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Storm clouds form over Minneapolis during City Pages' recent meeting with Hammerhead. The darkening sky aptly mirrors an approaching hardcore squall about to erupt from this long-dormant noise-rock band. After a brief reunion four years ago at the Amphetamine Reptile 25th anniversary bash, the stalwarts of the '90s local scene are back with a thunderous new EP, Global Depression.
The band is convened for rehearsal at guitarist/vocalist Paul Sanders's northeast Minneapolis home. They seem shocked when notified that it's been four years since their last EP, Memory Hole.
"I think we immediately wanted to do something else," says Sanders, of creating new material. "But we really spend a lot of time with songs, and it's not like we can just write an album in three days and be happy with it. So it took a while to get some new songs together."
In recent years, bassist Paul Erickson and drummer Jeff Mooridian Jr. were living in New York and playing with another noise-fueled band, Vaz, which started when Hammerhead broke up in 1996. After both moved back to Minneapolis, the time seemed right for Hammerhead's resurgence.
"The reasons to do it — or even to not do it — are sort of the same, now as they were then," Sanders says. "The reason to be in a band is because you like doing it. Ultimately, it's something that you enjoy doing, you like playing in front of people and making music."
The new EP, over in a breathless 15 minutes, was recorded just up the road from Sanders's house, at Terrarium Studios. With catchy hooks layered within volatile arrangements, the songs dip into the best elements of hardcore and post-punk. A surprise comes on "Descended From Apes," which features a drum loop that wouldn't sound out of place in Caribbean music. Hammerhead faithfuls shouldn't worry, however. From the blistering title track to the thick, distorted bass on "Like a Wizard" to the breakneck tempo of "Outer Rim," the whole collection overflows with incendiary riffage.
"Half of my most interesting riffs are mistakes," jokes Erickson.
Completing the dark and combustible tone of the record is its cover art. Created by Zak Sally, it shows a man in a rumpled suit with a towel thrown over his head, reiterating the album's theme, which was inspired by the recent financial meltdown.
The bond between Sanders, Erickson, and Mooridian Jr. was formed during their days playing together in Fargo/Moorhead, and strengthened during their time as outsiders within the Twin Cities music community.
"We were never welcomed into the hardcore scene," Sanders says with a smirk. "It's interesting, because punk and hardcore and AmRep seems like it's all part of one thing to a lot of people now, but at the time it wasn't. We were told by the people that ran Maximum Rocknroll that we weren't punk rock, and that what we did was different. Punk rock was really regimented and heavily stylized in the early '90s, and it wasn't something that we were really that into. We were just into being ourselves, which we thought was the whole fucking point of the thing. But that clearly wasn't punk enough for some people."
They found kindred spirits with their longtime label, Amphetamine Reptile, and its roster of bands. Their first big tour was a wild run of gigs with the Cows that Mooridian Jr. has affectionately dubbed "The loss of innocence tour."
"The Cows were so far off of the map from anything else at the time," Sanders says. "By the time we got going, punk rock had kind of gone into this really boring place. I really liked the fact that we didn't have to conform to those types of expectations."
For Hammerhead's return on Friday, crowd expectations will be just as focused on the venue, the newly reopened Turf Club. They'll also reward patient European fans this year, and return to the site of their first show together in Fargo, the Aquarium.
"For the time being, we're all living in the same town, and we're starting to work on some new stuff," Erickson says. "It's been kind of difficult sending demos back and forth and having a short amount of time to work together. But hopefully we can expand on this."
"Writing songs, for us, takes longer than other bands, because we try to do a whole bunch of different things," Sanders says. "But I know that at the end, all of the effort is going to pay off."