The creation of Karl-Ulrich Walterbach, Noise Records’ origins lay in the late 70s/early 80s West Berlin punk rock scene. Against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall, the convergence of volatile music, left-wing ideals, and anti-government sentiment spurred Walterbach to release two punk compilations, Soundtracks zum Untergang (Soundtracks to the Downfall), on his first label, Aggressive Rockproduktionen, otherwise simply known as AGR.
Due to the influence of Los Angeles hardcore punk masters Black Flag, Walterbach would gradually turn his interests from punk to metal, forming Noise Records in 1983 as the European response to the likes of Metallica and Slayer. From there, the label would enjoy an unprecedented signing streak of bands who would play a significant role in defining underground metal as we know today.
Noise’s early releases – including the seminal 1984 Death Metal compilation – would lay the groundwork for future European metal mainstays such as Grave Digger, Hellhammer (who became Celtic Frost), Helloween, Kreator, Running Wild, and Tankard. These acts would become Noise’s bedrock outfits, leading the charge in heavy metal innovation via death metal (Celtic Frost), power metal (Helloween), and thrash metal (Kreator).
The label’s roster was filled with variety. Coroner emerged as arguably metal’s most talented power trio, with budding guitar hero Tommy T. Baron mesmerizing audiences across the globe. Mordred beat the entire rap metal movement to the punch by several years, as the street-level rhymes of Scott Holderby set the table for Rage Against the Machine and Korn. Rage released a string of critically-acclaimed, well-received melodic metal albums, while the serpentine thrash of Britain’s Sabbat would introduce the metal world to Andy Sneap, currently one of the scene’s most in-demand producers. The manic, sci-fi explorations purveyed by Voivod brought forth a new level of weirdness, and Watchtower’s outrageous math motifs instantly earned them cult status in the progressive metal scene.
But it was the success of Helloween that propelled Noise to the next level. The band’s twin Keeper of the Seven Keys albums (Part I and II) were milestones for the genre. Guided by the stratospheric vocals of Michael Kiske, Helloween’s epic, strident, and symphonic numbers were in a league by themselves circa the late-80s. And with hit songs such as “Future World” and “I Want Out” leading the way, Helloween became the first Noise outfit to reach seven-digit figures in album sales.
Famed “pirate metal” act Running Wild weren’t too far behind, as their 1987 Under Jolly Roger album moved an estimated 250,000 copies, helping the band earn headliner status across continental Europe. The brave, bold, risk-taking Celtic Frost forever solidified their status as metal’s most adventurous band with 1987’s Into the Pandemonium. Kreator released a string of explosive, neck-snapping albums that shaped the face of pure German thrash, and were flanked by Tankard, the first band to proudly proclaim themselves as “beer metal.”
As the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989, the music scene and political landscape underwent radical changes. By then, Noise’s worldwide distribution setup covered 43 countries, boasting a highly-profitable back catalog and lasting viability in territories like Japan, ensuring the label’s survival as the genre of metal struggled with diminishing sales and negative public perception. Bands such as Kai Hansen’s Gamma Ray, British folk innovators Skyclad, Floridian melodic metal upstarts Kamelot, and Finland’s Stratovarius carried Noise throughout the turbulent 90s, allowing the label to remain vital, even as newer, more “alternative” forms of rock became popular.
Not wanting to contend with the oncoming digital revolution, Walterbach sold Noise to Sanctuary Music in 2001. Sanctuary would steer Noise for the next six years, helping launch the career of multi-national power metal sensation Dragonforce, until it was sold to Universal Music in 2007. Noise’s catalog has laid dormant ever since…
BMG purchased Noise’s holding company Sanctuary records from Universal Music in 2013, and will re-launch Noise Records in 2016. The label has planned a full-scale campaign featuring “best-ofs” of select Noise bands, along with reissuing classic titles from Celtic Frost, Coroner, Helloween, Kreator, Running Wild, Tankard, Voivod, and more, featuring expanded liner notes, rare bonus material, and a fresh mastering job.
The campaign will prove one thing: Few metal labels have a legacy roster with as much longevity and relevance as Noise. Several of the key bands Karl-Ulrich Walterbach signed and developed have actually become more popular as the years have progressed, showing that the lightening in a bottle he captured in the 80s was more than just a passing trend. It was a movement.
David E. Gehlke, Author of “Damn the Machine – The Story of Noise Records”
The 1st Eight Brand New NOISE Best Of Releases are now available!
More NOISE Classic Reissues and Best Of’s to come in 2016/2017!