In the southeast corner of Dalarna County, Sweden, a couple hours north of one of metal’s capital cities, Stockholm, lies the miniscule mill town of Horndal. This unremarkable little dot on the map off the southern shore of Lake Rossen and its thousand or so inhabitants have experienced the boom-to-bust, rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-again tragedy that so many towns and hamlets around the world have endured throughout humanity’s reign.
It is a story as old as civilization itself: Powerful, influential men with money sweep in, drain the natural resources, devastate the area, and once all the profits have been sucked dry, they leave only an empty husk behind, caring nothing for the plight of the land or the people and families who’ve lived there for generations.
Ravaged, raped, and finally forsaken to rust in the late 1970’s by international industrialists, Horndal, Sweden’s story may not be uncommon, however through incredible hardships sometime also come incredible artistic inspirations – and even more rarely, sometimes from multiple generations of the same family.
You see, in 1977, as the industrialists were pulling up stakes and slithering along to the next little town that they were no doubt planning to ransack, a local theatre ensemble in Horndal were performing nightly for the townsfolk in protest of the impending socioeconomic collapse of their beloved home.
In said performance, Satan himself (called Hin Håle in old Swedish) comes to town, enlivens the populace with shiny new mills, homes, and hope. All the while, though, what Hin Håle is truly up to is despoiling the local terra, flora, and fauna for his own gain. Once this is done, Hin Håle abandons it all to die a slow, torturous, and blatantly obvious allegorical death.
Managed and staffed by residents of Horndal itself (most of whom were about to lose their own situations with the closing of the mills), the theatre cast’s lead role of Hin Håle was performed by none other than the future father of two aspiring musicians and brothers who would one day shed further quantities of light upon the depressing story of their diminutive hometown – and then share that story with the entire world through their music, band, and brand.
Naming said band after their abused and exploited haunt, Sweden’s blackened sludge upstarts Horndal have taken their own family connection to the rebellious spirit of that small theatre ensemble from decades ago and have channeled it into an incredible, modern force of inspiration and creative expression.
“We had no choice but to start this band,” explains drummer Pontus Levahn, who along with his older brother and guitarist/vocalist Henrik make up the pair of sons of Hin Håle himself. “The story of our hometown, the shutdown of the steel mill in the late 70’s… The protests and despair following [the shutdown have] been flowing in our veins since we were kids. Add [our father’s role in the story of the town] to our love for heavy and aggressive music and you have the perfect template for a metal band.”
The perfect template, indeed, but without the rest of the players, a perfect template it would’ve remained in name only. Also joining the Levahn brothers in bringing this mesmerizing blueprint to life are bassist Erik Welén, and arguably the most experienced metal musician of the bunch, lead guitarist Fredrik Boëthius Fjärem (also of Stockholm’s veteran act C.B. Murdoc and former member of the recently rejuvenated Mörk Gryning).
With this talented cast in tow, Pontus admits that the chemistry was palpable right from the get-go. “We all come from different musical backgrounds, [and] we are not that kind of band that grew up together sitting around a boombox worshipping one specific subgenre. We’ve all been playing music, touring, and realizing albums in jazz trios, black metal, energetic indie rock, techy death metal, art rock, and everything in between since we were young, so when we finally formed [Horndal], the riffs, lyrics, and ideas just appeared naturally. I know it sounds like cheesy bullshit, but it’s the honest truth. So help me, Hin Håle.”
For guitarist Fredrik Boëthius Fjärem, though, playing in a blackened sludge act isn’t just a departure, it’s also a desired destination, posits Pontus. “Fredrik is our alibi for playing metal at all. [The rest of us marvel] at the skill set he’s [attained] from playing really complicated death metal. But he was really into joining a band that’s focused more on organic energy, raw force, and songwriting compared to the more technically impressive stuff that he’s done in the past.”
Fully formed and rearing to go, Horndal immediately jumped to the task of setting the grievous tale of their hometown to a heavy metal soundtrack. After laying down an initial EP in 2017, Pontus and the gang started composing the true first chapter of this tale, their 2019 Prosthetic Records debut full-length, Remains.
Telling the historic epic of Horndal itself throughout nine tracks and thirty-four minutes, Remains kicks off Horndal’s earnest efforts to conceptualize their deep, deep connection to their home. When asked in not so many words, “Why Horndal?”, Pontus’s answer was astute and sagacious.
“[It is] the very real and very human aspect of it all. The story of Horndal, which is the exact same story [as] thousands of other small, rusty, post-industrial towns around the world, has everything you need for making bleak music. So who needs made-up stories of dragons, sword fights, or cannibals when you have really dark and very true stories to tell? It comes down to the people of Horndal, from way back then to the present. All this is an homage to them. Much love. They are the toughest people I know, and they’re really supportive of what we do, even if we’re not painting the most colorful picture of the place.”
And keeping those same ill-fated people and their 21st century descendants in mind, Horndal will bring the exemplum of their star-crossed stomping ground up to date with the April 9th, 2021 release of Lake Drinker, again brought to us all by Prosthetic Records.
Ambitious, prodigious, and immersive, Lake Drinker represents the second chapter in Horndal’s cathartic autobiography of their eponymous home, and it modernizes the tale by dragging the latest, virulent strain of bloodsucking outsiders who’ve come to exploit the region anew kicking and screaming into the light through eleven killer cuts of forty-six riveting minutes’ worth of spellbinding blackened sludge.
“It took a lot of work, both for the brain and the muscle,” admits Pontus without a hint of lament or regret, “On Lake Drinker, we gave every idea a shot [as] the plague gave us the time to do so. We dug in archives to find people that participated in the protests around the shutdown in ’77, we found local flügelhorn players, classic percussionists, and death metal legends [to guest on the album]… [all this] just to make sure we’ve done our absolute best to turn every idea into a reality. Right now, I feel creatively drained…and [it] wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t.”
Indeed, Horndal poured their hearts, souls, blood, sweat, and the collective tears of generations of mistreated locals into Lake Drinker, almost as if they were trying to refill the emptying lake basin all by themselves. Persistently inspired by their unknown and unnoticed homestead, Horndal’s fantastic forthcoming work has the potential to not only gain this Stockholm-by-way-of-Avesta project a boatload of dedicated new fans, but also to finally share their unique perspective of the world with a wider audience in general.
“The town of Horndal is our own little microcosmos through which we look upon the world,” concludes Pontus, “With such a pair of glasses and with such a specific perspective, you can see a whole lot. Bigger historical events, zeitgeists, human tragedy, triumph, downfall again, and so on. I think we can go on forever finding new, relevant stories to tell. Horndal is the world. The world is Horndal. Sort of.”
So, on that note, here’s to all of you rusted out, used-up little homesteads out there. May you all have a Horndal spirit inside you, somewhere.
To get excited for the impending release of Lake Drinker, simply press play below to check out the official video for “Horndal’s Blodbad”, and if you’re digging the assertive riffage, monstrous melodiousness, and sheer, desperate energy as much as Hated One, then be sure to support the band further by checking the Horndal links at the bottom (and don’t forget to look for a bonus surprise beneath that, too)! Ω
Rating: 98 / 100 (A+)
Release Date: April 9th, 2021
Genre: Blackened Sludge
Don’t Skip: “Horndal’s Blodbad” (Track 2), “The Black Wheel” (Track 4), “Ruhr” (Track 6 – Hated One’s Favorite), “Town Burner” (Track 10)
FFO: Mastodon, High on Fire, Inter Arma, Lord Mantis, Immortal Bird, Lord Almighty, Plaguewielder (see below!), Yatra
Some Favorite Bands of Horndal: Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Entombed (R.I.P. LG), Neurosis, At the Gates, Elder
Bonus Mini-Review of Plaguewielder – Covenant Death
Releasing tomorrow, April 2nd, on Disorder Recordings is another solid LP from another blackened sludge act – this time hailing from right here in the States – Plaguewielder. Containing eight cuts and spanning thirty-five minutes, Covenant Death is the third full-length to drop from this southeastern Ohio quartet.
Focusing audibly more heavily on the blackened aspects of blackened sludge, Plaguewielder’s latest effort is one of those sneaky good albums that while possibly flying under your radar is also one that you should not miss at all, especially if you’re at all interested in acts such as Horndal and the like!
So, don’t sleep on it, people: Covenant Death, Plaguewielder, due out tomorrow!
To get a taste, press play below, and support the band if you’re enjoying what you’re hearing! Ω
Rating: 95 / 100 (A)
Release Date: April 2nd, 2021
Genre: Blackened Sludge