C O L U M N S
Tales from the Jugular
The Building of a German Powerhouse: A Look at AFM Records
My first experience with AFM Records was in 1999. I had received a copy of Edguy's second official full-length album 'Vain Glory Opera'. The overall packaging and presentation was well above average from most CDs that were coming out at the time. A friend of mine had purchased a copy of Steel Attack's debut record 'Where Mankind Fails', another high-quality AFM release. He shared it with me and thus my interest with the German label was piqued.
The German label, based out of Hamburg, was created in 1992 by Andy Allendorfer and Axel Fischer. Allendorfer and Fischer were longtime friends that originally formed thrash act Squealer in 1984. The two collaborated on three demos from 1985 through 1990 and released two studio efforts, 'Human Traces EP' (1990) and 'Make Your Day' (1992). Fischer would leave Squealer after the 'Make Your Day' album but found himself a colleague of Allendorfer's long after.
Allendorfer and Fischer formed AFM in 1992 and the label's name is reflective of their partnership--(A)llendorfer (F)ischer (M)usic. The first two releases of the new label were Squealer's 'Make Your Day' and 'Wrong Time, Wrong Place' (1995). The first release, 'Make Your Day', was co-released on the Netherlands label Semaphore as well. After the Squealer records the label released German power metal act Factory of Art's debut 'Grasp!!!'. After three consecutive releases of more traditional power and thrash, the label released the darker Gothic flavored debut from fellow countrymen Distrust.
It wasn't until the label's ninth release that the company expanded outside of Germany. AFM re-issued the independently released 'The Darkside of Humanity' from Austrian-based band Skull Crusher in 1997. Of the label's first twenty releases three were outside of Germany --Skull Crusher's 'The Darkside of Humanity' (Austria), Tarantula's 'Light Beyond the Dark' (Portugal) and Steel Attack's 'Where Mankind Fails' (Sweden). The 90's era of the label offered a huge spotlight on Germany's thriving heavy metal scene, one that had lost very little steam from the lucrative 80's movement. While metal was being pushed to the clearance bins in most countries, AFM and Germany were proving that the torch was well lit. Of the label's early lineup, the first three Edguy releases were probably the most profitable and popular.
As the turn of the millennium fell in 2000 the label continued to remain active. The label released seven albums in 2000 including their very first "superstar" signing with Paradox. The German thrashers had experienced international success via "major" label Roadrunner previously. The act had shared the stage with Exodus and had received high praise from metal peers at Metal Hammer and Rock Hard. The band signed with AFM and released their third effort, 'Collision Course', in 2000. AFM would continue to be the band's home to this day, releasing four additional albums and organizing countless tours.
In 2001 AFM released seven albums highlighted by the all-star effort Avantasia, a "who's who" of metal stars orchestrated by Tobias Sammet (Edguy) and featuring Kai Hansen (Helloween), Rob Rock (Axel Rudi Pell), Oliver Hartmann (At Vance) and David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) among others. 2002 saw the same output and once again highlighted by the second all-star effort from Avantasia and second "superstar" signing in long-time thrashing veterans Tankard. Tankard had started in 1982 and were a consistent staple of German heavyweight label Noise Records for over ten years. AFM released the band's 'B-Day' in 2002. AFM would go on to release five more Tankard albums.
AFM expanded their roster ten-fold in 2003 with some higher profile signings that included former Accept icon U.D.O., Canadian thrashers Annihilator, ex-Helloween led Masterplan and ex-Savatage singer Zak Stevens' new band Circle II Circle. A year later the band signed former Warlock vocalist Doro Pesch and released albums from Jorn Lande (Masterplan), Annihilator, U.D.O., Tankard, Axxis and Elvenking among others.
In 2005 tragedy struck the heavy metal community. AFM co-founder and president Andy Allendorfer was killed in a car accident. Allendorfer was a huge asset for heavy metal, not only in Germany but the international scene as a whole. Squealer continued on as Squealer A.D. and Allendorfer's role as vocalist was given to ex-Grip Inc. singer Gus Chambers, who would later pass away in 2008 from an overdose. AFM was reorganized in 2005 as AFM Records GmbH. The label continued to release some of the best of metal throughout the year. New signings of Rob Rock (Axel Rudi Pell), Brazilian upstarts Shaman and German pioneers Destruction all saw releases through the label in 2005.
Also in 2005, AFM partnered with British based label Candlelight Records. Candlelight had created Candlelight Records USA in Schwenksville, PA. AFM utilized Candlelight for US distribution. The first album released under this new distribution deal was Masterplan's 'Aeronautics' album. Other key albums that were distributed in 2005 via Candlelight were Destruction's 'Inventor of Evil', U.D.O.'s 'Mission No. X' and Shakra's 'Fall'.
The label began tripling their number of releases in 2006. AFM signed and released Swiss hard rock legends Krokus, Savatage founder Jon Oliva and a live "archive" from classic rockers Rainbow. In 2007, the label rivaled their 2006 release schedule with notable releases from Shakra, U.D.O., Doro, Destruction, Masterplan, Silent Force, Mekong Delta and Kotipelto. The tail end of the 00s were extremely productive for AFM Records. The band continued to release high quality efforts from their roster but added notable artists like Sinner, Ross the Boss, Headhunter, Helstar, Chris Caffery, Theatre of Tragedy, Nightmare, Brainstorm and Mob Rules. Year after year the "best of" lists were typically populated by albums released by AFM. European tours and festivals were well represented by the alumni and the ever expanding stable of label heavyweights. Theoretically AFM Records had emerged as a top tier record label with as good or better selection than Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast or Century Media. The German label effectively became the next big thing that everyone had predicted a decade earlier.
In 2010, Soulfood Music Distribution purchased AFM Records. This parent label is a German media company that distributes music, video games and other types of merchandise throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The robust company owns over 100 record labels including heavy metal companies like Victory, Spinefarm, Southern Lord, Season of Mist, Sanctuary, Remedy, Regain, Metal Heaven, Massacre, Frontiers, Exile on Mainstream and AOR Heaven.
This decade alone AFM has released over 300 albums. That is a remarkable contribution to the heavy metal community. While us metal fans can be a very picky lot, AFM Records continues to strive for diversity among all of its catalog. Traditionalism could be their niche, but the label certainly offers enough variety in sub-genres. As the label approaches 25 years of service, this metal fan wants to thank everyone who has been a part of this lasting label. The perseverance and hard work ethic has certainly paid dividends.
'Make Your Day'. Indeed, you have made many.
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