It is with a heavy heart and a great deal of sadness that we have come to the end of the line, the final new release from Hydra Head Records. The label announced earlier in the year that they would be closing shop for various reasons. The industry sucks, money sucks, and the bands they champion, for the most part, aren’t exactly ones that rack up gigantic sales. It’s just a perfect storm of badness that the world has lost one of the most vibrant, creative, unpredictable, and trustworthy sources of new music, and for that we should all be sad.
HHR has a point about the artists they sign. They’re not easy nuts to crack, and many of them probably serve that niche audience, a smaller group of people who want something more challenging than even what indie labels have to offer. Let’s not even discuss mainstream art, for fuck’s sake, because that’s beyond dead. But, as a music writer with tons of new records to review each year, so many of which sound exactly the same, it was always great to hear from HHR. They opened my eyes to band such as Bergraven, Nihill, Oxbow, the Austerity Program, Pelican, and Old Man Gloom, not to mention hugely important bands they helped break to the public such as Discordance Axis, Botch and Cave In.
After the announcement that they would fold their new music division, we got a few final releases from the likes of Mamiffer/Pyramids and Jodis, and now the record we’ll discuss today, the split album featuring JK Flesh and Prurient. But there also was some hopeful news floated on the label’s website just before this collection dropped. HHR is trying its best to live on in a new incarnation, one where they can still serve up reissued versions of older titles and provide copies of their entire catalog like they have all along. That way, although you might not be able to get a new HHR release from, say, Big Business, at least you still would be able to grab a hold of their older stuff. The label has a rehabilitation sale going on, and a link to that will be provided below, so if you care about the music Hydra Head has released since its inception and want to see them live on in some version, check out what they have to offer and buy a few things. There’s a lot of cool stuff to be had, and if you happen to have a lot of money burning a hole in your pocket, you can find some rare things you can’t just get anywhere, such as a test pressing of the whole HHR catalog.
Keep all that in mind, but we’re really here today to talk about “Worship Is the Cleansing of the Imagination,” a punchy little title and one that should hit cheeks particularly hard as we’re in the midst of the holiday season and the deadly, albeit imaginary, war on Christmas… The collection actually sums of perfectly the label’s assertion that they release music that doesn’t have widespread appeal. Both artists’ music can be a little tough to welcome and embrace for non-ambitious listeners — and let’s face it, that’s most people — and their penchant for heady, dream-state, ambient-style music eliminates them from Billboard glory. But for us who love and pay adulation to such styles of music, this is a perfect an ending for HHR imaginable.
JK Flesh is the latest name/project adopted by the great Justin Broadrick, who has made some of the most inventive and influential music in the so-called “extreme music” genre with Godflesh, Napalm Death, and Jesu, among others. His music always is full of heart and soul, and even when it’s grinding industrial gears and scraping across the landscape, it maintains a level of humanity and vulnerability that makes Broadrick’s music shine. The three songs he contributes to this split effort continue that trend, but he delves back into his Godfleshier days more so than he has in quite some time. It’s also stabbier and more violent than Broadrick has been in a while, and that’s a nice thing to hear from him.
“Fear of Flesh” is Broadrick’s first selection on the record, and it opens with steely beats, screamy, abrasive vocals, and a heavily industrial bend that feels like steel beams over your head sparking. Windy wooshes mix in with the mechanical madness eventually, and the song takes you into “Deceiver.” That track is full of noisy moans, haunting arrangements, and what seems like machines becoming self-aware and going off on humanity. “Obedient Automaton” wraps up Broadrick’s end of the deal with zapping synthesizers, layers of noise, minimal vocals buried underneath sound, and a penetrating outer layer that refuses to allow you to slip into total concentration.
JK Flesh is a cool amalgamation of all the things Broadrick does well, and it’s a little bit like a trip through his creative history. Also, if you like what you hear from Broadrick on this project, check out his other 2012 JK Flesh release “Posthuman,” that was released by Daymare and 3BY3. It doesn’t appear that this man is running low on his creative fuel, and I’m really interested to see where he takes this project next.
Prurient is the long-standing project by Ian Dominick Fernow, and if you can say you’ve collected every piece of his releases, then I congratulate you. That could not have been an easy endeavor as the amount of Prurient releases in nearly impossible to count. Fernow has released his music on a variety of labels, from Hospital to Important to Hydra Head, and he has so much creative energy, it’s mind boggling to imagine how he keeps this machine moving forward. In that sense (and in many others) he’s perfectly matched with Broadrick. Neither of these two men seem to take a break, and every time you turn your head, they’re dreaming up something new.
Fernow’s approach is spacier and more atmospheric. It’s a calming, soothing display that’s a nice come down from (or preparation for, depending which side you tackle first) Broadrick’s thornier work. Here you have a chance to mellow out and float away, such as on opener “Chosen Books,” a track that’s painted with crashing noises and plane propeller-like drone that soars into the sky. “Entering the Water” is a total trance out, with a steady bed of ambiance acting as the base and a swarm of noise that erupts over you, retreats, regroups, and blows in again. It’s easy to get caught up in the patterns and imagine underwater colonies and beings going about their daily business. “I Understand You” closes things out with a grimy top layer, and a cool, shimmery bottom end that lets you meditate and freak out at the same time.
Fernow’s work always perplexes and satisfies, and he adds some neat new clouds of gases here on his portion of “Worship Is the Cleansing of the Imagination.” Whether it’s here with Prurient, with any of his other projects, or even playing live keys with Cold Cave, Fernow is an artist who deserves your attention and intrigue. Even if only a handful of people in a crowd will get him, he’ll keep doing his best to come up with something even more adventurous than what preceded it.
I’d also like to thank Hydra Head Records not only for releasing great, challenging music that always kept me guessing but also for always being great to work with. There’s never been a request I made of them, either when I worked for The Daily News here in Pittsburgh or this site here, that went unattended. So major thank you to all of them. Good luck to everyone there, and I look forward to buying from them well into the future, even if it isn’t a brand new piece of music.
For more on JK Flesh, go here: http://justinkbroadrick.blogspot.com/
For more on Prurient, go here: http://prurient.bandcamp.com/
To check out HHR’s rehabilitation site sale, go here: http://www.realtomatoketchup.com/
To buy the split album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/hydrahead/categories.php?cPath=4
For more on the label, go here: http://www.hydrahead.com/