Frontier Psychiatrist

A Heavy Ending: The Demise of Hydra Head Records

Posted on: September 12, 2012

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As you well know, we love a great axe-man. A long running theme in our coverage this year is the rise in support for acts with huge guitar sounds. Though, in many ways, this has been a very rough year for the intelligent and progressive metal world. First, High on Fire and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike cancelled their extensive summer tour and checked into rehab following his strongest release in years. Next, the tour bus of rising southern metal lords Baroness fell 30 ft from a viaduct near Bath, England, not a month after their newest Yellow and Green hit #30 on the Billboard 200. Most recently, the Los Angeles metal institution Hydra Head Records announced they will no longer be releasing music.

Founded in 1993 in New Mexico by to-be Isis frontman, then high school student Aaron Turner, Hydra Head Records blazed a significant trail of darkness, doom, sludge and heavy across the music industry. Despite their challenging (“i.e. unmarketable” writes Turner) artists and art, Hydra Head has influenced and inspired open-minded metalheads for a generation. The demise of Hydra Head is a serious blow to the world of the heavy, and yet another sign that the industry of old can no longer survive. On the plus side, we’re left with a staggering discography of at least a decade’s worth the best metal around. The upcoming fire sale will be an exciting one to watch, as we’re sure to see some very exciting releases and rereleases.

To commemorate the influence of Hydra Head Records, below are five of our all-time favorites.

Sunn O))) – øø Void (2000)

If this list wasn’t organized chronologically, Sunn O))) wouldn’t top it. That’s not meant as a slight, it’s just hard to introduce a series on great albums with an hour long piece of ‘drone metal’ by a band with parentheses in their name. But great it is. Not much can be said about this record other than get loose, turn it up and let it play.

Botch – An Anthology of Dead Ends (2002)

If there’s ever been a worse genre tag than ‘math rock,’ it’s ‘mathcore.’ Mathletes or not, Botch are a supremely impressive band, known for their crushing breakdowns as well as their time-signature wizardry. Their last release before splitting and forming other excellent bands like Minus the Bear and These Arms Are Snakes, An Anthology of Dead Ends is a whirlwind world tour through the best technical hardcore has to offer.


Pelican – The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (2005)

Pelican are a band of literal and figurative peaks and valleys. Their huge pieces aim to parallel the power and inevitability of nature, as grand in scope as the National Parks System. The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw finds the Chicago instrumental power post-rock foursome at their most literal and glacial with songs such as “Last Day of Winter”, “Autumn Into Summer” and “March Into the Sea” hovering around the 10 minute mark. Despite the instrumental form, this is one of the most accessible post-rock records ever, and an excellent gateway into the dark, heavy and long.


Torche – Meanderthal (2008)

Torche are the closest thing to pop you’re going to find on Hydra Head. While their newest Harmonicraft is holding influence in the blogosphere, Meanderthal showcases the band at their tightest and most fun. If only all metal could be summed up in the form of crude cartoons.


Isis – Wavering Radiant (2009)

The final album from Turner’s own band, Wavering Radiant is the least intrusive and most complete release from Isis. If metal is a spectrum, Isis sits somewhere between Sleep and Tool, incorporating doom breakdowns alongside moments of technical and groovy psychedelia. And it’s also about the ideas of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, so obviously we’re going to dig it.



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