Norwich metal quintet, Hedra, formed in 2014 as a studio project of Jim Marten (vocals) and Kamil Korsak (guitar) and endured the usual struggles of keeping a band together with a revolving cast of drummers and bassists until the end of 2020. Maybe the lockdown made it easier to find musicians with a greater desperation for the cause, but the five that recorded this EP converged on an instant understanding of what they wanted – the darker and heavier forms of grunge; the groove of early nu metal; the soundscapes of prog metal. Indeed, The Pecking Order sounds like the best bits from the metal artists that invaded the mainstream in the 1990s on their own terms.
Subtlety is not something Hedra employ on opener, ‘Jackdaw’, which uses the exact syncopation and chords as Korn’s ‘Blind’ and updates them with the modern double-kick accents and crunchier rhythms we hear in mainstream metalcore. Jim Marten’s husky vocals command the microphone with a heroic strain reminiscent of the grunge greats. Already, your mind will conjure images of a bright red installation room interspersed with flashes of five short-haired men thrashing at their instruments on the factory floor next door. The bridge to the chorus presents the classic 1990s shot of the singer exhaling his words from an empty water tank with his palms pressed against the glass. This is Tool in the Undertow era but with heavier riffs and less abstraction.
Music that invites you to create pictures in your mind must be doing something right. ‘Stolen’ is the existential favourite of the suited man attempting to ascend the downstairs escalator with briefcase in hand and no shortage of perplexity as to why nobody bothers to observe his struggles. Hedra make the best use of their drop-A guitar tunings on this and ‘Suchi’ when you think they’ll slip into the major chord rock of the dross that passes for grunge these days. The latter is what Alice in Chains might have sounded like if they made one last record with Layne Staley before his death in 2002 at the height of the nu metal challenge. Hedra never lose sight of a strong chorus or an opportunity to crystalise the words into a haunting dual-vocal harmony, yet they also remember to pack their guitar riffs with steel.
Post-grunge would be more respectable if its modern progenitors sounded like Hedra on ‘Avis Mogi’ with a dose of Katatonia melancholy. Listen how one guitar plays in clean mode and the other scrapes on the distorted strings with faint feedback noises emanating from the pick-ups. You could float along to this as if experiencing the brilliance of a Tesseract show with one ear on the drop-tuned riffs and the other focused on the sophistication of the vocal delivery. How ironic that the weakest composition is the one that draws the most from the modern Devin Townsend catalogue. ‘Head Held High’ dwells too long in an inconsequential tempo of slow ringing chords and self-satisfied vocals like an inferior version of Devin’s underwhelming 2016 single, ‘Stormbending’.
The band say the methods the British government used to herd people into quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic provided the main inspiration for the words, especially the animalistic manner of those that govern us. A topic as poignant as this deserves easier access to the lyrics, but they’re not easy to find. That’s a pity because Hedra are a thinking man’s rock band from the heavier end of the spectrum where prog and metal collide. Lockdown was a fertile period of creativity for them, and they will win your confidence with this EP. The Pecking Order is a reminder that rock can be heavy and attuned to a metal audience as much as an alternative one.
Release Date: 11/11/2022
Record Label: Devil’s Clause Records
Standout tracks: Jackdaw, Suchi, Avis Mogi
Suggested Further Listening: Maziac – Permutations EP (2021), Tool – Undertow (1993), Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog (2018)