By Kevin Stewart-Panko
Taking the name of his label from the first of writer Robert E. Howard’s fantastical Kull story series, it’ll probably come as no surprise that Shadow Kingdom Records’ and Distro deals extensively in material where swords, shields, impossibly tall marble castles and scenic green hills are stained claret-red with the remnants of some mythical battle feature prominently on album covers. But a random sampling of both the titles Shadow Kingdom owner Tim McGrogan distributes and the bands with which he works illustrates that he’s not as dogmatically dedicated to epic/traditional metal as you might expect. Amongst all the Manilla Road, The Gates of Slumber, Ironsword and Thunderstorm are hundreds of psychedelic/prog/acid/bluesy and just-plain-hard rock releases and re-issues by the likes of Mandy Morton and Spriguns, Dantalion’s Chariot, Lightshine and Touch. This says nothing of the piles of thrash, black and death metal obscurities McGrogan has made available and more easily affordable for those who balk when overseas shipping costs can almost double the price of an online order.
“I originally formed the distro in 2004,” says McGrogan via email, on Shadow Kingdom’s history. “Shortly after, I started the foundations and preparations for the label. I’ve been a fan of metal for a long time and was really getting sick and tired of ordering music from across the pond because there were no physical or online stores that carried all the metal and rock I wanted. So, I decided to make a store of music that I loved, plus it was a good tool for re-issues and keeping up with new releases from underground labels that I enjoy.”
While searching Shadow Kingdom’s releases and online store can generate kid-in-a-candy-store feelings (especially if you’re into underground 80s metal), instances of shocking surprise (“Dude, you mean I can get Bloodcum’s demo on vinyl, the Death Militia’s anthology and both Indestroy albums at the same place!?”) and has the potential to have you burning through money quicker than the big three auto makers, one thing anyone who’s ever ordered from Shadow Kingdom has probably noticed is that your payments are made out to “Evil Legend Records.” This was the original name of McGrogan’s label and it’s natural to be curious about the name change.
“I keep hearing that question, why did I change the name?” he replies, with a cyber laugh [that’s a “lol,” in case you were wondering]. “Evil Legend was simply a test distro/label. I had no idea it would even last this long, but I was determined to put out an album, but was scared to put up thousands of dollars in hopes of making it back. So, I put out a couple thrash-y releases because it seems like everyone on the planet that likes metal likes some sort of thrash. Because of the name, though, a lot of people associated me with being a black/death/thrash label. I even came across a website saying I was a black/death label based in Virginia! [SK is based in Pittsburgh-KSP]. Now, there’s nothing wrong with black, death, or thrash – I like all of those genres – but it was never really the main focus for what I ultimately wanted to do. Also, I didn’t really like the Evil Legend website, so I needed a fresh start. I kept the logo because it was something I loved; I designed it in my head and a friend of mine drew it for me. My first release was supposed to be Stygian Shore [their never-released 1989 album The Shore Will Arise] and I wanted people to connect me with a metal/rock label and that’s what Stygian Shore was, a perfect blend of heavy rock and heavy metal. So I came up with a name and designed a new website to reflect my favorite kinds of music.”
The 15 or so titles released under the Shadow Kingdom banner do highlight Tim’s taste for heavy rock/metal (e.g. Brocas Helm’s Into Battle on picture disc, Ironsword’s Overlords of Chaos, Energy Vampires’ early 90s limited edition self-titled debut and Isen Torr’s Mighty and Superior, featuring former METAL MANIACS scribe Perry Grayson on guitar) with tips of the hat to Maryland doom (Asylum, Revelation) and re-issued hard rock and thrash rarities (The Hand of Doom, Ritual, Old Yron, Pale Divine and The Lord Weird Slough Feg’s demo and live collection) and thus far, Shadow Kingdom leans more towards re-issues as opposed to active, present-day bands. Still, an admirable amount of care is put into the re-released titles, including original and additional art, photos, liner notes and thanks lists. Additionally, at shadowkingdomrecords.com, McGrogan himself offers detailed accounts and descriptions of his label’s releases for collectors, the curious or potential buyers on the fence; same goes for virtually every webstore item; the love he has for the music he’s made available is obvious.
“If I like it, that’s it,” Tim responds, when asked about any philosophy that goes into deciding what bands to work with, re-issue or retail. “If you like my releases, you will probably like most of my music collection. Recording quality isn’t all that important; the quality of the songwriting is. I think that’s why a lot of fans don’t like some of the re-issues I do; they’re so used to hearing some big recording budget release and they’re not used to a DIY band.”
Most of the re-issues Shadow Kingdom has made available were originally available in limited runs, were lost recordings or were so obscure that they might as well have been limited or lost recordings. We asked how Tim managed to come across some of this stuff and about the legal/publishing/copyright hoops he’s had to jump through in order to release them.
“Sometimes friends of mine send me bands they know I like, sometimes I find them, sometimes they find me. I have a ton of bands in mind that I’m eventually going to put out, but it’s a slow process and all the odds are against you. It’s a struggle to get these re-issues out. You can’t imagine the struggle to get something out in an organized fashion when the band doesn’t even know. As for the second part of your question, I don’t like getting involved with bands that are already under contract or already in a verbal agreement with another label.”
McGrogan doesn’t do Shadow Kingdom full-time and “unless… a band sells 20,000 copies” doesn’t foresee being able to do so anytime soon. But his future plans and aspirations aren’t nearly that lofty to begin with.
“Right now I want to continue working with the same labels and distros I have been since day one with the goal being to get more people into the best metal in the world. That will always be my goal: support quality music no matter how big or small the label is. A lot of metal fans out there think they support bands, but really they support labels with money to get their records promoted and into physical stores. If you’re reading this and think I’m full of shit, just take a trip around internet forums or magazines and read people’s yearly top ten albums. Most of them are on big labels with big hype, while there’s a ton of killer metal out there that’s not even heard. It’s sad, but I’m hoping to change that a bit. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with liking big label bands – there are quite a few big label bands that I like. The issue is that fans don’t travel out of their circles to check out more than what’s fed to them.”
KEVIN STEWART-PANKO’s FAVE SHADOW KINGDOM RELEASES
When asked by Hellbound.ca to list his favorite Shadow Kingdom releases, Tim McGrogan refused to do so, but responded rather diplomatically. At least he didn’t break out the line: “Choosing one over the other is like choosing one of my kids over another; I love them all equally” Even if that is what he meant. In lieu of the label bosses’ response, we give you Kevin Stewart-Panko’s three favorite SK releases, propped up by selected quotes from the descriptions found at www.shadowkingdomrecords.com:
Ironsword – Overlords of Chaos [“… their 3rd full-length effort sounds much more focused and diverse. The overall song writing is more developed, memorable, and with more catchy chorus lines than the two previous, classic albums. This album, from the amazing artwork provided by Martin Hanford, to the last note will blow all fans of epic metal away!”]
Isen Torr – Mighty and Superior [“…formed by the legendary Rich Walker, most notably from the classic UK doom band Solstice and mastermind behind one of the best labels ever, The Miskatonic Foundation… Mighty And Superior is the perfect name for this album because this is exactly what epic metal should sound like! In terms of quality and sound, think early Iron Maiden and classic-era Manilla Road… This is the first time it will be available on CD with a demo version of “The Theomachist.”]
Stygian Shore – The Shore Will Arise [“…epic metal/heavy rock similar to bands from the NWOBHM and more well-known bands such as Black Sabbath and AC/DC. This official release (for the first time ever) features 12 brand new, never before heard songs, plus a re-recorded version of their hit song “Tidal Wave,” originally released on the band’s debut EP by Mark Shelton’s Roadster Records back in 1984! …a lost gem from the 80’s, and certainly the band’s best work and far superior to their well-received debut EP. This comes with a full biography of the band’s history, beautiful full-color booklet with lyrics and band photos.”]