“This record is a statement of sorts. It’s a call of arms from our side. It’s a tiny piece of protest. Be it against faith in religious misdoings from false self-acclaimed prophets or high almighty untouchable clergy, capitalist selfishness, racist idiocrasy or blunt fascism hidden in ignorance.”
From the ‘Horn ur Marken’ Press Release
It has been a few years since The Janitors’ previous release, the fantastic ‘Evil Doings of an Evil Kind‘ EP, in which they set out what now seems to be a prophetic need to fight the rise of the right in Europe. This follow up album very much continues where ‘Evil Doings…’ left off with a full broadside at the hypocrisy of the establishment and the continued darkness that seems to be descending on what we tend to call ‘the West’.
According to Henric of the band:
“Horn ur Marken pretty much continues where we left with Evil doings, with the world in the ever declining state it was impossible not to touch these subjects. We are not a lyric driven band, the vocals are often covered in echo and effects and are meant to leave a lot to the listener to interpret for themselves. So I guess it’s conceptual in the way that each song deals with topics that feels relevant to us at this point in time. From the growth of the right wing, to the atrocities happening in the Mediterranean, to the media’s role in all of this, capitalism and being blinded by the lights and also about giving up.”
If my Swedish translation of ‘Horn ur Marken’ is correct it means ‘Horns Out Of The Ground’ which to me is a return to the ‘evil’ theme of the previous release, but perhaps also a call to arms to all of us who have our heads stuck in the sand to look up and see what’s going on around us and engage with it. It’s time to lock horns with the political, economic and religious ‘satans’ of the world and make a difference!
This is not an album about easy answers though, its about difficult times where there are no easy answers. It’s about getting down and getting dirty, which is where the band’s idea of ‘Stökpsych’ comes in. Henric again:
“Stökpsych was coined by Johan, a good friend of ours, to describe a night out and our music at the same time. Stök would roughly translate to something like messy, gritty and banging your head against the wall at 4.30 in the morning after a bender.”
This concept helps me to marry The Janitors sound, which I’ve always found difficult to describe, with the band’s philosophy. There are all sorts of influences subsumed into the band’s music, but none that you would say were dominant. The band apparently refer to their sound as ‘evil shoegaze boogie woogie’ which is as effective as anything I could think of. Speaking about these descriptions, Henric continues:
“…both are more like stupid catchphrases to describe something that is really hard to put to words. Also in all honesty it gives a little light into the fact that we are not all sullen moody nihilistic Swedes with anger issues. We have a lighter side as well. Its just damn hard to let that side out in these times.”
That’s good to know because the first thing that struck me in listening to this album is just how dark and claustrophobic it really is, even in comparison to their previous work. But, I guess taking up Henric’s explanation, while this is an album that has a very serious side to it, it is also an album to really enjoy and, in places if you’re so inclined, even dance to (if you dance as weirdly as I do that is).
This is certainly the case for opening track ‘Trojan Ghost’, which is being premiered here. I think its fair to say that this hits you like a battering ram from the start. You get that sense of immediacy straight away. This is a track that sounds like The Janitors we know from previous releases. Indeed while that signature sound is still there, there is somehow an extra punch to it. I asked Henric why the band had chosen this track to release first:
“‘Trojan Ghost’ we think is a good representation of the new album. Also it’s about the closest thing we’ve written that resembles a pop song in a long time. So guessing that we hope to lure some unknowing poor bastards into our sound world and hopefully get them to stay.”
This leads straight into ‘Horn ur Marken’ which, by virtue of it being the title track I would guess, is key to the album…the actual call to arms itself perhaps. It is slower than much of the rest of the album and has a sinister thread running through it that can make you shiver if you catch it right. As the track progresses you also get a sense of descending, of going somewhere dark. The horns are out of the ground, we can see the spikes now…so no more excuses.
After that ‘Neon Times’ seems very much to be ‘Stökpsych’ as the band describe it. The screeching and treated guitars over a hypnotic beat really get into your psyche which, when the track comes back after a long bridge, it does so in a way that is almost anthemic. For me it’s the track I have most found in my head during the last week. ‘Blizzard’ really ups the pace with its fuzzed-up guitar giving the listener a sense of disconnection and disorientation followed by a long break which builds into a fine climax. I can imagine this track being an absolute scorcher when played live, and I hope there will be an opportunity to witness this before too long.
‘Into The Woods’ is probably my favourite track on the album at the moment. I love the palpable darkness to it and totally see the track in the album cover, brilliantly designed by Karolina Hedström. It’s about going into that darkness and facing the possibility of succumbing to it. So for me this is about taking risks in order to prevail. The slow/ fast, light/ heavy nature of the track adds to the dichotomies at the centre of it. Somehow contrasting the existential fight going on here with the siren call of the media that invites us in.
There’s some respite with ‘Fear Of All’, although these things are relative. While initially less dense, though, it soon builds up into something pretty scary. This works well because without the relative quiet of the start of the track you wouldn’t feel the full force of the fear that is transmitted, like the calm before the raging tempest that The Janitors unleash. This is complete with satanic wailing amidst a cacophony of sound which, by itself, can make you very fearful indeed. That is why it is good that the final track, ‘Alarmatica’, is a bit more low key to finish off with. This instrumental track allows space to think and take in the messages that the album delivers, and offers a moment to come down and appreciate the album for what it is.
‘Horn ur Marken’ is a political album, and it is a reflection of the dark times in which we live. It is an album that offers more in the way of diagnosis and prescription than it does of cure. As such there is a certain numbness to the music on here in the way that the echo and effects combine to blur the message, because nothing is clear cut and obvious. You do not get to the end of this album and think that everything will be alright, there is no guaranteed happy ending. There is darkness, and while there can be light…at the moment there is no end of the tunnel…only the oppression of decline.
I’ll leave the final word to the band themselves though:
“In this world focused on ego stimulation we feel the need to use our small platform to at least induce someone with the courage and inspiration to stand up and take the fight, and hopefully inspire the unveiled masses of non-doers to think for one second, in one moment, that someone needs something more than yourself. Discard all thoughts of borders, gender, race or origin, we are all the same. Leave this place to our children with the knowledge that you did all you could to help everyone. Don’t let greed pollute your mind. Rid your fears. Solidarity will stand.”