I became familiar with The Crypt label a couple years back when I discovered Chicago’s long-defunct death metal Morgue and went fishing for a physical copy of their sole album, “Coroner’s Report.” As it turned out, The Crypt had just announced their upcoming vinyl reissue of that very same album. It took a while for the reissue to see the light of day but it was very much worth the wait. The amount of care that went into the packaging was clear and it’s one of my favorite LPs.
Looking at the The Crypt’s back catalog and planned future releases shows an immense dedication to the old school. As of today, I’ve picked up The Crypt LP reissue of Mercyless‘ Abject Offerings and Dark Symphonies’ CD reissue of Hexx‘s Morbid Reality and they’re both outstanding.
With that, here’s Ted Tringo, founder of the Dark Symphonies label, which begat The Crypt, which begat a slew of reissues, anthologies and discography compilations for bands and albums that live at the edge of our collective memory.
According to Discogs, Dark Symphonies’ first release was 1996. How does it feel hitting the 20 year mark?
Ted Tringo: Actually, the label started in February of 1995, so we are now in our 21st year and it feels great. A real sense of accomplishment to stay true to what we believe in for all of these years and still doing what we started way back then.
How did Dark Symphonies get started? Did you start it alone or with partners?
It actually began as a mail order which I started myself. I began buying CD and LP wholesale orders from small underground distributors, and kept that going until we had enough revenue to finance our first CD release and turn the mailorder into an actual label. From then on we traded our releases for more titles and grew the mailorder that way.
Your band Autumn Tears was the cornerstone of the label. How did you handle band interests vs. label interests?
Band and label interests ended up being more or less along the same lines, as even though Autumn Tears wasn’t metal, we in the band loved underground metal music. It was an unlikely pairing but it worked great for us.
Can you talk a bit about Dark Symphonies’ roster back in the day? Was there a type of band you looked for?
Well, aside from Autumn Tears, the first band we signed that wasn’t us was Maudlin of the Well back in 1999. That was followed by Rain Fell Within, Long Winters’ Stare and Novembers Doom. Back then we were looking for metal bands that had something unique to offer, whether it be unique and melodic or progressive. As long as we felt the band offered something special, we were interested.
As an ex-Chicagoan, I have to ask about Novembers Doom. You seemed to catch them just as they were breaking. How did you come to work with them?
I actually knew Paul from the early ’90s as we did some trades back then, and they were also friends with Clint from Long Winters’ Stare. We all met at a Milwaukee Metalfest and Paul had discussed his displeasure with the current label situation he was in. Being a fan of the band at the time, we were interested in working with them, so we were essentially able to buy out their contract and worked with them for two albums after that.
As I understand it, Dark Symphonies has two imprints: Forest of the Fae and The Crypt, and then The Crypt has its own imprint, Cult Demo Series. Can you explain each one and how they relate to each other? What makes them “sublabels” instead of just separate labels?
Forest of the Fae is currently defunct as it was more of an experiment sublabel for non-metal bands which proved to be less than lucrative, as by the time we started it, interest for that kind of music seemed to have died out.
The Cult Demo Series is a current sublabel of the Crypt which specializes in bands that actually never had an album out before, only demo recordings, so we felt that would be a nice touch to have a separate label to do that.
What was the relationship between DS and Blood Fire Death Records (Krieg’s record label)?
Blood Fire Death Records was a sub label of Dark Symphonies in the later ’90s that specialized in USBM bands. As Dark Symphonies leaned more towards progressive and melodic metal bands at that time, we turned the reigns of Blood Fire Death Records to Neill Jameson from Krieg, as it was Krieg that had inspired the BFD label to begin with.
You’ve licensed several DS releases to other labels for reissuing (Rain Fell Within, Novembers Doom). Can you explain how a deal like that typically works? What makes the licensing more attractive than reissuing it yourself?
We actually only every licensed those two releases. Rain Fell Within’s “Believe” to Hellion Records in Brazil and November’s Doom’s “The Knowing” to Pavement for USA. As we were still growing at the time, we felt it would be a good way to help spread our name and our releases to a wider fan base.
DS releases slowed down in the mid-2000s, ending with the last Autumn Tears album in 2007. The DS website says that you are “no longer signing or distributing material for any new bands.” When did you officially pull the plug and why?
We officially stopped signing bands in 2007 as we had basically had our fill of all the red tape and headache that comes with the whole signing process. It is so much less stress and so much more fun to just license classic releases now and not have to worry about all the drama that comes with band signing.
Two years later, we have first release on The Crypt: 2009’s reissue of Excruciate’s 1993 album, “Passage of Life”. So right off the bat, you’re exercising The Crypt’s MO: Dig up a killer, long out of print, largely unknown album from a largely unknown band and give it new life. Did this just happen or did you set out with a plan, or…?
It had always been interested in reissuing my favorite early 80s and 90s extreme metal releases, especially since many had never been released on vinyl, so in 2009 it just felt like the right time to do it. I dove in head first and it has been successful ever since.
The Crypt had 4 releases in 2009, followed by an explosion of anthologies, discography compilations and album reissues in 2010 that’s only gotten stronger since. Considering the economy in the States at that time, the “no one buys music anymore” problem, etc., how in the world did this succeed so well?
It seems that the “no one buys music anymore” philosophy never applied to metal vinyl collectors as for them, collecting LPs usually displaces rent, food, utilities, etc.
How did you come to work with Morgue? Why was there such a long delay getting that released?
I have always been a fan and now with the power of the internet, I was able to track down Brad and talk to him about about releasing the entire discography on vinyl for the first time. Of course he was thrilled at the idea. The only reason for the delay is because we had so many releases planned prior to Morgue, so they basically had to wait in line 🙂
How do you go about securing the rights to material this old? Are these mostly beer-and-a-handshake deals with the main guy(s), or do things get tricky, legally, like tracking down ex-bandmates, dealing with bad breakups, etc…
Luckily it has not been so difficult but we always make sure it is done correctly and legally with a contract. The process is usually different depending on the band, but most times we have to secure rights from the actual original label and the band members, making the process longer, but in the end, the final release is always worth the effort and expense. Plus the fact that we are only ever looking for licensing rights and not publishing rights, it makes the people involved much less reluctant to work with us.
Do bands approach you or is this strictly an archaeological endeavor?
It has gone both ways depending on the band, but the majority of the time, I am the one who does the scouting for releases.
Do you have a sense of who’s buying The Crypt’s releases?
Mostly vinyl collectors from what I see online, but I can’t really say as a whole for certain.
The DS website also says you’re a “vinyl label only”. Embracing vinyl makes sense, but is it really time to phase out CDs? Did you go that route for purely financial reasons or something else?
Just to specify, The Crypt is a “vinyl label only”. Dark Symphonies is a CD label. Two separate labels but doing the same thing. That disclaimer is more so bands don’t contact us looking for a label to release their album as we don’t do that anymore.
Discogs says you use GZ from the Czech Republic to press vinyl. What’s the benefit to using someone halfway around the world? Are there any challenges working with an overseas press?
The benefit of GZ is that they are a one stop fulfillment house so we don’t have to press the printwork in once place and the vinyl in another. The biggest benefit is that most of our distributors are in Europe, and GZ will drop ship directly to them, making things much easier and cost effective for everyone involved.
What’s your relationship with Dark Descent? If it’s deeper than distribution, how did that come about?
We have been friends since 2009 and they are a great partner label for distributing our releases. One of the biggest supporters of our labels since we began and continues to be.
In 2014, after 7 years of no release, Dark Symphonies starts up again, seemingly reissuing The Crypt releases. Why?
The main reason is that with all of our LP releases, we felt they deserved CD releases as well since we love CDs as much as LPs, have experience manufacturing and distributing them, and most of the original CDs are impossible to find for a reasonable price,. Who better to do it that a label that has had 21 years experience and already currently working with the bands?
Ted and people like him are keeping the old-school alive and play a vital role in preserving music that created in obscurity and lives in perpetual state of being lost completely (magnetic tape doesn’t last forever).