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Like most legendary tastemaker labels, Hydra Head Records went through distinct eras where it both reflected and directly influenced the musical landscape it inhabited. Its late ‘90s/early ‘00s beginnings established the label as a leading home for the mathy, complex hardcore of the time, boasting genre leaders like Cave In and Botch. The mid-‘00s saw HHR contribute heavily to the “thinking man’s metal” sound unwittingly coined by labelhead (and frontman of post-metal kings Isis) Aaron Turner, with stellar releases by Pelican and Jesu. Before it went off the deep end in the years leading to its shuttering in 2012, HHR briefly trafficked in a brand of catchy, riffy metal that had more in common with the blues-oriented hard rock being snapped up by bit time conglomo-labels than the heady material of its earlier days. Torche’s 2008 masterpiece Meanderthal rightly gets most of the attention from this era, but that same summer a Boston act formed by members of Cave In, The Suicide File and Doomriders released its second full-length to decent reviews and then faded into obscurity.

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As with all albums in the Forgotten Gems series, Clouds’ playfully titled We Are Above You should have reached a wider audience. Hell, the quartet toured with Torche in the fall of 2008 (saw ‘em at the old Satyricon (RIP) in Portland. They slayed). The album has the loose feel of longtime friends getting together, messing around in the studio and laying down whatever they feel fits the mood. As such, We Are Above You mostly splits its time between two sounds: rollicking, off-kilter bar rock and fist (and booty)-shaking melodic punk. Both are exemplified in the sequence of “The Bad Seat” and “Heseinberg Says,” with the former’s stuttering, piano/banjo plinking ending in applause and cheers of “One more!” from an imaginary audience (likely just the dudes in the band) before the latter kicks in with a minute-and-a-half of breakneck hardcore complete with a surf rock breakdown and gang vocals. It’s skuzzy, it’s fun, and it boasts a mountain of hooks that dwarfs the noodly tower thing gracing the cover (Turner’s hand-drawn art was, shall we say, “abstract” during HHR’s late ‘00s era).

None of the band’s eclecticism should come as a surprise considering the members’ day jobs as detailed above. The sequencing of We Are Above You often plays out as if the listener is scrolling through the dial on the band’s collective radio station, picking out individual influences from their disparate backgrounds. There’s shades of bassist Johnny Northrup’s work with Octave Museum in “Glass House Glass Rocks,” with its subtle vocal harmonies recalling late-period Fugazi as much as 27’s laid-back indie rock. Other times, the sounds coalesce on the same song, like the almost-off-the-rails bursts of HxCx on “Motion of the Ocean” and “Horrorification.” Gotta be Guitarist Jim Carroll and drummer Q bringing The Suicide File and Doomriders to rehearsals. Or maybe it’s Adam McGrath contributing some salad days Cave In before they blasted off for the Kuiper Belt? Yep, Jupiter-era Cave In is here, too, in the tectonic chugga-chuggas and towering chorus on opener “Empires in Basements”. And everyone’s invited to the party on relentlessly catchy pop-metal-punk gems “Feed the Horse” and “Year Zero”. Both boast massive, gang vocal-powered earworms, the former supercharged by Q’s workmanlike four-on-the-floor while the latter crackles with his stop-start snare fills until it bursts apart, converting McGrath’s riffs into gamma ray pedal effects.

The proceedings reach such a clustered fever pitch that any further analysis is rendered moot and we just need to take We Are Above You for its creators’ intended purpose: as a way to blow off some steam between among the self-seriousness of Boston’s punk scene. Not all art – even that on a label often held in such high intellectual regard by its acolytes – needs to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes you just gotta let fun music be fun.

—Greg Majewski

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This article has been updated to correctly reflect that Johnny Northrup played bass.

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