Even before Hydra is a heavy rock album, it’s a rock album. The third full-length from Malmö, Sweden’s Deville and first for their new label, Small Stone Records, has its roots in Foo Fighters as much as, if not more than Kyuss, and it’s a difference of presentation and method that runs deeper than one might initially think. A lot of the trad stoner tonality that showed up on Deville‘s first two studio offerings, 2007′s Come Heavy Sleep and 2009′s Hail the Black Sky, has dissipated, but if you listen to those two albums in line with the 11 tracks of Hydra, the latest still seems a logical extension of their methods, if one driven in a more straightforward, less fuzz-reliant direction. The band recorded themselves, with drummer Markus Nilsson handling the engineering, so one imagines they knew what they were doing and that the clean, crisp, professional sound they wound up with on these songs wasn’t an accident. Even in terms of the songs themselves, one can see a difference. Not troubling itself with intros, outros or interludes, Hydra also finds Deville tightening the structures of their material, so that in its varied array of moods, there’s only one song reaching over five minutes long — the penultimate “Imperial,” at 6:31 — where each of the prior two offerings has had four. That’s probably not a conscious decision on the band’s part, that is, they likely didn’t sit down and say, “Okay guys, time to write shorter parts,” but it’s another example of Deville departing their stonerly beginnings in favor of a more straightforward take, skirting the lines between hard and heavy rock an an almost track-by-track basis.
Clocking in at a vinyl-ready 44:35, Hydra makes a strong opening statement in its first three tracks, “Lava,” “Iron Fed” and “In Vein.” Each is opened by Nilsson‘s drums and finds vocalist/guitarist Andreas Bengtsson leading the band with guitarist Martin Hambitzer and bassist Markus Åkesson contributing to the momentum. Right away, the band carries across their sonic shift — again, not so drastic that if you heard Deville before you wouldn’t guess you were listening to them again, but still a marked change from the first two records — but if Hydra‘s first volley proves anything, it’s that the tradeoff comes in the band being tighter performance-wise and clearer in their intent. “Iron Fed” chugs through its verse en route to one of the album’s finest hooks, something mid-period Dozer would’ve been proud to hang their hats on, and keeps motion central even in its lead break, which hits right where it should at the end of the second third of the track, right before the chorus comes back in, once and then again with more feeling. Hardly a slowdown, “In Vain” sees Åkesson come forward in the mix, joined by a guitar swell in the chorus, as Bengtsson pulls back on the vocal thrust to ride the groove kept active by Nilsson‘s upbeat snare. It’s in line structurally with most of the rest of Hydra, but “In Vain” also serves as the first signal that Deville have more to offer in terms of mood than the driving rock they’ve so far presented.