Editor's note: A few days before Christmas 2016, TeamRock — the publisher of such household name British music magazines as Metal Hammer and Classic Rock — announced to its employees that it was going into administration (a British euphemism for going bankrupt). Seventy-three journalists were laid off on 19 December, without any pay or even severance pay. Eleanor Goodman, who was among those 73 scribes, writes about how she and her colleagues took the announcement, the days that followed and how the metal community came together to help out.
It was a normal Monday. We had spent the morning blasting metal across the TeamRock office, in friendly competition with festive flute music on the Prog magazine stereo. We had spent the afternoon in a meeting about the next two issues, spinning up ideas to make Metal Hammer sing in 2017. Then we were asked to gather in the middle of the room, where an unsmiling man and a woman were clutching a thick stack of envelopes. They informed us that the company had gone into administration, six days before Christmas, and we no longer had jobs. We wouldn’t receive December’s pay, or severance money.
Everyone looked at each other in shock. Some people started to panic about their rent or mortgage payments, and made hurried phone calls to family members. Others hugged. There were tears. In a dreamlike state, we collected our redundancy letters and wandered to the pub for a few Jack and Cokes, where the news started to sink in.
Beyond the stomach-churning worries about paying bills, and looking for jobs during the holiday period when no-one hires, there was a pervading sense of grief. For many on the editorial team, working at Metal Hammer was more than just a job – it was a way of life. We all grew up reading the magazine, spent nights at gigs, weekends at festivals, and countless hours listening to music. We did it because we love metal, we wanted to share our enthusiasm, and were proud to be part of Hammer’s rich history.
Since its inception in 1986, it remained the world’s biggest metal magazine, not only featuring giants such as Maiden and Metallica, but championing rising stars and the sounds of the underground. Under the stewardship of its longest-serving editor, Alexander Milas, the last decade saw the team win awards, publish exclusive cover stories from the likes of Slipknot and Slayer, and even get Heavy Metal included as a religion on the UK census.
2016 was a landmark year, as Alexander passed the torch on to new editor Merlin Alderslade, and Hammer celebrated its 30th birthday. We put out a special issue containing 30 new interviews from the great and the good, acknowledging the past and, more importantly, looking firmly towards the future. We recorded the Metal Hammer: In Residence series of podcasts for Spotify, interviewing everyone from Ghost to Mastodon. We shouted about upcoming bands from Creeper to Calligram, and had a new music compilation CD in the works. We also continued to support global metal, and had devoted a page to Mumbai’s own Demonic Resurrection in our final issue. We were on sale in Asia, Australia, North America and online. Our voice was louder than ever, our reach was wider than ever, and we were committed to pushing things forward. With the closure of the company, it felt like Hammer had been cut down in its prime.
On our final day in the office, a woman emailed to say she was buying a subscription as a Christmas present for her 15-year-old daughter. She would have received our first issue of 2017, which was set to be a split run, introducing three brand-new cover stars: Swedish power metallers Sabaton (playing their biggest-ever UK show at London’s 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy this month); Asking Alexandria (who recently welcomed larger-than-life frontman Danny Worsnop back to the fold); and US rockers Halestorm (fronted by badass singer Lzzy Hale, and poised to release a new EP). In a nod to our heritage, we also had a fourth, limited-edition cover devoted to Anthrax’s 30th-anniversary tour of Among The Living. We were excited about the next generation of music, and speaking to the next generation of fans.
Despite our disappointment, what happened in the pub that Monday night was remarkable. Firstly, our phones lit up with messages of support from friends in the industry. Secondly, we found out that Ben Ward, singer of UK band Orange Goblin, had started a JustGiving crowdfunding campaign with his girlfriend, to raise £20,000 for TeamRock’s staff. We were unsure how to react; we felt self-conscious knowing people were collecting for us personally, but floored by the kind-hearted gesture.
It was a huge surprise when donations started flooding in from business associates, readers, mates, family and bands all over the world. The target was quickly smashed, and the comments on the page made us cry. ‘As we say in the pit – if someone falls, you pick them up’, read one. ‘Thanks for doing this to the staff of my beloved magazine, Metal Hammer, which has got me into so many bands over the years’, said another.
As the hours rolled on, the campaign gained momentum and was featured on US music industry website Billboard, UK media site Press Gazette, The Guardian website, London’s Evening Standard newspaper, and BBC Radio 5 Live.
We were left speechless, as legends such Avenged Sevenfold, Machine Head and more donated to the fund.
‘Metal Hammer, Classic Rock magazine and Prog magazine will no longer exist,’ Avenged posted on Facebook. ‘If you have ever travelled in the UK, you would notice that on every magazine stand, heavy metal was prominently featured by these three magazines next to all of the other print that is acceptable in the mainstream. Now that it’s gone, it pushes metal and rock even further away from the average consciousness. Some believe in keeping heavy music underground. We don’t. This music means so much to so many, including us. Our music should be inclusive, and losing Metal Hammer is a major blow to all of us.’
Is this Metal Hammer’s obituary? We don’t know yet. Someone could buy the name/assets and carry it on, with or without former employees, or in a different format. Or it could disappear, leaving a hole in the scene. For the staff, reality is still biting. There’s anger at the way the company and the collapse were managed, and frustration at being forced into the position of applying for financial compensation and jobseeker's allowance from the government.
Working in magazines is always a risk, but we had been constantly assured that Hammer was in a stable position.
Whatever happens next, we are humbled by the outpouring of generosity from our community, and forever cheered by their words and actions. The campaign total is currently sitting at £85,000, and Orange Goblin played a benefit gig this week. It’s clear that Metal Hammer, together with its sister magazines Prog and Classic Rock (which did go on sale on 4 January; so there's a chance the final issue of Hammer could come out as well) touched more people than we ever realised. In the words of eternal god Lemmy, rock'n’roll will never die.
The author is the former features editor of Metal Hammer, and has been writing about music and alternative culture for a decade. She tweets @eleanorgoodman
You can donate to the TeamRock crowdfunding campaign here.