Can you imagine a world without small record labels to sign and help the bands record their vision? Can you imagine a world without distros to sell us those visions since "normal" cd shops are just major label whores? Well Neither can I!!! If it wasn't for people like Denis Gulby, the man behind Sentinel Steel the record label/distro smaller bands might never get the chance to be noticed by larger labels. Although smaller labels like Sentinel Steel may be a small fish in the pond they play an important role in the metal world. They give smaller bands (and sometimes the best bands) the chances and inspiration to continue on with their dreams Which in turn end up in our CD player and gives us hours and hours of joy and happiness. Below is the legacy of a true metal warrior!
Prof.ManiC: How did you first start out the the biz? distro or label? or as something else?
DENIS: I started out by writing for another fanzine ('Manic Reaction') which led to my creating a fanzine called Sentinel Steel. I had a bunch of CDs, tapes and records that I wanted to get rid of, so I placed an ad in my own zine. Everything sold out very quickly and I realized that there was a big demand for 80s power and thrash metal. So I started a little sales list with used and new items. I'd go around to record conventions and CD shops, buying up their dead metal stock. The list grew into a catalog and I had enough money to invest in a band's CD release.
Prof.ManiC: what is the hardest part of starting up your own biz? taxes? bringing in more then you spend?
DENIS: Starting it was no problem really; it was a gradual climb. I accidentally fell into this job and I'm glad I did. I got a tax I.D. number and I was soon in business officially.
Prof.ManiC: what was the driving factor behind you becoming a label? were you sick of bands with talent being overlooked? namely who?
DENIS: Back in the early to mid 90s, traditional metal was almost dead and I was really aching for some power metal. I had the zine going and the catalog, but there wasn't a lot of new bands coming out. One day I saw an ad in a music paper for a band called GOTHIC KNIGHTS; I ordered their demo and I was blown away. The band ran into some problems with their debut album and I stepped into the picture and invested in the project, which became the first release on my label.
Prof.ManiC: How has the resurgence in metal help or hurt both aspects of you biz? more people to compete with? do you think you be still around after the trend fades?
DENIS: I'm not really concerned about competition. The resurgence has definitely made my life easier--lots of great music to listen to! Haven't been this happy since the late 80s. I'll still be around when it all fades away again, as it surely will; been listening to the same type of music for almost 20 years. With the internet, I'll always be able to keep in touch with fellow fans and buyers of traditional metal.
Prof.ManiC: What aspect of the current resurgence makes you sick the most? What moves by other labels lately just makes you laugh to yourself? why?

Well, sometimes labels sign bands too quickly in order to keep their market presence. I remember when Nuclear Blast went on a signing spree right after their success with Hammerfall; some bands panned out, others did not. And then there is a band like ZONATA; a promising demo led to an "okay" debut album on Century Media. But ZONATA worked hard and their second album turned out really good.

I can't complain about all the signings because I love traditional power metal and in most cases the releases are worthy of being heard. Sure, there is a lot of average stuff coming out as well, but I'd rather have it that way. I don't want to go back to the early 90s, when there was almost nothing available.

Prof.ManiC: Since you sell the stuff...are people still gobbling up all the Maiden/Helloween/Hammerfall clones or are sales starting to drift in another direction? if so where?
DENIS: I love the MAIDEN/HELLOWEEN sound and that's my main specialty. I sell a lot in that style. "Happy metal" is what I like to call it. Feel good metal.
Prof.ManiC: Do you make a living off your distro and label or do you need a day job to support your hobby?
DENIS: I've been doing this full time since 1996 I think. Started in 1993 so I'll do the "anniversary" thing in a couple of years. In 2003 I'll commemorate 10 years of Sentinel Steel and 20 years of being a fan. Should be fun!
Prof.ManiC: I know its easy for labels to say " yea yea we will promote the shit out of you" but how come it rarely gets done correctly? Do you think that bands instead of bitching and whining should take the load upon thier own shoulders?
DENIS: I'm a small label and I'm limited in what I can do. There are very few media outlets for advertising the kind of music that I sell. Bands should expect the most from their labels, especially if they are on the bigger metal labels. But with a label like mine, a band should approach it as a stepping stone situation. It can be a frustrating experience for both the band and the label if communication is not kept open. Communication and honesty is the key.
Prof.ManiC: What do you think are the best kept secret over the last couple years bandwise and cd wise? What bands and cds coming out in the future are you willing to bet your reputation are gonna kick ass?

Secrets from the past will have to remain a secret, sorry. There are some reissue projects that I am pursuing that must remain unknown. : )

As for the future, I look forward to new releases from GAMMA RAY (any day now), RHAPSODY, ONWARD, GOTHIC KNIGHTS, ZANDELLE, CRESCENT SHIELD, new ATTACKER, and tons of others. Like anyone else, I'm a big fan and I get anxious when one of my fave bands prepares a new album.

Prof.ManiC: How much cash/credit would you suggest to have if someone was to start a distro or label? what other knowledge better the person make sure they have?

Well, a mail-order operation can be started with nothing I suppose. Personally I would not start one right now, as there are a ton of them out there already. But if you do start one, make sure it specializes in something. For example, a new company in the market is SONIC CATHEDRAL; they specialize in female fronted metal bands, from VIXEN to female fronted black metal, with an immense selection of bands in the BACKSLASH and NIGHTWISH vein. Smart thinking on the part of the owners; I do not know of any other company that specializes in just female singers.

As for the label, you must have at least 5 grand in the bank prior to getting involved. There are a lot of costs to consider, from recording costs to duplication costs. Of course a 7" inch release or a demo CD will set you back less. Always start small and work your way up.

Prof.ManiC: Do you see any hope in the future for US metal festivals or are they doomed to be half ass forever? Have you thought about having one? What would you make sure you did different then the others?

I'm hopeful. To me, the POWERMAD FEST has everything just right except for advertising; hence, a small turnout. The CLASSIC METAL FEST debuted this year but also had a small turnout due to lackluster advertising. Advertising costs a lot of money and the promoters need some financing on this topic. But the producer of PROGPOWER USA seems to be doing everything right and the 2nd installment in Atlanta should be a huge success. Only half the bands appeal to me though; we are in dire need of a well oiled festival dedicated strictly to power metal and true metal bands. Hopefully the Classic Metal Fest and Powermad will pick it up for 2002.

Sure, I'd like to put something together; but my priority right now is to bring the office up to speed, i.e. improving the Sentinel Steel site and increasing the turn around time for my CD releases.

Prof.ManiC: When you decide to do a remake of some older album. How do you get the masters and what do you do actually to remaster them? What other processes do you have to go through to get one done?

Well, I cannot go through the technical aspects of remastering, as it will be kind of boring to read. But everything begins with contacting the band and working my way from there. Sometimes the band has the masters, or the studio, or even the original record label. Sometimes the reels are in bad shape and need to be baked in an oven in order to stabilize the tape. Then they are transferred to a digital medium and put through a computer for the mastering process.

After the "sound" aspect is completed, the packaging comes into play. The compilation of the old materials, from photos to bios and lyrics, takes a while. Designs are made and so on. From there it goes to the manufacturer. A very brief summary! It can be pretty stressful in real time.

Prof.ManiC: When looking at a band to sign to your label what factors effect your decsision? What are positives and negatives for a band to have to win you over or scare you away?
DENIS: Well, the music is the most important factor, with the band character and personality a close second. I only work with people who are upfront and who do not have any habits involving pharmaceutical products. : )
Prof.ManiC: How did the Century media (for lack or a better world or perhaps Knowledge) buy out of Onward happen? was it profitable for you and the band? Whats the long term effects on your bizs and the band?
DENIS: Sentinel Steel is a stepping stone for bands and ONWARD was the perfect example of that. I am really proud of their debut record; it's the most professional thing I was involved with. Having said that, I learned a lot about "selling" a release to another label, much of it frustrating to go through. In the end it wasn't really profitable, and it took forever to clear with Century Media, but I was very happy for the band, and I still am. Their new album should be stunning.
Prof.ManiC: If your feeling pissed,confused or depressed how do you deal with each emotion to overcome it? What gives you sanity in insane times?
DENIS: Listening to music I suppose. Putting on HELLOWEEN's I'm Alive or AGENT STEEL's Chosen to Stay. Going out for a walk or drive. And remembering that I am really lucky to be doing what I do.
Prof.ManiC: Any Final Comments?

The terror attacks of September 11th are always on my mind. I don't understand how someone can live in the USA for several years and continue to hate this country. I've lived in other parts of the world and I have no problem proclaiming the USA to be the best nation on Earth. The States has its own share of flaws but the opportunities here are incredible. And for these terrorists, these religious extremists, to do what they did was unthinkable.

So as I type these words, the feeling of war is in the air, and it is not a good feeling. But something must be done.