4 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head
Producer: The Austerity Program
So let’s say I TOTALLY get this nowadays, but I can equally understand why this was one of the first records that made me have doubts about Hydra Head. ‘Cause I stumbled onto the label via Cave In, and then I found Botch and Keelhaul and Pelican, and so I just assumed that all of the output was going to be some heavy, heavy shit with either speaker rattling sturm and drang or jaw-dropping blistering riffage, or some kinda punky hardcorey combo of the two. But Austerity Program – as the Allmusic Review of their Black Madonna album mentions – is totes 90s Touch and Go sludge. This is another Distorted Pony record with drastically better production values, and though the guitar and bass just drill away on top of a pretty worn out drum machine, the understandable half-sung half-shouted vocals didn’t get with what I imagined post-metal (or whatever) was supposed to sound like. It wasn’t ‘harsh’ enough, and I didn’t get it.
Man, I was dumb.
Some years later and I own a wider range of HH stuff, along with searching out ninety other styles of music, and I come back to Austerity Program and from the opening SLAM of staccato playing against the mechanical backbone of those drums, I knew this was going to be a win. 4 tracks, 8 minutes each, understandable, passionate lyrics that are just vile and straight-forward enough to get you to sneer but not so fuck-laden that you’re rolling your eyes. Yes, sometimes the drum programming just isn’t quite organic enough and there’s an extra cymbal clash that I’m sure sounded right in theory but just mashes up against the instruments, making it sound sloppy at points where the milliseconds before and after are pure contemplated thrash noise. And sure, you’d be forgiven for getting some of the tracks confused – the band does have a very distinct chugga-chugga sound and falls back on a particular marching beat playing style for bars at a time, but its so rich and aggressive you won’t mind.
I do think – I thought that first time around as well – that the sequencing is off. I get the desire to use ‘Song 8’ as an opener, with its long intro building to a push and pull of quiet and loud dynamics, but it never quite explodes the way an intro should and stretches into feedback noise for too long at the end. This would’ve been a better penultimate track with one of the middle two songs – ‘Song 4,’ ‘Song 3’ – a bit more concise expressions of The AP sound. But the last track is all the kinds of massive death explosions you want in a closer.
All in all, this is really the kind of thing you could only get on Hydra Head during the 00s. It would’ve been embarrassingly too uncool fuck-off for the Touch and Go of the time. So thank the gods for the embracers of the experimental, Aaron Turner and gang. (Yes, as of this writing the label is sort of defunct… but… like… thanks to the gods of the past…?)