VIDEO PREMIERE: Luzerne County thrash metal band Black Horizon turns red in ‘The Traitor’
Four-piece thrash outfit Black Horizon first came to my attention through the notorious Peter Kelly of the infamous Irish Wolf Pub, formerly situated smack dab in downtown Scranton directly across the street from the courthouse. The joint used to be called “Judge and Jury” prior, I believe.
On any account, I was DJing a special set at The Bog for one of my best mates, Brian Craig (rest in power, brotherman). Peter wandered in and asked me to stop over at a particular time to see, as he described them, “a very good group of thrash lads that have their shite together.” So, always up for something new, I poked my head in just in time to catch the first incarnation of these cats getting started. They were great. Tight. And hella young, maybe 14-15, I don’t know. But the best thing for me was the dedication to a very slender genre of music, from the gnarly headbanging and proper ’80s thrash riffs to the skinny jeans tucked into big, white high-top Jordans, straight “Among the Living”-era Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, DRI, Overkill, crossover skater thrash. It was great.
I wish this story was like others that you may have read from me that documents decades of friendship forged in the fires of rock or some such shit, but it’s not. The truth of the matter is, life got in the way. I gave up the booking and promotions life for the full-time creative role and had lost touch with these nostalgic young musicians. We reconnected for the Camp Rattler music festival Darkenheavy at Mountain Sky in Jermyn, but then all our lives were on hold for the pandemic years, in which time I again lost track and all but forgot about the Black Horizon boys.
I lost my nephew a few years ago to a horrible impaired driver accident. Since then, my family and I chair a nonprofit that raises money to offer scholarships to Wyoming Area students who may qualify. My nephew Jacob and his sister, as well as my sister and I, all went to Wyoming Area. We usually keep the live music that we secure light and breezy at these fundraising affairs, as the crowd is ever-changing and of mixed age groups so, naturally, varied musical tastes. This past year, moments after I posted the rallying cry for donation sets for our event, I received a DM from Black Horizon vocalist/guitarist Ricky Wells offering he and his Wilkes-Barre/Mountain Top-based band’s services for the scholarship fundraiser. I am not sure if it was me wishing to throw a surprise metal firecracker into the middle of mellow rock, folk, and country atmosphere or simply the desire to see what these kids were up to, but I took him up on his offer.
I was operating a small, acoustic stage for solo and duets upstairs at the venue when Black Horizon took the larger, indoor basement stage. One of the kids working with us came upstairs and out to my wife Kristin with this devilish look on his face and said, “Your boys just started.” Now, please consider that this is a VFW basement full of senior citizens, veterans of foreign wars, and parents of Wyoming Area students. I was very excited to wander down to see what type of crowd reaction my fun grenade would produce in such a small, confined, very diversely aged space. I heard one track blaze through, finish up, and get followed up by a bunch of muffled crowd noise. I arrived in that cellar moments later, midway through their second song to this band completely owning the room. Old folks up and head banging. Little grandmas eating ziti and bopping their heads along with Ricky and bassist Brady Day, guitarist Mike Sterner, and drummer Tyler Snipas. It was a riot – a surprising a sweet riot. They were the beloved performers of the day. So many remarks were made that afternoon that began something like, “I don’t usually go in for that type of blah, blah, blasé blah.” Kristin and I spoke with the boys later that day and, within a few meetings, had agreed to flesh out some visuals for a song called “The Traitor,” recorded at CJD Studios in Nanticoke with producer Chris Danishefsky and engineer Alex Hess.
I was nursing a reoccurring dream about a mad, wild marble fight ever since Jared Sokirka and I had infiltrated an underground slingshot circuit somewhere on the Vietnam border about a half a dozen years ago while Jared was competing in the very deadly, full-contact and, then, highly illegal tournament called the Kumite. The boys loved the idea and we dug in. First, we had them drive three hours into the middle of the thickest of SEPA forests to work with Kristin and I on the live performance shots. Later that month, we met them at Francis Slocum, this time with Jared, for the capturing of the marble fight. Ricky and I worked on the cutaway closeups here at the Camp Rattler ranch ourselves one hot-as-fuck September afternoon.
The intricacy of the song itself, married to the thought of glass marbles hitting your face, coupled with this creepy, October red treatment in the video, truly brings the concept of “traitor” home to roost. It’s stark and fun, dark and frivolous, much like a live Black Horizon show. It’s this combination of light and shadow, this dance between the battering of the sun to the bleakness of the darkness that makes Black Horizon tracks hit so hard. These kids are the real deal, at least the ones I became close to – they have seen the tough stuff. And it is present in their recordings and live performances.
“I’ve never trusted anyone in the process of creating anything in the Black Horizon realm. I’ve always been guarded and have protected it like it’s my baby. It was always important for me to create a wicked visual to match the intensity of our music. From the beginning of spitballing ideas to the final edits, James and Kristin just completely understood. Combining that with a virtuoso cameraman just created fireworks. Jared’s ability with one camera matches that of an entire film crew. More importantly, by the end of the video, I felt like I had gained a few very amazing friends – very professional and organized even when we couldn’t be either of those adjectives. Some might create videos, but Camp Rattler clearly creates magic,” Wells graciously told us.
Aging metalheads, this last sentiment is for y’all – if you have forgotten how good a really great metal performance can make you feel, give these dudes a follow and get out to one of their gigs. They may just make you feel something in that place that binds us, that place in your soul reserved for legit metal. Iron’s up.
James Callahan is a 30-year veteran of the music industry, having held positions of A&R, tour management, art/marketing director, creative director, and venue owner. He currently creates visual content with a diverse art collective called Camp Rattler.