Warner buys heavy metal label for $73m

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The Independent Online

Roadrunner Records, one of the most influential labels in heavy metal, has been sold to Warner Music in a $73.5m (£34m) deal that brings Slipknot, Theory of a Deadman and Megadeth under the same roof as James Blunt, Madonna and Gnarls Barkley.

Warner is buying a 73.5 per cent stake in the Dutch company, which was founded in 1980 to bring underground US metal bands to a European audience. Cees Wessels, the founder, will run the company as a standalone business inside Warner's Atlantic Records group.

The acquisition comes after the expiry of Roadrunner's long-standing partnership deal with Universal Music, the world's biggest record company, and after a period that has seen the label pushing into more radio-friendly genres. All The Right Reasons, by the Roadrunner signing Nickelback, is one of America's biggest selling albums of 2006, and has transformed the fortunes of the company.

Lyor Cohen, chief executive of US recorded music at Warner, said he was delighted to renew a relationship with Roadrunner from five years ago, when he had been at Universal. "Very rarely do you find a record company with such a long-standing reputation and distinct viewpoint that its very name rises to the level of true brand," Mr Cohen said. "Roadrunner, from its strong artist roster to its deep catalogue and first-rate creative team, embodies the hard rock aesthetic to its core."

Hard music - the name under which the record industry groups hard rock and heavy metal - has outpaced other genres over the past 25 years, and enjoyed the most growth in market share of any genre in 2006, in no small measure due to the success of Nickelback.

Mr Wessels said yesterday: "Five years ago, before Nickelback broke massively worldwide, Lyor recognised the power of the Roadrunner brand, its artists and the creative talent of the staff. Today, after continuous strong growth of the label, I feel proud that we are partners again."

Roadrunner's headquarters will remain in the Netherlands, with offices in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan and Australia.

A former RCA and Polygram marketing and A&R executive, Mr Wessels originally founded Roadrunner to license US repertoire for distribution in Europe. Bands such as King Diamond and Sepultura are among those to have nudged close to the mainstream, and its current roster includes multi-platinum selling Grammy winner Slipknot, Grammy-nominated Stone Sour, Killswitch Engage and Trivium, among others.

It will sit within Warner's Atlantic Records stable, founded in 1947 as an independent jazz label by Ahmet Ertegun, who died last week.

New York-based Warner Music is the smallest of the four major recorded music groups, but has emerged as a pioneer in digital music, making $104m a year from online and mobile phone sales. It promised to seek new ways to distribute the music of Roadrunner's artists.