Album Review: Hydra Vein - Unlamented
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Now here was an album I genuinely wasn’t expecting. Formed back in 1987 and only being a rather short lived band, Hydra Vein are amongst the more obscure outings of British thrash metal in the late 80s. However, with that said, Hydra Vein managed to churn out a handful of underrated releases through Rather Death Than False Of Faith and After The Dream. The band were soon broken up by the turn of 1990 however and for almost three decades that seemed to be it. Yet, in 2019, the band’s gears were at last rolling again and it appeared there was yet life to be found within Hydra Vein. Acquiring two new guitarists, a drummer and a new vocalist (original vocalist Mike Keen committed suicide in 2002 R.I.P) and Hydra Vein seemed to be back to it. Now, in 2022, the band look to return to the stage and bring back something that hasn’t been heard in a long time. I had no idea they were looking to release a new record so when I saw Unlamented crop up, I was plenty surprised. So, let’s take a look at what this album, and recently reformed band, are made of.
I imagine, owing to the small introductory track Hydra Vein present us with, many people may have preferred the band get us right on to the crux of things. However, I think it’s actually pretty important that they do give us that small snippet before the main record gets underway; for many this is their first exposure to Hydra Vein and also serves to ease audiences into the sound this thrash work will be delivering. As one will discover, Hydra Vein present a thrash aesthetic that isn’t completely founded in annihilation. The power and adrenaline is here but it’s not as if they’re looking to unfurl a slab of sound at all times herein; the guitar tone is dual in nature whereby you’ve got a traditional thrash attack that’s been undercut by a higher, piercing tone that certainly stands the band out from other thrash contemporaries we’ve seen this year. It manages to lend this album a genuine sense of the old school without obviously adhering to it so strongly that it feels like it’s leaning towards it as a crutch. Naturally, as per Hydra Vein’s age, this shouldn’t surprise anyone but it’s good to see they’re not looking to overly amplify their sound simply because many other bands look to do the same.
This falls in line with how the record has been produced as well. We’ve touched on how they utilise a guitar tone that lends their sound with a lighter and piercing sensibility, but you don’t really feel how different their thrash sound is compared to their contemporaries until you’re a few tracks in. Unlike most thrash acts this year, or these days overall, Hydra Vein have opted for a much more raw and less refined approach to songwriting and production. There’s nothing fluffy found here; there are no superlative elements winding through their sound. Other than what the band offer from their own vocal and instrumental capabilities, there is nothing else to back the band’s performance up nor is their soundscape beneficially bolstered by anything other than their specific, innate abilities. I think this record is going to have a few people taken aback, and they won’t know how to feel about it. It’s been a long time since I heard a thrash metal album go for a similar level of aggression albeit with such a light production to back it up. I admit it does take some getting used to and while I did end up enjoying it as well as any other thrash album, it is jarring initially.
It’s this pretty blunt and flat surface the album presents us with that gives their sound such an unusual and initially off-putting aesthetic. As you listen to this album you can’t help feeling like their sound has nothing behind it; no additional elements prop it up nor do the walls of their record have anything to help bounce their sound back. When a riff or drum strike sounds, there isn’t anything to suggest it’s coming back to us. It’s greatly evident through the vocal delivery too; there’s no fluff behind the vocal performance whatsoever. What you get on record feels to be precisely what was recorded in the studio and therefore suggests the mixing process was either very easy-going or was kept deliberately straightforward. I was able to coherently make out everything that was going on but, since the band appear to have gone in with no intentions of adding anything other than what they themselves could infer, I imagine the mix ended up with little difference as to what the band themselves managed to play together.
In an album pieced together and produced in the manner Unlamented has been, the bass is more important than ever. The general sound Hydra Vein present us with is one that’s very light yet still manages to deliver their strength albeit with less defined prevalence, but the existence of an ever-audible bass guitar is a secret blessing to the chemistry this album possesses. I think, had the bass not been as strong within the mix as it is, this record would have lost all connections with the ground and, therefore, lose audience’s attention owing to how it wouldn’t feel to be within any defined place for us to focus on. The bass may not be thrust in our faces, nor is the bass overly laced into the makeup of the songwriting or mix, but I’m thankful that it can at least be heard at all times throughout the record if only to give us some semblance of a rooted band that know to keep at least one foot to the earth.
In conclusion, what’s there to say regarding this album? I feel like Hydra Vein are onto the right idea, there’s nought wrong with a raw and less refined thrash act; often this can be a welcome change for fans to experience as it can be a trend for thrash albums to be extremely well produced; that longing for a primal performance is real. But I can’t help but feel like Hydra Vein’s power dissipates extremely quickly after the initial riff or segment of songwriting during whatever track they may be playing is done with; if someone were to ask me regarding my fondest memories of this album I’d honestly struggle to fathom anything considerable. I enjoy Hydra Vein, I believe their early output ranks highly amongst the more obscure British thrash metal of the time, yet I couldn’t help but feel like the production seriously hindered their performance, and the memorability of what they tried to attempt here. I think, as a one time listen, this album isn’t bad but, in the long run, if there is a shining positive to this record it’s in highlighting the existence of Hydra Vein as a band, pointing prospective fans towards their early studio releases. Overall, it’s good to see Hydra Vein back in the studio and are active once more although this record could have absolutely used more gusto behind its performance to help its clenched fist make a more decisive impact.