Earlier this week Hydra Head Records announced they were going out of business… kinda. I got sad—not because I was a huge fan of beard metal—because Hydra Head was a well-run label that spared no expense on their releases, supported their artists, and were cool people. I’m not copping out saying, “Hey man, they did a cool thing… if that’s your thing,” I’m just not that into slow music and weed.
One of the Hydra Head HQs was on Calumet Street on Mission Hill in Boston. I lived across the street, and there were like three hundred bands in the neighborhood. There were different “houses” based on genre and Hydra Head was the “metal house.” If I stopped by they’d give me promos of stuff that I might like. That was really nice of them. Maybe giving away limited vinyl to casual metal fans just because you love sharing is why they went out of business.
So thank you Hydra Head for doing that, because using your filtering process helped me avoid shitty fake-Neurosis bands and stuff that probably sounded like Bloodlet. Also, thanks for informing me that my neighbor was in Old Man Gloom and I’d probably like them, and lastly thanks for putting out Prurient records.
Hydra Head and Big Wheel Recreation were actually both based on the same street, less than 70 homes away, and Bridge Nine records was located a few streets up on the hill. I’m pretty sure there was some slowcore label in the neighborhood too, but that shit was way too boring to even acknowledge. So yeah, boo-hoo. I’m sad that all these labels that were on my street are gone, that I found some of my hair on my pillow, and that my metabolism isn’t as fast as it was as a 20-year-old vegan. Shit happens. I don’t want you to feel bad about my aging; I want you to mourn the loss of an influential indie label.
Rather than give you a history of the label, or talk to you more about shitty Mission Hill apartments, I’d like to point out something important. When Hydra Head started in 1993, Nu metal wasn’t a genre yet. Why is that important? Well… it was easy to detect Nu metal by the mid-90s. The bands had to have a DJ, at least one wigger, a gimmick-guy like Wes Borland, and a white person with dreads. “Old” metal people hated it when Metallica started the trend of hessians cutting their hair, and it got really bad when Nu metal took over. Suddenly you had a lot more piercings, tribal ink, and shaved heads.
Simultaneously, there was a rise of “thinking man’s metal,” a joke slogan on a Hydra Head T-shirt, but a pretty accurate one. These were metal heads that attended non-community colleges, loved Sleep as much as graphic design, and usually had short hair too. Things were getting weird, and as Hydra Head and founder Aaron Turner’s band Isis got more popular, metal continued to be… less metal. Hydra Head were instrumental in metal’s change from suburban parking lot soundtrack to beardo designer high-art.
This brings us to the present, a place where no one word can define a genre without some Pitchforker adding a descriptive noun and bumming me out. We now have so many fucking types of metal that again, it’s not really even metal because that’s not even a thing anymore. I know this because of a band on Hydra Head called Jesu. As you probably know Jesu is Justin Broadrick, his laptop, and sometimes a real live band. He’s the godfather of smart-guy (not girl, let’s be honest the genre is pretty much a men’s room) metal, so it’s fitting that he ended up on Hydra Head. He consistently garners great reviews that praise him for his cerebral approach to metal. Even in Godflesh he had a shaved head and wasn’t a hesher. I’m supposed to like Jesu because the music is a mix of Justin’s industrial metal roots, and shoegaze. I do like it, but I’m not an obsessive fan as most Jesu fans are. The reason for this is because they sound like the Deftones, and until music critics compare the Deftones to Slint or Red House Painters, or describe their music as, “evoking the feeling of depression through music, its melodies buried under so many oceans of impossibly slow sound” I can’t join the “amazing” train. Maybe if the Deftones ditched the DJ—who just plays “stuff” now—they’d be referred to “amazing” too, but they’re playing arenas and shit so they’re not sweating it I guess. Still, I don’t like that this sounds like Jesu, but “smart” people don’t like it. I don’t blame Hydra Head for metal snobbery, I’m just confused because both bands play heavy down-tuned music with some melodic undertones, and whispery vocals.
Maybe it’s because their name sucks, or that the majority of the band isn’t white, but the Deftones can’t get a fair shake. We can’t even blame their goatees as plenty of Pitchfork approved metal bands have them. Fuck, they even tried to make fun of Chino Moreno’s side project (I don’t know how to type the name because it’s just a bunch of crosses) with this jokey news blurb. Maybe they’ll be nicer when this drops. Until then, it’s a bummer that Hydra Head had to go, metal got too fucking weird, and selling vinyl in foil-stamped, die-cut, heavy stock album sleeves isn’t profitable after all.