“The decision to pull the plug has not been an easy one, and in some ways is a not a choice at all. The simple fact of the matter is we’ve been running on empty for a while now and cannot afford to keep our doors open for much longer. Years of imbalance between creative ideals and financial realities, personal problems amongst the label operators, an unwillingness to compromise our aesthetic standards, a tendency towards releasing challenging (i.e. unmarketable) artists, and the steady decline of the music industry in general, are amongst the chief reasons for our inability to continue.” (Aaron Turner, September 10, 2012)
The night they drove ol’ Hydra Head down was indeed a dark day in metaldom. Like many fans, we first stumbled upon then-Boston-based Hydra Head Records in 1997 through strictly metal channels in the form of the In These Black Days seven-inch series. Our fave bands at the time—EHG, Brutal Truth, Coalesce, et al.—paid tribute to Black Sabbath with unique interpretations of their songs (like A.C.’s version of “Sabbra Cadabra” ripping off Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra”). Since Hydra Head molded our young minds into true metal critics, it seems only fitting that we devote two full episodes to the incredible legacy that this fiercely indie label leaves behind. With that moldy Sinatra song in mind, Hydra Head did it their way all the time, every time, for all 236 (give or take) phenomenal releases. Here’s to you, Aaron!
Botch, We Are the Romans (“C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man’”), 1999
We already had an entire podcast planned on Botch, but we shelved it to focus on Hydra Head as a whole for the time being. This quartet from Tacoma, Washington is one of the greatest hardcore/mathcore bands of all time! Along with Dillinger Escape Plan and Coalesce, they helped to pioneer this particular subgenre of metal, starting with their blistering HH debut, 1998’s American Nervoso. We Are the Romans is one of our favorite albums of all time, no question—and it holds up strongly to the test of time.
Cavity, On the Lam (“Sung from a Goad”), 2001
From Miami, Cavity was a sludgecore band akin to Eyehategod, Iron Monkey, Bongzilla, et al. They had scattered releases on half a dozen labels from the mid-’90s to around 2001 when they broke up (interestingly enough, their 1997 Rhetoric debut Somewhere Between the Train Station and the Dumping Grounds contains a full live set hidden in the pregap of the CD!). HH breathed new life into their career with this new full-length and two reissues, and after the group dissolved, members went on to form Floor, Torche, and Black Cobra.
Keelhaul, II (“New Void”), 2001
Cleveland, Ohio bruisers Keelhaul was the supreme mathcore band of the late ’90s/early ’00s. Every album is a mind-boggling workout of fretboard gymnastics, pogoing tempos, and sporadic screams. And you will never witness a musician more uproarious onstage than drummer Will Scharf. Are they still together? On extended hiatus? Who knows, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see another release from them anytime now.
Jesu, Jesu (“Friends Are Evil”), 2004
Formed by Justin Broadrick after the original demise of UK’s Godflesh in 2002, Jesu took its name from the final song on Godflesh’s 2001 swan song, Hymns. This sound is more post-metal than Godflesh’s smothering industrial metal, and it has since morphed from guitar-based gravity to an electronic heaviness, with more emphasis on Justin’s clean vocals. “Friends Are Evil” is long at over nine epic minutes but exemplifies the early concept of where Justin was going with Jesu before he divested himself completely of the Godflesh influences.
Pelican, City of Echoes (“Winds with Hands”), 2007
From Chicago, Pelican are also post-metal but leaning more toward stoner/doom and post-rock and are completely instrumental. They released their debut eponymous EP in 2001 on Hydra Head and are still going strong, now on Southern Lord Records. 2007’s City of Echoes was their last full-length for Hydra Head and, we think, their best album. Their newest release, this year’s Ataraxia/Taraxis, was produced by Isis drummer Aaron Harris.
Cattle Press, Hordes to Abolish the Divine (“Crowskin”), 2000
From Brooklyn, New York, Cattle Press was a short-lived band with only a handful of releases. Their sound was doom/sludge with heaping helpings of thrash and hardcore. Guitarist Joey Capizzi had a similar band called Iabhorher that contributed a song to the famous Cry Now, Cry Later comp on Pessimiser/Theologian along with a rare Cattle Press track, and bassist Eddie Ortiz went on to join Candiria and later formed the black metal/thrash outfit The Dying Light. Hordes to Abolish the Divine was the very first HH promo that Chris was sent for review!
Cable, Northern Failures (“Black Leather Mustache”), 2001
This noise quartet from Manchester, Connecticut, has been on a slew of labels over the years and is currently part of the The End Records roster. Cable’s sound is noise-core, though over nearly twenty years they’ve gone through many different styles, including Southern rock-tinged metal, doom, sludge and hardcore. The voice sample that bookends “Black Leather Mustache” is from Harmony Korine’s 1997 cult film Gummo. Northern Failures was their last release on HH and was produced by Steve Austin of Today Is the Day; that album also contains their noisy cover of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”!
Harkonen, Shake Harder Boy (“The Burly Spur”), 2002
Also from Tacoma, Washington—same as Botch!—Harkonen is one of many bands with names inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune (see also Sandrider, Shai Hulud, Stillsuit, et al.). Bassist Ben Verellen is the brother of Botch frontman Dave Verellen. Harkonen’s sound is noisy hardcore, though on later releases they evolved to a more progressive hardcore with more tempo change-ups. Verellen is currently playing with Helms Alee, another HH band, and making/selling high-end custom guitar amps and pre-amps (check out www.verellenamplifiers.com).
Cave In, Jupiter (“In the Stream of Commerce”), 2000
One of the earliest signings to HH and the most successful & influential, Boston’s Cave In are still going strong. Jupiter turned the hardcore world on its side with its melodic structures and Steve Brodsky’s clean vocals—truly one of the best metal albums ever! A glorious Cave In episode is also on the docket for us…
Stay tuned for the companion episode, Hydra Head Records, Part II!