Horndal – Lake Drinker Review

Art always has a theme, even if that theme is not having a theme. Consciously or unconsciously, the theme informs the art, and never the twain shall be separated. But sometimes the thematic elements of a piece of art transcend their medium, taking on a life all their own and looming so large that it can be difficult for a critic to properly evaluate the piece. I’ve found this to be the case with Swedish band Horndal. Named for the small industrial town where some of its members were born and raised, Horndal is the sound of a town lamenting its own demise.1 Their debut album Remains told the story of the closing of the local steel mill and of the devastating and dehumanizing aftermath for the citizens of Horndal, and sophomore record Lake Drinker tackles the struggles created when tech monstrosity Google purchased huge tracts of land near the town in order to build massive server facilities. The theme is handled passionately and with the personal touches that only true citizens of Horndal could provide, but does the music present itself as strongly?

Playing a deathened version of sludgy hardcore, Horndal makes music that just sounds like it was fabricated in a steel mill. Driving, blue collar rhythms are accentuated by shimmering sheet metal arpeggios, and the acetylene torch roars of vocalist, guitarist, and Horndal native Henrik Levahn carry a forgotten town’s worth of rage within them. Cherd will be ashamed of me, but as far as comparisons go, my experience with sludge is shamefully limited. That being said, I hear some early-to-mid era Mastodon, along with some of the death-infused sludge of Warcrab or Black Royal. The songs are kept short, only crossing the 5-minute barrier twice, and this makes Lake Drinker a pleasing and accessible — for sludge, that is — listen from the get-go.

The record is a solid slab of sludge, and while some of the tracks can run together due to similar tempos and textures, there are still a few highlights. Single “Horndal’s Blodbad” begins with some of the creepy arpeggios that I associate with Mastodon‘s Crack the Skye before launching into an epic, riff-filled adventure. “Ruhr” is just a steamroller of a track, using massive grooves to slowly pummel the listener to smithereens, and “Thor Bear” displays some nasty rhythm guitar work while also including a beautiful While Heaven Wept key section. During the review period for this record, I responded to a tragic house fire at my day job, and the title and music of the haunting acoustic guitar interlude “Home” had me in tears as it took me back to that scene again with each listen. This coincidence gave me a personal connection to the theme of the record, and to the theme of Horndal as a band: the loss of home — in any and every sense of the word — and the pain that accompanies such a loss.

And that’s where I feel that Horndal the music and Horndal the theme splinter a bit. You guys know me, and you know that I desperately wanted to give this band the 4.0rndal treatment. And if I were grading the band’s delivery of and commitment to the theme, that’s exactly what I would do. But when it comes down to it, Lake Drinker is just simply a good sludge record. The theme can make the music seem more powerful than it really is at times, but this is probably more of a strength than a weakness for the album. These guys wear their town’s pain on their sleeves, and they express that pain well while eloquently doing it justice.

Much like their town’s late steel mill, Horndal churns out solid, if no-frills, product. With Lake Drinker, the band have brought honor to their hometown, and their commitment to the increasingly invisible blue collar worker is inspiring.2 I know these guys have more stories to tell, and I can’t wait to hear them.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: horndal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/horndalmusic
Releases Worldwide: April 9th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. An interesting tidbit: there’s actually a concept in economics known as “The Horndal Effect” based on the town’s steel mill increasing in productivity despite the aging of its workforce.
  2. I’ve just seen on social media that “post-industrial” towns all over the world have been given the opportunity to stream the album in advance of the release.
« »