Words by Ricky
These ‘Label Me’ segments are a blast to write…plus they give me the chance to revisit a ton of favorite tunes from some favorite labels–some of which I forgot about. I’ll do my best to keep’em comin’ more frequently in 2013—I promise.
Last September 11th, the heads at Hydra Head Records announced the “immediate demise” of the label—as if that day wasn’t enough of a bummer. Don’t worry—they’re not closing the doors completely; they already started perpetuating their existing catalog via a rehabilitation project called “Hydra Health.” They’ll reissue classic albums, offer test pressings, and even cop out an ISIS guitar or two. They need the money to keep things going…that’s when you and your wallet come in! Read on.
I grew up addicted to punk and indie rock but never ventured TOO far into intimidating metal territory. Sure, everyone lusts for a sexy Sabbath riff here and there, and sure, the darkened abyss of metal subgenres paves the way for years of kickass discovery. So there’s nothing wrong with the genre itself—I’m just not obsessed. Maybe with age I’ll develop a taste for black gothy band t-shirts, weird chin beards, Jackson 7-string guitars, and eventually become “that guy.” Let’s hope not. Anyways, oh yes, Hydra Head Records!
For almost 20 years, Hydra Head not only proved a reliable source within the mathcore/punk/hardcore/noise community, but, much like ordering a rubbery steak at Ritter’s Diner and being handed a juicy cut of Kobe beef instead, they continually supplied better music than we, the fans, deserved.
Boobs, sports, the occasional secret beer, and sneaking into R-rated movies are the primal concerns of most American teenage boys—not Aaron Turner (at least not for this blog entry). In 1993—his junior year of high school—he conceived Hydra Head as a distribution company (hell, I didn’t even know what a distributor was in high school). By ‘95 Turner released singles by groups I won’t name, because you’ve probably never heard of them. Soon, now-familiar names like Converge, Cave In, Neurosis, and others exploded both teenagers’ minds AND their cheap-ass plastic Pioneer sound systems thanks to Turner.
Turner eventually graduated university and used a pristine college degree to enter law school…nah, just kidding…he promoted himself to fulltime status at his own label. Another employee or two was soon added, since Turner rocked full time in the label’s flagship band Isis, and the label zigzagged through tasteful-as-hell punk and metal releases one by one.
From the oh-so-screamy emo of Cable, to the scary black metal of Xasthur, to Lustmord’s weird ambience, the label took risks. Along with label peers at Southern Lord and Relapse, Hyrdra Head led the way in showcasing the brevity and progressiveness of noisy underground music. More recently, despite a creative output like noise artist Prurient, genre-swappers Oxbow, and atmospheric rockers Pyramids, the label sunk into more and more debt, thus halting the release of new material.
I included some links below with more info on ways you can support the label and purchase some really cool goodies. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of my personal favorite Hydra Head offerings, along with each album’s cold cover. It goes without saying that the bass volume on your laptop speakers shouldn’t be maxed out.
Piebald, When Life Hands You Lemons (1997)
Back in high school I caught Piebald open for Jimmy Eat World and they played the “HEY, YOU’RE PART OF IT,” song. Don’t lie to yourself—that tune still rules. Years later I took a gander at their back catalog and, wow, this little gem-of-a-first-album is MUCH better than their later poppier works.
Drowningman, Busy Signal at the Suicide Hotline (1998)
This Vermont-based band walked the line of incredible (their earlier albums) and dumb (their later stuff—after multiple lineup changes). Singer Simon Brody sounds like a lunatic here—and the songs are top-notch hardcore epics.
Sunn O))), The Grimmrobe Demos (1999)
Surviving a doomy Sunn O))) concert ensures that the band’s recording repertoire will now probably feel a bit pointless afterwards—unless an arena-size PA system, a box of sinister black robes, and a closet full of fog machines all hide somewhere in your house for you to recreate. Like the buzz of a dozen harmonic chainsaws, this batch of demos causes both insanity and that natural high you’ve been craving all week.
Pelican, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (2005)
If your neighbor’s attic-practicing post-rock band purchased a few BOSS Metal Zone f/x pedals, tuned their guitars down a few murky half steps, and mastered, I mean MASTERED their instruments, they’d be Pelican. An extremely underrated post-everything band …charming album title too.
Big Business, Here Come the Waterworks (2007)
This sludgy trio exist as their own entity, but they also make (or at least they made) up a big chunk of The Melvins (King Buzzo’s stomach being the other chunk). As scarce as it is, it’s OK to have a sense of humor in the metal world—though you certainly can’t tell from that album cover.
Jesu, Conqueror (2007)
The breakup of industrial rockers Godflesh paved the way for guitarist Justin Broadrick’s (in my opinion) best project. Conqueror, Jesu’s 2nd album, is the slower, more-daunting, and bleaker (yet somehow joyful) recording that every shoegaze band (think Ride, The Lilys, Catherine Wheel) tried to make, but never fully succeeded.
Harvey Milk, Life…The Best Game in Town (2008)
When Hollywood announced a Sean Penn film titled Milk, I thought, “how’s a lousy actor like Sean Penn going to play all four members of Harvey Milk?” Gus Van Sant probably thought so too, so he insisted on a script re-write to chronicle the OTHER HM instead. Oh Hollywood. This album chalked in at #55 on my obligatory Pitchfork People’s List last year…but on second thought it deserved a higher spot—unless that spot went to Courtesy And Good Will Toward Men—another HM classic. The band expressed disappointment in this album after its release, but they’re wrong. Oh, and if you’re for a late-Birthday present for me, look no further:
Torche, Meanderthal (2008)
Torche is a power-pop band with a case of heavy-metal-personality-disorder. Their rocked-out melodies place them far from the dick-measuring macho persona associated with so many metal guys. After checking this album out, seek out their new album, Harmonicraft–it was one of the best of 2012.
Daughters, Daughters (2010)
As if some corrosive army of dense electric guitars beat your face in with a baseball bat for eight tracks, this album hurts sooooo good. Modern-day computer speakers aren’t designed to spew this kind rage, but if you’re a noise rock fan (or you love the sound of 80 different things happening at the same time), then this album’s for you. The time signatures flip-flop more than a 2012 Mitt Romney policy speech…OUTDATED JOKE…BA’AM.