In case you missed it, earlier this week Hydra Head Records, the label founded by Isis’ Aaron Turner, announced that it was closing its doors due to the strains of debts accrued over the years. Definitely a huge blow, Hydra Head’s absence will be felt for years, having released so many pivotal records since its foundation, whether it’s some pretty essential hardcore records in the 90s, experimental black metal or gorgeous post rock, Hydra Head has always kept things interesting. With so much to choose from, it’s very difficult to pick out five of my favourite records releases by Hydra Head but I had a go at it. There’ll be some glaring omissions, like Khanate’s Clean Hands Go Foul or Botch’s We Are The Romans, but I was very strict about keeping this at five otherwise it could go on and on and on. That and I could go into the lesser known (or less discussed) releases like the In These Black Days 7”s or Corrin’s Despair Rides on Angel Wings or the Boysetsfire/Coalesce split… you get the idea. So, now that I’ve got all the mandatory honorary mentions out of the way, here’s the list. It’s in absolutely no order whatsoever.
Isis – Celestial
Isis and Hydra Head are synonymous in many ways because of Aaron Turner but Celestial is the only album released by Hydra Head, and that was only in Europe too. However, prior to that, Hydra Head and one-time imprint Tortuga released the band’s demos and EPs, really bringing the band to our awareness. Celestial may not be Isis’ finest record but it’s an important album in the sense that it laid the groundwork for wonders to come. While the band would become more and more experimental and melodic with their sound in subsequent albums, Celestial portrays a band on the cusp of something brilliant that would be realised with second full-length effort Oceanic.
Discordance Axis – The Inalienable Dreamless
The Inalienable Dreamless is regularly featured on these kinds of lists if it’s looking at some of the best grindcore albums – and for good reason. Discordance Axis’ final record is that good. It would be the band’s swansong record in 2001 and most definitely is the sound of the three-piece going out in blaze of rotting glory. The Inalienable Dreamlessis 23 minutes of near-faultless grind.
Mare – Mare EP
Recently Mare reunited. However, prior to that they were remembered for just one thing – this self-tilted EP from 2004, because it is their lone release and was to be their epitaph when calling it a day (officially) in 2007. Short lived and ephemeral doesn’t come close to describing it. It’s remarkable that a band could make such an impact with this short four track EP, so much so that it would be looked on as a benchmark release for Hydra Head by some. This Toronto band crafted a searing massacre of discordant sludgecore and unnerving melodies with this self-titled, and it was well before its time.
Jesu – Conqueror
I’ve made no secret of my fanboyism for one Mr. Justin K. Broadrick so unsurprisingly; a Jesu album finds its way onto this list. Conqueror is one of Broadrick’s finest moments under the Jesu moniker. It’s eerie droning shoegaze-inflected metal with heavy poignant atmospheres, all the while still being crushingly heavy, tipping its hat slightly to the spectre of Godflesh, shown straight away by the opening riff of the title track. But it’s Broadrick’s ghostly clean vocals buried deep in the mix that really make this record so hauntingly atmospheric. Jesu at its finest.
Pelican – Untitled EP
Somewhat similar to Isis’ Celestial, Pelican’s Untitled EP was an introductory exercise. They would eventually leave Hydra Head and find a home with Southern Lord but the first couple of Pelican records are all pretty stunning and this EP is the band at some of their heaviest best, from the imposing opening riffs of ‘Pulse’ through the appropriately titled ‘Mammoth’ eventually concluding with the massive 12 minute ‘The Woods’.
Obviously not to everyone’s liking, so please sound off in the comment section below on what your favourite Hydra Head releases are.