Swedish hard rock quartet Greenleaf offer a filthy-sounding brand of stoner and sludge metal combined with riff-heavy, '70s-influenced hard rock. They also operate with a decidedly D.I.Y. aesthetic as various bandmembers take on everything from production to cover designs. They were initially an informal side project comprising members of Dozer and Demon Cleaner. Despite many personnel changes over the years -- guitarist Tommi Holappa remains the only original member -- their sound remained remarkably consistent. They issued a self-titled 2000 debut EP, followed by Revolution Rock a year later. In 2003 they signed to Small Stone, where they remained for more than a decade. In 2010 they ceased being "the side project that wouldn't die," and transitioned into a full-time concern, though lineup changes remained nearly constant. Their newfound focus and (quasi) stability were revealed on 2012's Nest of Vipers and flowered on 2014's Trails & Passes. The band signed to Napalm Records for 2016's Rise Above the Meadow. 2018's Hear the Rivers -- also on Napalm and their first to feature vocalist Arvid Hällagård -- won the band prime performing slots on European festival stages, while 2021's Echoes from a Mass made the global streaming and European album charts.
Greenleaf was founded as a side project in 1999 as a way for friends from various bands to relax while making music inspired by '70s-era hard rock and proto-metal bands. Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa, bassist/producer/engineer Bengt Bäcke, and drummer/engineer Karl Daniel Lidén (the rhythm section also played in Dozer as well as in Demon Cleaner) stood behind Lowrider vocalist Peder Bergstrand to record and issue an eponymously titled EP in 2000.
Dozer frontman Fredrik Nordin replaced the singer for 2001's acclaimed follow-up, Revolution Rock. Given their regular commitments to recording and touring with their respective bands, Greenleaf couldn't support the release, but Small Stone Recordings founder Scott Hamilton had heard the album and loved it. He signed the Swedish band to a multi-album deal on his Detroit-based label. Demon Cleaner guitarist Daniel Jansson joined the band for their 2003 Small Stone debut, Secret Alphabets, which garnered the band its first real press attention in the U.S. Still unable to tour regularly due to their main projects, Greenleaf managed occasional club and festival gigs where they awed audiences with their grimy, driving intensity. Jansson, Lidén, and Nordin left in the album's aftermath, though Lidén remained a core part of Greenleaf's studio team.
The band, again a quartet, integrated Truckfighters' singer Oskar Cedermalm, who became Nordin's replacement and then-Dozer drummer Erik Bäckwall to cut 2007's Agents of Ahriman. The set of dirty-sounding blues-based hard rockers seemed to occasionally overpower their singer with their raw, rowdy, overdriven riffing, but his performance with Greenleaf endeared them to the metal press and found them many new fans globally. Despite universally positive reviews, they remained unable to mount a proper tour.
In 2010, Holappa and Bäcke made Greenleaf their full-time concern. Cedermalm remained on vocals, and they recruited ex-Dozer drummer Olle Mårthans and ex-Dozer bassist Johan Rockner as a second guitarist. This version of Greenleaf began touring as a way to work together as a band and ultimately released Nest of Vipers in 2012. The set was engineered and mixed by Lidén. The touring gambit paid off, and the album was greeted by laudatory reviews, with at least two respected metal outlets making the claim that even though they were just a side project, they had certainly influenced Sweden's hard rock scene.
Greenleaf hit the road for more than six months. After returning, Cedermalm, Mårthans, and Rockner all left the band. Greenleaf hired Mozkovitch vocalist Arvid Jonsson and drummer Sebastian Olsson before re-entering the studio. With Lidén at the board (amazingly, Jonsson supervised the recording of his own vocals) they cut Trails & Passes, their fourth and final outing for Small Stone. The nine-song set offered Greenleaf's most sophisticated, hooky songwriting and production to date. Weaving together psychedelia, hard rock, and metallic blues in a warm, serpentine mix that left behind none of the punishing immediacy of their earlier recordings, Greenleaf won the best reviews of their career. They were given prime performing slots on festival stages, and toured Europe as headliners, playing small theaters as well as large clubs.
After a solid year of touring, Greenleaf signed with the larger Napalm Records, based almost exclusively on the reputation of Trails & Passes, but not without a cost: Upon returning from tour, Bäcke left the group. He was replaced by a returning Johan Rockner. Rise Above the Meadow was released in February 2016. Produced by the band, it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Lidén, who seemed to understand the studio demands required to present Greenleaf's advanced songwriting trajectory properly even better than its performing members. Upon release it registered at streaming and was regarded by most of the metal press as an "essential" entry in the historic hard rock and stoner metal canons. The band also noticed the response on tour. Shows sold out in record time and their festival appearances were packed, delegating them to even larger stages. That tour also registered casualties, as Rockner departed for a second time to be replaced by bassist Hans Fröhlich; Jonsson left the band to get married and was replaced in turn by current vocalist Arvid Hällagård.
This lineup entered the studio in early 2018 and emerged with Hear the Rivers in November. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Lidén, the set also marked the band's first to feature female backing vocals from Karin Hällagård. The band hit the road in January 2019 and stayed out all year while the record climbed the streaming charts. In addition to selling out shows across Europe they made their first road trip to Australia.
Unable to tour in 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Greenleaf's lineup remained stable as they hunkered down and wrote separately for most of 2020. They reconvened in October at Lidén's Studio Gröndahl and finished the ten-song album in ten days. Lidén mixed and mastered the record at Tri-Lamb Studios and it was released by Napalm in March 2021 as the band plotted a return to the road. ~ Thom Jurek