Isis, Torche and more...
Appearing with their startling debut EP—a record that given half the chance will scar your psyche, irreparably—and disappearing without a trace after its release, Mare is possibly the most overlooked band on Hydra Head’s roster. And all we have left to remember this Canadian band by is the oppressive presence that remains forever incarcerated in their sole recording—Mare. Aspects of drone, doom, avant-garde experimentalism, hardcore, sludge, and jazz, all find a padded cell of their own on this EP. Such genre spanning may sound quite scatter-shot. However, in the hands of Mare these disparaging influences are mauled and drained of all individuality to form a discordant, cohesive whole. Mixing clean vocals and harsh screams is an all too familiar part of metal these days, but the vocals of guitarist Tyler Semrick-Palmateer—who favours an angelic, meticulously layered croon and the most harrowing scream you are ever likely to hear—are extremely unique in delivery and intent. This record is built upon uncomfortable tension, and it takes patience, persistence, and dedication from the listener to reveal its true intention—and even then this EP remains austere and unforgiving. But such is its appeal, and for those willing to sacrifice themselves to the sounds of Mare, eventually, you shall be rewarded tenfold. Innovation never sounded so enervating.—DB
Recorded over a three-year period (2001 to 2004), Sun Baked Snow Cave is an under-appreciated collaborative masterpiece from two titans of Japanese experimentalism. With noise maestro Masami Akita (AKA Merzbow) on computers, and Boris member Atsuo playing the role of feedback conductor (along with Boris bandmates Takeshi and Wata on guitar and bass), the album consists of a single 62-minute tune. Described perfectly by the artists involved as, “The roar of a (gigantic) wheel as it turns uncontrollably,” and “A boom like a chorus of thousands of cicadas heard under the sun,” Sun Baked Snow Cave begins with 15 minutes of acoustic minimalism followed by 35 or so minutes of ceaselessly battering noise, which is in turn followed by a more sedate outro. Sounds simple enough, but oh what a tangled maelstrom Merzbow and Boris weave. The wall of noise at the heart of the album grows and expands till it is an impenetrable roar of bruising reverberations. Sombre, yet strangely comforting, what begins as a hazy drone crackling with feedback becomes a hiss- and reverb-soaked purge that you want to burrow into. Admittedly, it’s all an acquired taste, but then, so many of Hydra Head’s very best releases are.—CH
An unholy roar amplified beyond belief drowns all in sundry with tidal waves of highly distorted, sludgy riffs that ebb and flow with paralysing frequency. This can only mean that Hesperus—the third full-length by instrumental ear perforators 5ive—is pouring Kyussian fuzz grooves straight out of the speakers. For the unknowing, you would swear that this band is comprised of five guitarists, all of whom cranked volume up to earth-shaking levels, but the gargantuan, roaming riffs and Bill Ward-esque orchestral beats are the creation of two musicians: Ben Carr (guitar/bass) and Charlie Harrold (drums). Hesperus was released in 2008 by Hydra Head’s imprint Tortuga and saw the duo working within self imposed song-writing confines for the first time. The opening trifecta of aquatic miasma: “Gulls”, “Big Sea” and “Kettle Cove” all churn and capsize at will, but the groove always re-emerges; slowly crawling from the spray on the incremental dissolve of “Polar 78” and relentlessly flowing through the remaining two tracks “News I” and “News II”. Batten down the hatches, Hesperus takes the frail of heart overboard and buries them beneath the ocean’s floor. This record is an iridescent jewel in Hydra Head’s treasure trove of artistic triumphs.—DB
The Inalienable Dreamless is the third and final album from pioneering grindcore trio Discordance Axis. Undoubtedly one of the most mis-shelved CDs ever released due to its rather beautiful DVD case and design (Hydra Head has always ensured its roster has been artfully presented), it comprises 17 songs spread over 23 minutes of spasmodic, dissonant and relentlessly meteoric grind. Guitarist Rob Marton provides the technical thrills, with his intricate riffs arriving in a shred-storm of atonality. Jon Chang’s lyrics, and his shrieked, grunted and growled vocals, are admirably demented, perfectly matching the sonic tone. Combine all that with drummer Dave Witte’s quasi-robotic and insanely dexterous fills, and you have an unhinged, incendiary and unrelenting blast of intelligent grindcore that hasn’t aged a day. The Inalienable Dreamless has a math-like precision à la Dillinger Escape Plan wrapped about the brute pummel of Nasum (though keep in mind that Discordance Axis predates both). It’s the perfect mix of gristle and steel. Abrasive as hell, it’s a legendary extreme metal release, but aside from its impact on the grind, avant-garde and noise scenes, its best feature is that, 12 years on from its release, you can put it on and still find flickers of nuance you’d never noticed before.—CH
Torche’s self-titled debut was a sugary pop gem coated in sludge metal and created by past members of heavy-hitters Cavity and Floor. Steve Brooke’s glowing vocal harmonies contrasted yet complimented the sequoia-thick grooves that he, Juan Montoya (guitar), Jonathan Nuñez (bass), and Rick Smith (drums) cut down and rolled out. Torche‘s pop sensibilities—within the context of stentorian metal—really distinguished the band from the rest of the sludge herd, and its uniqueness perked the ears of Hydra Head who shrewdly signed the band. Torche, aided by the production skills of Kurt Ballou, repaid Hydra Head’s enthusiasm by refining their immediately addictive sound and truly crafting harmony on Meanderthal. This record is jammed to the gills with memorable tunes that are fully realized and free of excess—just a rollercoaster ride of hulking sludge, Brian Wilson-esque vocal charm, ‘90s alternative rock, skate-punk and some stoner-breeze, all which is in a constant free-fall for 36 minutes, without any tedious inclines. Fun is not an adjective usually thrown around when describing metal, but it is hard to hold in a smile while listening to this caffeine bomb for the ears. Meanderthal has received critical acclaim for a reason; bask in the colorful glow of the Torche rainbow!—DB
Oceanic Remixes/Reinterpretations is a compilation of tracks lifted from Isis’s 2002 album Oceanic. Originally released on a series of four vinyl EPs on label Robotic Empire, the tracks were gathered by Hydra Head (as well as an additional number from Tim Hecker) for a two-disc CD release in 2005. Featuring contributions from Fennesz, JK Broadrick, James Plotkin, Thomas Köner, Venetian Snares and others, the album explored Isis’s more atmospheric side, via artists attuned to notably abstract investigations and re-imaginings. Reactions to the album have been mixed, but naysayers be damned, because Oceanic Remixes/Reinterpretations works extremely well as a companion piece to the excellent Oceanic, or as an album on its own. If gazing upon ambient horizons while electronic glitches, sci-fi swirls, loops, vocal tricks and techno blips soundtrack the vista isn’t your thing, look elsewhere. It’s undeniable the album had an effect on Isis’s future recordings (although the band was hardly a stranger to tinkering with moodier frequencies). Wonderfully gritty percussion and guitar are still to be found, particularly on the outstanding final track “HYM”, where JK Broadricks’ Godfleshian chug ends things on an incredibly powerful note. But ultimately, Oceanic Remixes/Reinterpretations is really just a magnificent example of why Hydra Head is renowned for being forward-thinking.—CH