelvilleLeviathan was the second and final album from Mastodon for Relapse Records. An unabated testimonial to the American heavy metal band's earthshaking ability to rock, catapulting the band from their humble DIY scene beginnings to supporting Slipknot and Slayer on their 2004 European tour. 20 years later we celebrate (alongside Relapse) Leviathan's impact as one of modern music's greatest metal albums. Now available on Rough Trade Essential Edition milky clear and kelly green splatter vinyl, exclusive to Rough Trade.

Baroness - Yellow and Green

From giants of the metal underground to fully formed hard rock titans, Baroness' Yellow and Green arrived a decade into the Savannah-based progressive sludge metal band's career. One of six chromatically-themed records and one of several released by Relapse, Yellow and Green really established just how experimental metal could be, remaining one of the band's most important creative and memorable periods 20 years on (also characterised by their traumatic bus crash whilst on tour in England). The expansive album is now celebrated with a Rough Trade essential edition pressing, on yellow and kelly green with rainbow splatter vinyl, exclusive to Rough Trade.

Bradley catches up with Philippe "Pip" Soret (Head of Global Sales & Distribution at Relapse) to explore behind-the-scenes of the label's operations.

Baroness in 2023, photo by Justin Borucki
Pip at Rough Trade East for an in-store with Myrkur in 2023. L-R Alex Berry (The Orchard), Pip (Relapse) Raymond Figueroa (Relapse), Myrkur 

Relapse is and has been the home to a respected and diverse range of boundary-pushing artists and cutting-edge subgenres, spanning across the globe - not just in North America. The current roster includes Pig Destroyer, Author & Punisher and Myrkur. Alumni artists on Relapse include Boris, Full of Hell, and Baroness. What is the criteria of housing such an eclectic mix of talent?

There’s often been a misconception that Relapse is just a “metal” label. While metal is very much a part of the Relapse DNA, I don’t view us as a label that focuses exclusively on metal and its various subgenres. Relapse, to me, has always focused on dark, challenging, and heavy music, not just metal, as evidenced by our catalogue of Merzbow, NothingZombi, or the recently released CHVE Kalvarie album. 

Matthew F. Jacobson in 2017

In its formative years beginning in Aurora, Colorado, Matthew F. Jacobson and Relapse helped push bands such as Dying Fetus, Exhumed and Mortician into a legendary status that has since lasted over the last thirty years. In its following and more contemporary years - based in Pennsylvania with co-founder William Yurkiewicz Jr, bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Nothing, Gatecreeper and Candy have also found mainstream success signing with the label.

How important is it to Relapse to showcase the younger, up-and-coming talent and establish them as household names within heavy metal music?

We constantly seek out new artists that excite us and finding awesome new artists is a core pillar of what we do. Our internal A&R team each bring different tastes and perspectives to the committee and it's in that committee that we decide if an artist is right for Relapse. In the past year, we’ve put out amazing records by new and developing artists like Poison Ruin, Final Gasp, Hoaxed and The Keening among others. We’re extremely proud of each of these artists!

Cave In. Photo from Relapse

Outside of artists on the roster, Relapse over the years has attained the rights to masters from heavy hitters such as Death, Integrity and Cave In. Can you share some of the artists or releases Relapse are most proud to have propelled into the world?

It goes without saying that Relapse is extremely proud of our work with Death, Integrity, Cave In, G.I.S.M., among others!  Working with the Schuldiner Estate on the Death catalogue is an incredible honour and we do our level best to keep those records fresh and exciting for Death fans new and old. In the case of G.I.S.M., we’re proud of the fact that we were able to officially license the records from the band and issue quality, official pressings of the catalogue. 

On a personal level, I’m extremely proud of our recent Cave In releases. Cave In is a band I’ve loved since I was a teenager so getting to work on classics like Until Your Heart Stops is really exciting in addition to their amazing new record Heavy Pendulum!

Relapse is celebrated for releasing new albums and reissues on glamorous, limited-edition exclusive vinyl pressings. How significant is this to the listening experience and the enthusiasm of fans collecting records?

Our core tenet as a label is to put out killer music that we love that sounds great and looks amazing at a fair price. Every single person at Relapse is a music fan first, which flows through to the work that we do. Beyond that, we’re lucky to have the best production team in the business, who approach each record as a challenge and look for ways to make each record stand out and shine, which invariably results in something special. We, as a label, don’t view a record as *only* music, but as a package. We try to make sure that fans get a holistic experience when they buy a Relapse release. We want the vinyl to work cohesively with the artwork, which we feel enhances the artist or band’s overall vision and the experience of the listener. 

Death. Photo from Relapse Records

What does the future hold for Relapse Records to remain a staple within the umbrella of metal and alternative music? How will Relapse continue to pioneer on what they have done for the last thirty years?

Relapse is going to continue as it always has: putting out challenging, cutting-edge artists that we believe in. We’re also going to continue to reissue out-of-print classics by bands that love as we’ve done with Death, Cave In, Integrity, and others within our musical space. Most importantly, we will continue to approach the music we love with the passion we’ve always had!