Metallica Sells So Much Vinyl It Just Bought Its Own Pressing Plant
The group -- which pressed 900,000-plus pieces of vinyl in 2022 alone -- is acquiring most of Furnace Record Pressing in Virginia.
Metallica has always had a strong independent streak for a band that spent its formative years on a major label. Now, a decade after getting the rights back to their biggest albums, the band is buying Furnace Record Pressing, a plant in Alexandria, Va., to serve its vinyl business, which has grown by keeping catalog albums in print and releasing ambitious box sets aimed at its legions of hardcore fans.
For a decade, Furnace has pressed records for the band, which has a reputation for releasing high-quality vinyl. At a time of supply-chain issues and manufacturing delays, the plant helped the group keep most of its albums available, plus a growing number of ambitious box sets. (Its most recent “black album” box set includes a double LP of the album, three live LPs, 14 CDs and 6 DVDs.) Last year, the group pressed more than 902,500 pieces of vinyl for more than 620,000 packages, according to management, not all of which are made at Furnace. The band sells roughly half of these in the U.S.
“We couldn’t be more happy to take our partnership with Furnace,” and its founders “to the next level,” said Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich in a statement. James Hetfield, the singer-guitarist who co-founded the band with Ulrich, said that the plant had been “great to Metallica and more importantly to our fans,” and that the purchase would ensure that potential vinyl buyers “will have continued access to high quality records in the future.”
Those fans are already buying a good deal of vinyl. In 2022 and 2021, Metallica rated among the best-selling acts on vinyl in the U.S., according to Luminate – No. 6 in 2022, with 387,000 albums sold and No. 7 in 2021 with 337,000 sold. That’s especially remarkable for a brand that hasn’t released a new album since 2016. (In 2022, the group’s most popular release was Master of Puppets, which sold 91,000, followed by “the black album” and Ride the Lightning.) In most years, the U.S. accounts for roughly half of the group’s vinyl sales worldwide.
“Metallica over-indexes dramatically with physical product,” says Marc Reiter, who helps run Blackened Recordings, the band’s label. “The fans enjoy owning the physical product.”
Although the band hasn’t released a new album since 2016 – a new album, 72 Seasons, comes out April 14 – the band has kept its catalog in stores while also releasing box sets. Its relationship with furnace, which goes back almost a decade, has been part of that.
“The catalog is always being pressed,” says Brant Weil, head of marketing at Q Prime, the band’s management company. A couple of years after the band got back the rights to its older albums, its management team realized that it needed a steady supply of vinyl that could live up to the bandmembers’ high standards.
Furnace, which then also brokered vinyl pressing capacity at other plants, arranged a deal with Pallas, a German pressing plant with a reputation for high-quality work, and Q Prime was able to arrange to essentially lease its own presses there. “We never want to be out of stock on Metallica vinyl,” Weil says. “I didn’t want our release plans to be dictated by manufacturing timelines.”
At that point, “any vinyl shortages ceased to be,” Reiter says. Eventually, as Furnace started pressing more records itself, they started pressing more for Metallica as well.
Gradually, the two companies grew close. “We looked at them as more of a partner than a client,” says Furnace CEO Eric Astor. (As it happens, the first record Furnace worked on was the 2008 re-release of “the black album” as an audiophile edition.) Furnace, like Pallas, has a reputation for doing quality work at a time when some pressing plants have sacrificed quality for output. “We’d rather throw out some bad records than make as many as we can,” says Furnace COO Ali Miller. (Discarding some vinyl is a factor in quality control.) Furnace has been pressing copies of the band’s forthcoming album, 72 Seasons, since January.
Furnace will not change much, Astor says, and plans call for the plant to keep working on other projects, as well as ones for Metallica. “They want to keep the quality and service the whole industry,” Astor says. “It will give us the opportunity to invest more.”
The hope is that Furnace can grow – as a partner to the band, as well as an investment the group and its team have come to understand well. “They have the same indie spirit we have,” Reiter says, “and they like doing things the right way, which is also the Metallica way.”