Per their recent interview with Bandcamp Daily, the music on HIDE’s debut LP Castration Anxiety was recorded two years ago, but is only now seeing the light of day via Dais Records. That’s weird to contemplate when listening to the album; the music made by Heather Gabel and Seth Sher is intense and raw enough that the idea of it sitting unheard, waiting to be released seems antithetical to its immediacy. Situated between the experimentalism of their earliest releases and the nerviness HIDE displayed on last year’s Black Flame EP, the album trades in beat driven industrial that reflects the bleak realities and personal struggles which inspired it.
Musically Castration Anxiety fluxtuates between minimal arrangements of drums and bass tones, and big muddy washes of texture. Opener “Fall Down” is 75% echoing kicks and tom hits, with grinding synths and delayed vocals slowly working their way in from the edges. The mechanically-driven “Close Your Eyes” and “Bound/Severed” are cut from similar cloth, with other instrumentation always in danger of being bludgeoned out of existence by the percussion. It’s on the messier, more indistinct songs like the reverb-soaked “Wildfire” and “Come Undone” where HIDE feel most unique; while still driven by strict drum programming, the gnarly, swirling atmospheres sound like they could just as easily have been recorded by some lo-fi blackgaze act.
Moreso than the actual music itself, it’s Gabel’s vocals that will probably leave the biggest impression on listeners. While her discomfiting physicality as a performer is obviously the focus of their live show, her voice has an acute and strained tone that communicates the same unease on record. Her raspy delivery has a punky appeal that works well on the more straightforward “Wear Your Skin”, but it’s the emotion in her performance that makes it work. Listening to her wail her way through the climax of “Fucked (I Found Heaven)” or run aground against the shrieking static of “All Fours” is rough, both in terms of how she sings and the vulnerability apparent in each chewed off syllable.
It’s probably a good thing that Castration Anxiety comes in at just under forty minutes in length; while not so harsh as to entirely alienate listeners, it’s a record that trades in stress and apprehension and that can make extended listening sessions a daunting experience. Where HIDE seem most capable is in translating those negative energies into music and then delivering it with appropriate frankness, their frustration laid bare in an attempt allay it. It’s an honest record that way, and when it hits home it’s a resonant one.