The label was started by Matthew F. Jacobson in August, 1990 in his parents' basement in Aurora, Colorado. The first two releases on the label were 7-inch singles by the bands Velcro Overdose and Face of Decline, closely followed by three death metal bands that would become among the biggest on the label, Deceased, Suffocation, and Incantation.
After this, Jacobson became acquainted with William Yurkiewicz Jr., who became his partner in the record label. Yurkiewicz had founded his own record label, which was soon to release albums from the bands General Surgery, Disrupt, Destroy, Misery, and Yurkiewicz's own band Exit-13. The two joined forces to create Relapse Records, aiming to release high-quality, professionally packaged extreme music