FeaturesSeptember 18, 20124,819 views

First of the Fallen: a Hydra Head Records Retrospective

We salute Hydra Head Records as they prepare to shut down for good.

By Scott Ustel
Hydra Head Records
Cave In. Jesu. Converge. Botch. Keelhaul. Gridlink. Harvey Milk. Torche. Knut. Discordance Axis. Boy Sets Fire. Coalesce. Soilent Green. Boris. Xasthur. Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Old Man Gloom. Mamiffer. Drowningman. Helm's Alee.

The list could go on and on taking up much of the bandwidth I have available to post this article, so my apologies to the artists and bands not mentioned in that first paragraph. We're here to celebrate the lifetime and musical contributions of Hydra Head Records. Although not completely defunct, the once luminous industry leading record label has decided to shut its door, selling only its back catalogue. No new music will come out of the Hydra Head camp so those of you who love your metal artsy, weird and genre bending might be on the look out for a new place to throw your money.

Maybe if we had all spent some more money with Hydra Head Records they could have maintained what seemed like an unbeatable strategy: quality music, quality design, quality releases. My heart broke this past September 11th, perhaps because it was already a day of mourning for the victims of the tragedy in New York City just over a decade ago already making it a heavy day for everyone. Probably for the same reasons it will remain infamous and inescapable as a day of epic sadness and tragedy. Ironically, its also my wife's birthday so I'm usually in a little bit of emotional turmoil.

This same date was when Lambgoat announced the end of Hydra Head Records and in retrospect it makes me wonder if it was chance or coincidence. Regardless it was a haunting reminder of the fact that all good things must come to their eventual end. I wish Aaron Turner and his cohorts, the many people who put together the albums of the unique roster of artists that made this label home, the very best. If it wasn't for them a good portion of the hardest years of my life would have been spent listening to countless hours of horrible commercialized radio rock instead of the modern day masterpieces they helped expose the ears of the masses too. Hydra Head helped keep me sane.

I can actually remember what drove me into the waiting arms of modern hardcore and metal. It was about 16 years ago, HHI couldn't have been around for more than a handful of years. I can't recall the exact first time I heard that crushing embrace of the chugging riffs, hardened and fierce; however, I do know it only took one listen to get under my skin. Soon the love of experimental metal wrapped itself around my mind just when I needed something to grab onto. It anchored me.

It was around this same time grunge was on its way out of the spotlight, many saying the movement died along with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Bands from that scene still play around now; Soundgarden just re-united as a matter of fact. But the day Kurt allegedly shot himself once again changed the way the world perceived the music industry. I was fifteen years old and it left a mark on me that can't ever be erased. I remember it like yesterday.

Without grunge I didn't really know what my alternatives were, but something had changed and the world seemed heavier than before. Maybe that's why the screaming, aching dissonance of Converge and Drowningman rang so true to my ears. I hated that garbage music on the radio, it pulled too many punches and it had no balls. You know the old adage, "no guts, no glory"? It may as well have been coined by the guys who ran Hydra Head industries (and Tortuga Records), putting out daring releases from day one. The first time I heard Converge and Drowningman, seminal bands that would help lay the foundation for the future generation of hardcore acts, I was hooked.

Like a dopamine rush to the cerebral cortex these brainy albums never ceased to amaze, and at the very worst they were at least artistically challenging. Mr. Turner and crew certainly understood the value of finding musicians who cared as much about the impact their records would have. People who seemingly understood that what they were doing was adding to the rich history of heavy metal, not just making a quick buck. They cared about releasing original and uncompromising albums, and you can hear this every time you dive into a record from the Hydra Head catalogue.

So from everyone here at Lambgoat we bid Hydra Head Industries a fond farewell, wishing them the best of luck in their efforts to pay down what must be staggering debts if they were enough to crush such a promising and unique label. This economy and the current lackluster state of the music industry were the central reasons given, things that are obvious and completely understandable. No on can fault the folks at Hydra Head for growing weary of an uphill battle. So the real questions now are selfish ones as we wonder "who's next?" and ask (in the immortal words of Axl Rose); "where do we go? oh, where do we go now?"

11 comments

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anonymous 9/19/2012 9:27:22 AM

The first thing that came to mind when I heard about them closing was wondering who would be the next to pick up the torch. Bands from the HH roster set the standard. Who'll be the next benchmark and breathe some life and excitement into old dudes like me? It's time for all of the false soulless stuff to make it's way out


anonymous 9/19/2012 11:39:30 AM

Good to see that Hydra Head meant so much to other people too. I was very bummed about this news and a pretty big eye opener on the state of the music industry.


buddy_ackerman 9/19/2012 12:13:11 PM

f*ck. Who's next?


anonymous 9/19/2012 1:09:41 PM

Torche hasn't been on HH for a while d00der


anonymous 9/19/2012 1:21:01 PM

I'd give them money just to keep them active.....it feels as if hope for genuine music has died.


AdamSuperfan 9/19/2012 3:56:56 PM

neither has converge or ANb, but it's all about the alumni!


anonymous 9/21/2012 4:48:48 AM

This is so poorly written that it's practically a slap in the face to an amazing record label. -Ryan Claudon


anonymous 9/22/2012 5:30:45 PM

Great article Garren. .colinarahj


mummified_circuitry 9/28/2012 3:35:43 AM

Comparing 9/11 to the loss of hydrahead... you really are f*cking stupid


the_smile_that_kills 9/30/2012 10:26:10 AM

it wasn't a comparison at all....i was noting how it what was a strange and already notoriously infamous date for such an announcement. the point i was trying to make was that many people were already emotional on that day. that it was already a day of tremendous loss. it was more about the fact that this clearly isn't anywhere near as tragic a deal as the loss of human lives but it is still a tragedy none the less.


anonymous 4/26/2013 12:43:02 AM

f*ck Hydrahead! How does a record label that has never payed their bands go broke??? HMM I wonder! Maybe it has all caught up with them. You cannot expect to take coff coff Cave In's Music, for year sell it, make thousands of it and say here guys, hereS 200 records to sell at shows for payment. lol oh ya plus we forgot to tell you the we had all your music exported and released in japan, with out you knowing. Karma is a bitch Aaron!!