Overall Score: 7/10 Songwriting: 7/10 Production: 6/10 Instrumentation: 8/10 Pros: Superb storytelling | Well executed bleak atmosphere Cons: Production is too polished for the story behind the record
Heavy metal was birthed in ashes. In the bombed ruins of post-war Aston, heavy music was formed. It was in this desolate, industrial landscape that four men found themselves creating something hitherto unheard. Mill and factory work has always inspired the most bleak realms of the artistic world, whether it’s the arable nature of John Constable’s painting, or the doom laden riffs of Black Sabbath. It’s apt then that Swedish quartet, Horndal, should take such inspiration for their debut album, Remains. It tells the story of their hometown – with which they share a namesake – a sleepy working town in the woodland of Sweden, centred around a steel mill from which the majority of the population found work. With the mill’s closure, the livelihood of the Horndal residents was in peril, and the town was left for dead.
Musically the album flourishes in its portrayal of such a bleak landscape. The grinding gallop of the guitar gives a feeling of imposing monotony; the same that Horndal’s workforce would have felt as they worked themselves to the grave. This is not to say that the instrumentation is boring of course, every riff is finely crafted and arid in texture. It’s a claustrophobic listen filled with an encroaching sense of dread. Where the guitars do find fault however is in their delivery; the production of the six string is so polished that it loses the grime that would perfectly serve the songs. An extra level of grit would elevate this music to a higher form of concept than it currently stands.
The album’s dichotomy between drone and groove works wonderfully. Expansive instrumentation on the likes of Fornby Klint leave room for ideas to breathe and develop, and the song builds from minimalist to a beautifully barren crescendo. On the other hand, Factory Shutdown gallops with a ferocity and intensity of terror. The song doesn’t let up and has a desperation to it, particularly in Henrik’s vocal performance. It has a strained quality to it that you would find in Troy Sanders of Mastodon, or even Scott Kelly of Neurosis.
The album’s brevity is acutely well realised. This story is one of such inherent harshness that to make it any longer would be an overwhelming and overbearing listening experience. Songs like Hin and Drudgery are within touching distance of the three minute mark, and no song outstays its welcome. Finale, Horndal’s Kyrkogård, puts a sanguine full stop on a record filled with desperation to find a reasoning behind such a tragedy. The loss of industry has had a profound effect on this album, as there is a resonant energy that simply asks ‘why?’. It’s clear the band is searching for meaning in a world left destitute.
The album is a harrowing listen, but an ultimately rewarding one. The songwriting is simplistic, but filled with adept musical performances. The story being told is one the listener can attune to simply through tone, and the barren milieu is palpable. The album’s production is somewhat too polished for its own good, and could do with more grit under the fingernails to really lift this album’s storytelling. What we do have however is a debut LP filled with potential and intellectual nous, and definitely a story worth hearing. Keep an eye on Horndal; their future is bright.
Remains was released on Friday 22nd February 2019 through Prosthetic Records.