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Hydra Head Pulls the Plug

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For those among us who think Aaron Turner shits gold, things have been rough lately.

On Tuesday, just two years after the breakup of his seminal post-metal band Isis, Turner penned a blog post to announce the “imminent demise” of the impossibly influential Hydra Head Records. According to the post, the label will stop releasing new albums by December, focusing thereafter on moving back catalogue “with the ultimate aim of repaying our rather sizable debts.”

It goes without saying that this news is bad – bad for the fan, bad for the musician, bad for the label owner. But it goes a hell of a lot deeper than the fact that somebody else will have to release the next Prurient record.

Hydra Head didn’t ascend the indie metal label tower so much as they built it on the way up. Turner founded the label in 1993 while he was still in high school, and before long he was releasing early albums by now-essential bands like Converge, Botch, Cave In, and Coalesce. He didn’t rest on his laurels, either, carrying the underground flag deep into the new millennium, continually raising the bar with modern masterpieces like Torche’s Meanderthal and Harvey Milk’s Life…the Best Game in Town. There is no idyllic golden age with Hydra Head. All 19 years matter.

Practically none of today’s relevant underground metal labels predate Hydra Head, and most of them were directly influenced by its integrity and its aesthetics. Heads of labels from Profound Lore to Translation Loss took to Twitter and Facebook after Turner’s announcement. They expressed their sadness, but more importantly, they expressed their gratitude. And rightly so – it’s not much of a stretch to say that without Hydra Head’s contributions, the world of underground metal would look a lot different today.

Whenever a beloved indie label goes under, fans rally behind the cause of legally purchasing music and lament the state of an industry that lets its beloved purveyors die so cruelly. This has happened and will continue to happen with Hydra Head, whose shit seemed as together as anybody’s in the chaotic world of underground metal.

We’ll grieve. We’ll miss Aaron Turner as a curatorial voice just as we miss his singing voice. We’ll move on, though, and if there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that metalheads new and old now have reason to revisit – and who knows, maybe even purchase – some of the great music that Hydra Head gave us over the years.

Godspeed.

— Brad Sanders

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