Media Headliner: The Milas touch puts metal into the mainstream

Ian Darby speaks with Metal Hammer's Alexander Milas, who has just been named the Best Consumer Editor by the PPA.

The rock gods must have been in heaven last Tuesday night when Alexander Milas picked up the award for Best Consumer Editor at the PPA's annual awards event.

Milas was recognised for his work at Future Publishing's hard rock title Metal Hammer and, in landing the coveted gong, fought off nine other shortlisted editors, including Gill Hudson, the outgoing editor of the Radio Times, and Lorraine Candy, the editor of Elle.

The judges were fulsome in their praise of Milas, who they said "lives and breathes the world of heavy metal; the magazine drips with as much enthusiasm as it does blood!"

Special praise went to Metal Hammer's conception of a metal sleeve (to commemorate a Metallica album launch last September), which was distributed as a special front cover in HMV stores. The mention of blood refers to another cover promotion - the giveaway of a bag of fake blood in 2006 to mark the 20th anniversary release of Slayer's Reign In Blood album.

"He should be an inspiration to every editor to fight for crazy ideas," the judges concluded. And Milas says that the creativity will continue: "We have a blank canvas when it comes to how creative we want to be and metal is a lot of fun."

We meet in Future's swanky Regent's Park boardroom a couple of days after the PPA bash - Milas has had time to recover from the Champagne celebration he enjoyed after receiving the award. He's less intimidating than he looks in published shots of him dressed in black and flicking the "devil's horns" alongside the likes of Judas Priest's Rob Halford.

The black uniform is on but he's well groomed and opts for a firm handshake rather than a flash of the horns as a greeting. He is softly spoken with a gentle US accent and takes the occasional sip from his mug rather than careering around with a bottle of Jagermeister or JD.

Milas is on a mission to show that he, like many "metalheads", doesn't necessarily conform to the stereotype: "The image of metalheads smoking cigarettes and wearing band T-shirts has gone - many fans are now chief executives and lead sophisticated lifestyles."

His own background reflects this: he has two masters' degrees (one in sociology, the other in archaeology). And although he came to London to study for the second of these MAs, he moved into journalism as a writer at the Big Issue before writing for Kerrang! ahead of a move to Metal Hammer as the features editor and then editor.

He cites the typical reader of Metal Hammer as being 19 to 20 and with a desire to "access good journalism" but says that there are plenty outside of this age range. Milas talks about the title's loyal readership and says that metal music has never being bigger. "Iron Maiden are selling out stadiums in the Third World," he points out.

Last year, Metal Hammer's circulation rose by 9.7 per cent to hit 50,269 (overtaking IPC Media's weekly NME and closing in on Bauer's weekly rock rival Ker-rang!, which posted a circulation of 52,272, down by 32.1 per cent).

However, Milas says: "Calling it a metal mag does it a disservice; there are core magazine values of excellent writing, photography and presentation that we stand by. I've been reading Hammer my entire life, so I came in as a fan. The key difference I've tried to make is to convey the excitement and not dilute the message. It's about being first and setting the agenda. In a way, it's irrelevant what others are doing."

The "others" being mainly Kerrang!, which offers a more news-oriented spin on the metal world but has suffered recent circulation declines. Kerrang! has been lauded for its attempts to build a cross-media brand, something that Metal Hammer is also attempting. It has a significant online presence, Milas is about to present a show on the radio station Rock Radio and it organises and promotes its own music festival, Hammerfest, which shifts thousands of tickets. Milas and his team are also pushing content through new channels such as Twitter and MySpace.

Vitally, the Metal Hammer team live the rock lifestyle and Milas clearly likes hanging out with musicians: "We're real believers - there's no divide between our lives and the magazine because we're so passionate about what we're doing. It's very exciting to be able to say hello to Slash (the former Guns N' Roses guitarist) and he remembers your name. But Hammer isn't all about celebrity, it's also about seeing a band play to 20 people and knowing they'll be the stars of tomorrow."

Milas enjoys small gigs, where he canvasses opinion from the audience, and he points out that Metal Hammer has a strong heritage of supporting bands and encouraging them into the big time. He cites Machine Head, Trivium and Mastodon as three big metal bands it has supported from the beginning.

But what's next for Milas? After all, music titles have proved a good launch pad in the past - the former Metal Hammer editor Anthony Noguera has also edited FHM and Arena, while the NME editor, Conor McNicholas, recently announced his departure to edit Top Gear magazine.

Milas isn't keen to move anytime soon, though - this week, he's off to see Alice In Chains (one of his favourite bands) as part of a holiday in Los Angeles and then it's back to Metal Hammer to "keep on doing more of the good things".

The PPA award was, he says, "an incredible achievement, but we still need to make a great magazine every time around".

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 32

Lives: London

Family: Single

Most treasured possession: My Bogu, or Kendo armour

Best gig you've been to: Led Zeppelin's reunion concert in 2007. I wept openly. They were truly giants who walked the earth

Who would be in your dream band line-up? Freddie Mercury, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Flea and Neil Peart

Last good album you heard: Crack The Skye by Mastodon

Last good book you read: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Motto: Do nothing which is of no use.

Topics