The conclusion to our tribute to Hydra Head Records and label prez Aaron Turner, this episode contains even more quality music from a label that has given us so much enjoyment and inspiration over the years.
Scissorfight, Mantrapping for Sport and Profit (“New Hampshire’s All Right If You Like Fighting”), 2001
Do you like to fight? Because Scissorfight will smash your face! Hailing from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this burly quartet, helmed by vocalist/mountain-man Ironlung, plays monster truckin’ meat rock about life in the Granite State. Scissorfight were one of the first signings to Tortuga Recordings, started by then-HH-label publicist Mark Thompson (even though both labels were run out of the same office, Aaron had nothing to do with Tortuga, other than playing in Old Man Gloom). This track has a huge Karma to Burn-esque chorus, but ultimately Scissorfight are most related to ’90s-era COC with their massive Southern-rock chords and plenty of Clutch-esque funk. The band went on extended hiatus in 2006 after the release of theirJaggernaut album but has since emerged with a Greatest Hits album on their own Scissorfight Records, now available on iTunes.
Big Business, Head for the Shallow (“Technically Electrified”), 2005
Big Business started out as a duo from Seattle playing Melvins-esque heavy sludge/doom rock but are now a four-piece or what they call a “power quartet.” Bassist/vocalist Jared Warren (formerly of the incredible indie band Karp) and drummer Coady Willis (of Murder City Devils) released their debut album in 2005 on Hydra Head and the next year became members of the Melvins. They’re still members of the Melvins but have managed seven releases to date as Big Business and are currently signed to their own label, Gold Medal Records. The rumbling, bass-heavy vibe of this song totally exemplifies this band!
Zozobra, Harmonic Tremors (“Kill and Crush”), 2007
Zozobra was formed by Caleb Scofield (bassist for Cave In) and Santos Montano, both of whom play in Old Man Gloom—which, in turn, is another name for Zozobra, the giant marionette that is built and ritually burned in effigy every fall in New Mexico. This was Scofield’s first opportunity to write his own songs, which he had been unable to do in Cave In and Old Man Gloom. “Kill and Crush” underscores his earthshaking bass sound and harsh vocals, but also highlights his clean (but processed, here) pipes. Their most recent album is 2008’s Bird of Prey.
Torche, Songs for Singles (“Cast into Unknown”), 2010
Now a household name, Torche began as an indie metal band in Miami after Cavity guitarist Steve Brooks and Juan Montoya dissolved the band Floor in 2002. Brooks took the “doom pop” aesthetic of Floor to great lengths in Torche and in the process redefined how poppy truly heavy music could be. Hydra Head served as a great stepping stone for Torche, as they released the lauded Meanderthal in 2008 and the Songs for Singles EP in 2010. Torche have since been signed to Volcom Entertainment, the record label subsidiary of Volcom sports clothing. With wickedly catchy songs and clean vocals, Torche is a band that bridges the gap between genuine metalheads and the Warped Tour crowd.
Atomsmasher, Atomsmasher (“Thunderspit”), 2001
Atomsmasher (now renamed Phantomsmasher) was one of the first releases on the noise imprint, Double H Noise Industries, which went on to spotlight records from Sunn0))), Merzbow, et al. Also the guitarist for OLD, an Earache band from the early ’90s, James Plotkin is the mastermind behind Atomsmasher. Municipal Waste drummer Dave Witte has played on 50+ metal albums including Human Remains, Black Army Jacket, Burnt by the Sun, Candiria, Exit-13, and Discordance Axis. Check out the video for “Thunderspit” (available on James’ website, www.plotkinworks.com)!
5ive, Hesperus (“Big Sea”), 2008
Another Tortuga Recordings band, 5ive are a two-piece, guitar & drums, hailing from Boston. Chris has seen them live several times, and they often set up their gear on the floor in front of the stage and played one or two long jams—a very unique band. Their music is completely instrumental, though Jonah Jenkins of Milligram sang on two songs on their sophomore album, 2001’s The Telestic Disfracture. Isis bassist Jeff Caxide also played on two albums. They haven’t released any new material since 2008’s Hesperus, so maybe they’ll break their silence soon?
Discordance Axis, Our Last Day (“Sega Bass Fishing” and “Ikaruga”), 2005
Discordance Axis was a grindcore band from New Jersey starring Jon Chang and Dave Witte of Atomsmasher. Though their sound is quite unique, few understood how important they were until Decibel did a Hall of Fame feature on their 2000 album The Inalienable Dreamless back in March of 2009. Our friend Kevin Stewart-Panko called that record “the most forward-thinking grindcore album of all time.” Hydra Head is credited with bringing DA to the metal forefront, because their previous releases were nearly impossible to find. Their Hydra Head albums were packaged in DVD cases and came with long lyrics booklets. “Sega Bass Fishing” is actually their cover of the theme song of the videogame for the Sega Dreamcast! Chang now heads up Gridlink, and of course Witte is drumming for Muni Waste.
Milligram, Hello Motherf**ker! (“After the Riot”), 2000
A short-lived heavy rock band from Boston and another jewel in Tortuga’s crown, Milligram was formed by Jonah Jenkins, storied vocalist from hardcore heroes Only Living Witness and Miltown. Milligram were much more rock-based than Only Living Witness, and “After the Riot” is a perfect example of their adherence to a post-punk aesthetic. Fun fact: the HMF line-up of Milligram reunited for a one-off show in October 2012, then the following weekend they reunited again and played one show with the line-up that recorded 2002’s This Is Class War.
Knut, Terraformer (“Torvalds”), 2005
Pronounced “knoot,” Knut are a mathcore/sludgecore band from Geneva, Switzerland—one of the few international bands on the Hydra Head roster. Back in the day, Knut got a lot of Isis references, partially because they were on the label run by Aaron Turner, but they sound more like hardcore like Botch without the crazy tempo changes. We like “Torvalds” in particular because of the female voice samples at the bridge—very unexpected right in the eye of the storm!
Harvey Milk, Life…The Best Game in Town (“Death Goes to the Winner”), 2008
One of our all-time favorite art-sludge bands, Harvey Milk has quite the history with us: our former editor at Charlotte’s Indie File, Samir Shukla, released their 1994 album My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be on his Yesha label, later reissued by Relapse in 2007. “Death Goes to the Winner” is the only metal song with a lyrical reference to the My So-Called Life TV show. This track even has a Beatles reference at the coda: they sing a couple of lines from “A Day in the Life” then end the song with that sustained piano note—one of the most famous final chords (of the most important Beatles song) in history, ending the Sgt. Pepper album. More to come in our forthcoming Harvey Milk episode!
Old Man Gloom, Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism (“Cinders of the Simian Psyche”), 2001
Arguably the most famous band on the Tortuga roster, OMG was birthed by Aaron Turner as a side project to Isis but grew into a supergroup with Santos Montano on drums, Converge’s Nate Newton on guitar, and Cave In’s Caleb Scofield on bass. Their sound is a melding of sludgecore, experimental electronics (something that Turner would expand on in his ambient/noise band, House of Low Culture), and doom rock. Their early lyrics and CD booklets talked about research on primates and the evolution and de-evolution therein. Though Isis called it quits, OMG just put out a new album last year, titled simply No—which, strangely enough, is their first non-Tortuga album; instead, it’s a straight-up Hydra Head release.
Special thanks to Aaron Turner for setting us straight about the Tortuga relationship. Long live Hydra Head!