I’ve lived almost all my life in the Rust Belt, which, although an ocean away from the horrors chronicled in Horndal’s now-growing catalog, gives me an added appreciation for all that this Swedish band are going for on Lake Drinker. The uniquely hideous wreckage that the loss of blue collar work can do to small towns doesn’t leave you. Having lived in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ontario, I have seen first-hand across North America what happens when a community’s lifeblood is sliced out and taken away. The ghosts of happiness past still haunt towns like Dayton, Fort Wayne, Hamilton, and Danville. In a nice touch, Horndal gave some of those cities and others similarly affected, the earliest chance to stream their excellent sophomore record.
This Lake Drinker, the sequel to their debut, Remains, makes magical, mysterious, and mortifying the story of capitalism and corporate greed gone awry. As history has it, the small town of Horndal was left devastated over 40 years ago when the steel mill that employed nearly the whole town abandoned Horndal (the town, not the band). Remains told that long-ago tale, while Lake Drinker regales the audience with the horrors of late-stage capitalism. A tech giant (let’s call them Schmoogle) came in and leveled their forests and emptied their lake, with the promise of jobs and local prosperity in its wake. The album tells the stories that would be a footnote in a Schmoogle press release and aims to bring to life the struggles of a town fighting its demons.
Musically, the album is massive – it’s all about the horrors of late-stage capitalism set to some of the best sludge riffs this side of High On Fire. The hardcore part of sludge is at full capacity here, both in terms of lyrical edge but also with musical might and speed. The result is a record both harrowing and glorious. Each song is its own highlight, but the open trio of “Rossen,” “Horndal’s Blodbad,” and “The Uprising” are some of the best sludge songs in years. There’s an apocalyptic sense to the band’s songwriting, elevating already mountainous-sounding songs. Picking individual favorites is challenging aside from that initial barrage, but it’s a huge credit to the band that the album never loses its focus or edge.
Ultimately, when mammoth-sized music and impassioned stories meet as well as they do on Lake Drinker, it’s hard not to be bowled over in appreciation. Horndal are likely not on most folks radars just yet, but with one of the most consistent albums of 2021 so far, that’s sure to change. Fans of sludge will be in Heaven, but Horndal have a bit wider appeal than you’d expect with the style.
Stream/order the album on Horndal’s Bandcamp page.