“One of the defining traits of many Hydra Head releases would be the marriage between the ugly and the beautiful, the dissonant and the melodic,” says former ISIS frontman Aaron Turner, a co-founder of the label alongside Mark Thompson. “This kind of synthesis is apparent through many of our artists regardless of genre, perhaps at times in spite of it.”
In other words, there’s more to Hydra Head than a battering ram blend of molten melodies, charred chords and roundhouse rhythm sections, from the sun-bleached shoegaze of Jesu (the post-Godflesh project of Justin Broadrick) to the woozy waking dreams of Turner’s own subterranean trio Jodis, which is set to release a new record (Black Curtain) this fall. In an eMusic exclusive, we’re offering the first taste of the latter down below, right alongside the long-awaited return of Old Man Gloom, a supergroup that features Turner and key members of Converge, Cave In and Zozobra.
But that’s not all. Since Hydra Head’s roots reach as far back as Turner’s high school days — nearly two decades ago — we asked the ever-evolving singer/multi-instrumentalist to give us the back story on 20 essential releases.
It's hard for music to be fun, quirky and heavy at the same time without sounding trite or insubstantial. Somehow Big Business managed to accomplish that synthesis to great effect. The initial draw to working with them was Jared's voice, something that captivated me from the first time I heard his prior band Karp. While the other elements of the band are great, it's always been that voice — the heart of their thunder machine.
Boris with Merzbow
One of many collaborations between these two sonic adventurers, but perhaps my favorite, and not just because we released it. This album straddles the line between noise and music, a song and that which exists outside of it, and therein lies its allure. It constantly shifts, its full scope always elusive, its exact nature never truly revealed. This is music that conveys meaning and action without ever become as fully active as the bombastic work these two entities are known for. Beautiful restraint...
Holy shit, do I love Botch. I was and remain to this day a total fanboy of this band. They ruled live as well as on record, and there are few in the realm of hardcore (though that's a limiting classification for them), that have come close to the heights that Botch did here. I still rue the fact that they didn't live long enough to make another album, but this one alone is worth more than a whole crate full of records.
Perhaps the quintessential Hydra Head album in my eyes — heavy, heady, melodic, inspiring and groundbreaking. The sing/scream and mosh/shoegaze dichotomy has since become a bad joke, but the way it was handled here, long before that template became formulaic, is simply stunning. This album marked the rise of Cave In and perhaps the label as well.
Another true classic from our catalog. Grindcore has often suffered from a lack of personality, with every band bleeding into the shapeless mass of the herd, and no album with truly distinct or memorable songs. DA defied that convention by writing music that was faster and more furious than any of that concocted by their contemporaries and did so with true artistry that made them utterly unique. I've yet to hear anyone that's done it better than they did here.
I'm a sucker for bleak music, something at which Harvey Milk excel. This is them at their peak, and I love it. So downtrodden it's almost comic, but in a really inspiring and heartening way. Compellingly subtle and smart for something so relentlessly heavy. The most oddly appropriate summer album for those that don't care to revel in mindless fun and sunshine.
I never imagined a band or an album where my love of '90s "alternative" would be so gloriously married with the noise rock and hardcore loves of my later teen years. Helms managed to create that blend while also sounding thoroughly contemporary and relevant. If there is one singular voice to be heard that speaks of the heavy music heritage of the Great Northwest, Helms Alee is it.
Crushing and beautifully haunting at the same time. This is a formula since repeated by many, but never perfected to this extent. It turned out to be exactly what I'd hoped it would: an extension of Godflesh with a step into completely new and heartbreaking territory. One of 10 or so truly classic albums we've had the honor of releasing.
Another one that's hard for me to be objective about since I was a participant in its creation. That said, this is still one of my favorite records of which I've been a part, and perhaps one of the most emotionally revealing as well. That level of vulnerability scared the shit out of me, but also rendered some of the most satisfying results.
Talk about tension. This is the sound of a band collapsing in the most frightening and fiery way imaginable. Their collapse was a perpetual one it seemed — notes decaying into dank nothingness, despair echoing from every bottomless pit, songs seemingly an endless end to something. Many bands try to be scary; Khanate did it effortlessly just by being themselves.
Another pioneering artist we somehow made a connection with. This was another great pairing for us I think — Lustmord was working in a territory we would later inhabit, but long before the label was born. Lustmord excels at creating a very real and immersive soundworld, at the heart of which lies an uncanny ability to wield atmosphere as a structural tool and defining element within the music.
More music for sad people who've grown tired of listening to singers, especially those with nothing to say. It's hard for me to objectively talk about this record since I played on it, and because it was part of what led me to getting married to Mamiffer band leader Faith Coloccia. Needless to say it's significant for me on multiple levels, and one of the most potently atmospheric records I can think of from our catalog or any other.
Yet again we stumbled on a band that seamlessly combined various strains of music that I had enjoyed only separately up until then; in this case black metal and what could loosely be described as dark ambient. Had I dreamt of what a collaboration between Deathspell Omega and Lustmord might've sounded like, I think the resultant sounds would've been similar to this. I think compellingly bleak might be the right phrase here...
There is no adequate description for Oxbow...What do they sound like? I'm still really at a loss for words. The best rock band you've never heard that isn't really a rock band. A tragic love story told in a series of shouts, whimpers and thunderous blasts, all wrapped up in silvery strands of feedback. The memory of something painful that somehow brings joyful tears to your eyes. This is a band that would rule the world if the world had any sense at all.
This album could serve as a signifier of what is now hailed/derided as "post-metal". I'm still not sure exactly what that means, but Pelican were part of what is now a recognizable movement, and certainly at the forefront of its development. I think people were sick of hearing vocalists for a time, and this music dispensed with the need for one entirely.
One of the defining traits of many Hydra Head releases would be the marriage between the ugly and the beautiful, the dissonant and the melodic. This kind of synthesis is apparent through many of our artists regardless of genre, perhaps at times in spite of it. This album represents a really bold step for Prurient along those lines — tempering the fury of his sound with a more restrained, nuanced, but still unsettling approach.
Pyramids with Nadja
Not as high profile as some of our other releases perhaps, but one of our most important artistically I think. This encompasses everything I hoped to find in the music of the artists we work with — it's hard to define and even harder to classify, emotionally and sonically heavy, challenging yet inviting, diverse but cohesive, mysterious and unique...I hope this will be one of those records that continues to be uncovered by more and more listeners as it ages.
The Austerity Program
One note — endless possibilities. This is a perfectly crafted exploration of one idea cast in different shades and variations, all with a deft hand and pummeling force. It is completely fierce and primal while also being refined and completely focused. The level of frenzy this one reaches at its points of apex get me every time; it's almost like I'm excited for the moment when it completely derails, but that moment never comes.
Anthemic in the truest sense of the word. I can't help but headbang to this one and smile at the same time. Pop and metal have often proved to be horrible companions, but Torche certainly show otherwise here. This somehow brought together my love of early '90s pop punk and the most steamrolling chapters from the Melvins songbook into one new lumbering, shiny beast.
It seems we have a knack for coming together with artists at transitional points in their careers, and this album is another example of that. Coming from the shadows of the black metal underground, Xasthur/Malefic wanted to open his music up to more people and expand beyond the confines of his earlier releases. While this album bears the more brutal marks of Xasthur's earlier work, it also shows the first signs of the more organic and truly oddball sound of the later era. Dark is an understatement.