Sentient Ruin Laboratories stands as one of the most eclectic independent metal/extreme music labels as well as one of the most consistent roster of releases. Glancing at their discography is basically a culling of the last few years’ standout releases: Vastum’s Hole Below, Altarage’s Nihl, Necrot’s Blood Offerings, and Hell’s Hell to name just a few. But the label is also responsible for some of the most interesting left-field offerings in the scene, including American’s Violate and Control, and Friendship’s Hatred. Sentient Ruin is also home to the re-release of Sleepwalker’s infamous “5772” and will be putting out their second album later this year. All of this together (along with breaking Portland’s current best death metal band, Petrification) makes Sentient Ruin one of the most interesting labels running and certainly the one to keep an eye on for anyone really interested in exploring the darkest and most experimental crevices of the scene (for instance who else would’ve introduced the world to Cryptae’s insane demo?).
Put it this way: there are only a handful of labels from whom I will purchase an album without even giving it a listen first. Sentient Ruin is one of them, and also the number one reason I started collecting tapes. What follows is an interview I conducted with the label’s mastermind.
If Sentient Ruin had a mission statement, what would it be?
Sentient Ruin: Hard to say – there are many factors driving the label. Making fans and bands meet so they can mutually enjoy their two respective passions of buying/discovering music on one side and making music on the other probably being the main one. There is a sense of “justice” and sensitivity constantly driving this label – like no stone should remain unturned, some things of unlikely appeal and popularity are just too special in their obscure appeal, and deserve to be heard, and this is what drives the label: uncovering liminal forms of audial suffering to bring them to a broader attention for those who care.
How did you come to run a label in the first place?
SR: A musical project I was part of needed a physical release, so the decision was made to take this into my own hands, after having being inspired for years to be so and having played around with the idea for a while. The desire to do it was there, just needed the right project to come along to finally do it. The idea of creating a label was not new, and developed after years of having admired, being inspired by, and having supported some deeply loved labels – Aurora Borealis, Ajna, HydraHead, Cold Spring, Utech Records, Osmose, to name a few. It had always lingered in the back of my head….
You’re a musician yourself and the label seems to be constantly putting stuff out. What’s the balance for it all in your life?
SR: Work as much and as hard as you can to accomplish what you love. No regrets, not ever. This is a passion, so it is never a chore. Even packing pre-orders till 2 am is fun. It’s just all about the big picture, constantly, and forever.
Why are tapes your preferred format?
SR: Many different reasons. Digital streaming and downloads have made the CD sound take up many different forms (you can get WAVs and other lossless CD-quality files easily these days), at which point, I do feel like we indeed release CD music, but not in the conventional format/packaging one would expect. It is there, just not with CD looks. Tapes and vinyl are, and always will be their own thing, and can not and will not assume any other forms, so they are somewhat of a immutable necessity. Then you stop and simply analyze the basic pattern here: people keep buying tapes, so we keep making them – as simple as that. Bottom line, we make them cause there is a demand for them, and we also enjoy the format personally as well.
Is it just you, or is anyone else involved?
The roster is very esoteric; how do you decide what to put out?
SR: Broad and ever-changing musical tastes that range from Depeche Mode and Bowie to Harsh noise and power electronics. There are pre-conceived or predetermined rules to the label as far as what will or will not be released. The main determining factor on what to release or not release is never the style of music but rather the ethics and approach of the artist to their own craft….
There seems to be an even mix of demos/eps and full albums. Are there pros and cons to putting out each?
SR: Obviously full albums are a broader and deeper and more complete listening experience, which is preferred to short players that often leave you begging for me. Demos and EPs are, however, great to introduce artists and build up some curiosity toward their future work and keep attention high…
Once you sign a band, do you assume you will put out more from them, or is it an album-by-album thing?
SR: No strings attached, from either side. We go with the flow of things. Re-releasing bands however has just merely statistically been the trend VS doing one release for them and then stopping. With the bands a friendship relationship is always undertaken, which normally leads us to working together again, and being stoked to collaborate with each other.
Do you have a favorite Sentient Ruin release?
SR: CRUZ Culto Abismal
A lot of small labels seem to also be distros who actively trade between one another for stock. The Sentient online shop just carries its own stuff. Any reason for that?
SR: Small apartment, dog, partner, bands, full time work. Can only do so much.
Just about all your titles sell out, but only a few get a repress. What drives that decision?
SR: Titles that sell out way before the obvious demand has been exhausted (not enough copies made when trying to eyeball the right quantity to press), normally always repress once or twice so that most people can get a a copy in the end. Then there is also the factor that even if there is a demand, often we need to focus on the new that needs to come VS what has already been out…
Only a handful of distros carry your stuff. Would you be up for anyone carrying them, or are you pretty picky about what shops the label is associated with?
SR: Anyone can carry if they’re interested. The fact we don’t trade and only wholesale our titles however, is a deterrent to many….
Is it more fun to break a band or release material by a band that already has a following or some history?
SR: The label is most definitely focused and discovering new talent and unearthing obscure and unknown stuff for the world to discover and enjoy.
What’s coming out soon that we should be looking forward to?
SR: New Atrament tape/LP, new Abstracter tape/LP, new Sleepwalker tape/LP, new Petrification vinyl LP, are the only we can officially mention for now. More is coming obviously, but in respect of the bands and their work, this information can not be made public just yet.
What advice would you have for someone looking to start their own label?
SR: It takes huge amount of personal, financial, physical, and mental sacrifice, and as such is not something for everyone. Simply “wanting” to have a label, being passionate about music, or liking the idea of having one, normally takes you nowhere. Most of it is actually hard, repetitive work, financial uncertainty, late nights and little sleep. Do it only if any of this seems even remotely appealing to you.
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