An Interview With Progressive/Sludge Rockers Horseburner!


Horseburner is a progressive rock/sludge/stoner metal band from West Virginia who is gearing up to release their fifth album, Voice of Storms, on June 21, 2024. Not only do these guys play a very unique, captivating, and supremely heavy version of progressive rock, but their hauntingly beautiful yet intense vocal harmonies really set them apart from other bands in the genre. In fact, there's a good chance you've heard of Horseburner; they've been making killer music since 2009. What you may not know, however, is they hail from the same tiny town in West Virginia that yours truly was born in! If you're the least bit familiar with small-town West Virginia, you may be able to get an idea of how crazy that is, and it probably goes without saying that seeing my fellow Appalachians do super cool things like this makes me incredibly proud. So, I not only wanted to ask the band a few questions about their upcoming album and their creative process, but also a few questions about things only West Virginians would know. Enjoy! 

An Interview With Horseburner: 

Q: What does being an Appalachian mean to you and how does that identity show up in your music?

Appalachia is a geographic region in the Eastern United States that stretches from New York to Alabama, with West Virginia being the only state that is entirely within its boundaries. 

Jack: I feel like living in Appalachia is an existence of struggle. This region's economy being completely tethered to fossil fuel extraction, mostly controlled by outside parties, has left it with zero wealth and a declining population for decades. It seems like every Appalachian has a friend or family member who has overdosed or struggled with opioid addiction at some point. There's also the well-known negative stereotypes about the people living here, some valid, others less so. I think the only true stereotype that all of us possess is that we'll as shit-talk the place we live to each other, but vehemently defend it if any outsiders dare to do the same shit-talk. 

The new record has lyrical themes of escaping a bad situation and discovering a new part of yourself. In some sense I think we all yearn for a similar escape. We do so by touring, meanwhile the majority of recent college grads try to escape Appalachia for career opportunities because there's not much here. Gotta get out while there's still time. I've actually wondered if Appalachian culture seeps into our sound in subtler ways too. Maybe my guitar picking has a little bit more of a folk or bluegrass twang to it than another stoner rock guitarist from elsewhere might have. Just spitballing. 

Matt: Coming from poverty, Appalachian to me means being resourceful and using what you have to create something from (almost) nothing. Taking what we already have to create something beautiful. It shows in our cuisine and in our art. 

Q: Pepperoni rolls...thoughts?

Pepperoni rolls are, essentially, West Virginia's state food. Originating in the state in the early 20th century as a work lunch for Italian immigrant coal miners, these little delights are (most often) nothing more than a bit of pepperoni baked inside a yeast roll, but people dig 'em. 

Jack: Pepperoni rolls are one of the very few foods I still actively crave since going vegetarian/pescatarian years ago. I've had some fake meat versions a couple times and they still hit hard. I might need to make some soon, now that you mention it.

Matt: Fuck yes!

Adam: The greasier the better. 

Q: Do you remember a used record store in Parkersburg called The Sound Exchange? It was one of my favorite haunts growing up and is apparently still there.

The Sound Exchange is a used and new music store in Parkersburg, West Virginia that has been in operation since 1990. 

Jack: I believe they're either getting new ownership soon or maybe it's already happened, but yes, it's wild they're still very much around. Basically the only institution from my musically formative high school years that hasn't been lost to time. I believe that's where my first copy of 2112 came from?

Adam: It's kind of funny, we spent a lot of time wondering how they stayed in business. It's impressive how long they've been around. They still have cassettes from the early 90s which rules. I talked to one of the dudes there recently. They still sell a lot of CDs apparently. I thought that was kind of a dead medium, but what do I know? 

Q: That said, what are your primary musical influences? 

I dig  a lot of 70's and 80's hard rock, prog rock, metal and proto-metal, and the like. Rush, Sabbath, Diamond Head, King Crimson, ELP, Yes, Motorhead, early Metallica and Megadeth. Anything with dueling guitar leads a la Thin Lizzy, Maiden, and Priest will always perk my ears up. A lot of grunge-era rock also ends up on my list, particularly Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. I've always admired Boris and their ability to shift genres seamlessly from album to album. Some of my favorite contemporary bands like Earthless, Helms Alee, Elder, and Rezn to name a few are incredibly boundary-pushing and inspire me greatly. 

Q: Anything else you would like to share about the album itself, the writing/recording process, etc.?

Jack: The writing process has always been an uphill battle for us and this album was no exception. Since the last record, we've replaced two band members, a whole pandemic happened, and now half the band is living in different cities, hours apart. That being said, once we are able to get everyone in the same room and batten down the hatches, things came together pretty quickly! 2022 was a pretty heavy touring year for us when Ryan joined. At that time we only had a song or two fully fleshed out, so most of it was written in a couple of months in late 2022 to early 2023. I remember Matt coming up with the opening riff of Hidden Bridges that we just jammed on together in a very stream-of-conscious way, and we basically had this 7+ minute song 90% close to finished after an hour or two. Many of this record's song structures came together in a similar fashion. 

Recording with producer/engineer Neil Tuuri is always a fantastic experience! This was our third time working with him in some capacity, but first time with him at the helm for an entire album start to finish. We booked the studio for about a month with a few weekend days off to continue playing shows. I had a great time to geek out over microphones, gear, recording philosophies and techniques, etc., together. There's sprinkles of extra percussion layers, acoustic guitar, French horn, cello, double bass, synths, and even a little kalimba that was laying around the studio. Neil is meticulous about capturing a great performance with tones upfront with less reliance on editing or post processing later, which I love, but also hate. Because then you gotta sing and play your shit right. I feel like everyone was pushed creatively, sometimes frustratingly so, throughout the entire creative process of this record. But the end result was a very dense yet organic and human record that we're all incredibly proud of and stoked for the world (or at least a couple dozen people) to experience. 

Adam: I don't know if I've ever had writers block this badly when it comes to lyrics, but I struggled immensely trying to figure out how the story needed to unfold. Luckily my wife is very smart, and she asked a question that kind of unlocked the big "Why?" that I needed. Once we hit the studio the lyrics for the unfinished songs came together much more quickly than they had for the past few months of working on them. 

Then getting in the studio, I was really struggling. I was not in the right headspace, mental state, whatever, to be going in as the first member to lay their parts down. But thanks to Neil and Jack, we got through everything and I think the struggle almost sort of comes through and makes the songs that much more powerful. 

Author's note: I haven't been back "home" to West Virginia in over two decades now, and the answers to some of these questions, particularly the first one, had me a bit emotional. I couldn't agree more with the band's observations and thoughts about our home state. As hard as the unfortunate condition of our home and community it is to hear and read about sometimes, the pride I feel at the unparalleled perseverance and resourcefulness of my fellow West Virginians is overwhelming. 

Voice of Storms

When I think of Horseburner, I don't automatically think of sludge/progressive rock in the traditional sense. In fact, I more accurately think of something: a powerful force, something haunting but also breathtakingly beautiful (at the risk of sounding a bit silly): like a mythical beast that resides deep in the forest. If you look directly into its eyes, you'll know the secrets of the universe, but it will also shake you to your core. 

Horseburner's music is very unique in the consistency of its intensity. This is, of course, where the sludge element of the band's style comes into play, but it's so much more than just blistering guitar work. I feel very confident in saying that the band's hallmark is their eerily gorgeous vocal harmonies amid the chaos of the heavy guitars and booming percussion, a certain awe-inducing beauty amid terror. These are things that normally don't go together but, once they find the proverbial yin to their yang, fit together perfectly. It also works very well when it comes to the storytelling element of progressive rock, effectively communicating heightened emotions. Every single song, regardless of tone or style, is unbelievably immersive and bewitching and, if you're a warm-blooded human being with a pulse, you'll have goosebumps for the duration of your listening session.

When I heard that Horseburner was recording Voice of Storms, I expected another really awesome, really heavy album from the band. What I got was something that blew those expectations out of the water and then some. I didn't think Horseburner could make music that was much more powerful, soul-stirring, and dynamic than they already were, but they did, primarily by adding even more depth and layers to their already immersive sound. By that I don't mean that I didn't think Horseburner is a band incapable of improvement or evolution; I simply thought they already had their formula and approach to songwriting and sound down pat. It just goes to show that, no matter how highly you think of your favorite bands, they're still totally capable of blowing your mind with their talent and creativity. 

On Voice of Storms, Horseburner delivers plenty of their trademark burly sound on songs such as The Gift and Heaven's Eye, but the band also lightens things up with a mystical, haunting ballad called The Fawn, the beautifully melodic but still driving Diana, and Hidden Bridges (my favorite track), a divine combination of both the heavy and the light. The song Palisades delivers some hardcore punky flair that assists in weaving Horseburner's epic tales, and the album wraps up with Widow, a nine-minute saga that, while it stomps in and out like a colossus, has some softer interludes in between. 

Adam mentioned in the interview that he experienced his worst case of writer's block yet while composing Voice of Storms. I've always felt that writer's block is not necessarily indicative of a bad or uncreative writer. Sometimes it's simply an encumbrance you experience when you have higher standards in conveying your ideas in the best and most relatable way possible for your audience (and for yourself, too). It can be difficult and time consuming to get it just right, but when you do, you really do. I bring that up because in this case, I think it's a great example of the effort and resolve Horseburner put into Voice of Storms. Lyrically, vocally, instrumentally, and as a creative whole, their ambition, perseverance, and attention to detail are palpable. And, as alluded to earlier, when a really good band refuses to rest on their laurels and continues to build upon their skill and creative visions, that's a damn good band and an admirable group of artists. 

The official music video for The Gift:


The official music video for Hidden Bridges


Voice of Storms will be released on June 21, 2024 via Blues Funeral Recordings! 

More About Horseburner

You can follow Horseburner and listen to their awesome music at the following links:

A MASSIVE thank you to Horseburner for providing some incredibly insightful answers to my questions. I had a lot of fun reading your answers and greatly appreciate your time! Congratulations on the album release! 
And another big thank you to Blues Funeral Recordings for the promo! 


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