Horndal take their name from the Swedish town of their birth. It’s a small urban pocket in the south-east of the country with a population of just over a thousand inhabitants. For three hundred years it sustained a thriving iron mill that later transitioned into one of the most productive steel plants in Sweden. Like any western nation at the tail end of the twentieth century, industrialisation started to decline as jobs went to the Far East and South Asia, where labour was cheaper and production costs infinitesimal compared with the advanced economies of Europe. Now Horndal has one grocery store and not much else.
This stagnation informed the outlook of the band behind Lake Drinker, only this time the promise of investment from Google to build a server in the woodlands of the town may well be a false dawn. It’s important the reader understands the context to make sense of the progressive sludge metal spewing forth from Horndal’s sophomore LP.
Metal albums that talk about the gritty social realities of post-industrial life are as rare as Timo Werner goals for Chelsea. Sure, Napalm Death’s first three records are classics of this outlook, but hardcore is often the only place to go for heavy guitar music that documents the anxiety and masculine uncertainty of living in a society that defines your self-worth by the nature of your subordination to the salary life. You can feel the cooped-up violence and repressive efforts to keep the anger at bay on album opener, ‘Rosson’. The band employ a fuzzy guitar tone yet execute their instruments like thrash metal warriors using rusty equipment. Vocalist, Henrik Levahn, barks like a shop steward who’s seen better days and remembers the height of labour power in the era of the mixed economy when government and trade unions worked together. The vitriol is still there, but it’s more painful and less restrained than before. Set to a sludge metal backdrop, it suits the mood of the music like retirement suits a seventy-year-old truck driver. You can even feel the dirt under your fingernails.
Horndal might writhe in a permanent state of distress, but they know how to serve a colossal Mastodon dish of progressive metal. ‘Horndal’s Blodbad’ suits the rust belt environment of the music – masculine, proud, tough, prone to dark thoughts, never free from violence. It won’t surprise you to learn that the four bearded men in Horndal are in their mid-forties and look like truckers. Yet there’s nothing one-dimensional or predictable about their music. ‘Growing Graves’ starts with a finger-tapping rhythm and refuses to confirm to a conventional structure. Here they deliver a Metallica stomp with the no-nonsense execution of punk rock and an emphasis on heavy bass grooves. ‘Ruhr’ crushes you with chunky palm-muted riffing and a death-doom approach towards the end. The guitar fuzz will make your Adam’s apple contract. Listen to those hypnotic triad chords and rumbling sludge licks on ‘The Black Wheel’.
Horndal are storytellers, but they also know how to please the slackers and the grafters in equal measure. It’s this type of solidarity that breeds the mob violence of a song like ‘Town Burner’, where the neo-thrash rhythms and thick plume of guitar distortion burn with the spirit of anarchist punk. You might even search for a pitchfork on Amazon after the three minutes and fifty seconds of this adrenaline-fuelled catharsis. (NB: They retail for an average price of £19 on Amazon.co.uk.)
Of course, the Swedes never forget their primary aim is to entertain. After all, they’re a metal band. If we want a report on population decline and de-industrialisation, we can read The Economist. Finding the balance between righteous rage, narrative arc and bruising guitars is never easy, yet one listen to ‘The Uprising’ and ‘Ormön’ will overturn your scepticism. Lake Drinker dares to chronicle the grim reality of living in a declining town but never loses the will to fight and agitate. It also remembers to offer contentment through escapism.
Music publications beyond the underground and mainstream metal press will pay attention to this record, and with good reason.
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Record Label: Prosthetic Records
Standout tracks: Horndal’s Blodbad, The Black Wheel, Ruhr
Suggested Further Listening: Mastodon – Leviathan (2004), Iron Monkey – Our Problem (1998), Eyehategod – Dopesick (1996)