Words by Sam Wolstenholme | Sam Wolstenholme – Singer Songwriter
Gleaning: the medieval practice of lords deigning to allow their serfs to collect leftover crops from a plentiful harvest – in other words, living off the scraps of more “civilised” society. In their long-awaited fourth studio album ‘The Gleaners’, Sydney’s blackened sludge kings Lo! deliver their indictment of capitalism, consumerism and greed in our modern world through the lens of this concept of gleaning that is not as archaic as it may seem at first glance. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same – and yet, ‘The Gleaners’ is not a hopeless cry of resignation. It’s a sharp, brutal reminder to always sort the wheat from the chaff in the harvest of information and misinformation we are constantly fed in this day and age. “The Gleaners” posits the idea that we can only comprehend the true extent of the chaos we live in if we are willing to open our eyes and witness how far the rot has spread – even within ourselves.
Brief opening track Our Fouling Larder begins with a single, distant, solitary note, which builds quickly to the gut-punch of Sam Dillon’s colossal, hellish harsh vocals. Right away we’re catapulted into sinister sonic chaos with the arrival of the rhythm section that leads into the groove-tastic Salting The Earth. Despite its short runtime of just over three minutes, this track alone manages to take us on a blistering journey of highs and lows; driving tremolo-picked riffs followed by decadently decelerating breakdowns that push us further and further down into the spoiled soil. It’s like Emperor meets Lamb of God with the addition of some modern deathcore-style slow-tempo chugs and breakdowns. We get spikes of death metal fury in Deafening Bleats of Apathy, which alternates between Cannibal Corpse-esque heavy passages and quieter moments featuring menacing, distorted whispers from Dillon of “Salting the earth, salting the earth…”. This really does inspire powerful imagery of helpless, resentful “servants” methodically tending to the lands of the privileged upper crust with no end in sight and nothing for them to gain. There’s some fantastic guitar work in this track courtesy of Carl Whitbread slinging out riffs after riffs, and this sets us up perfectly for the memorable Rat King.
Like the tracks before it, Rat King explodes into action with a frenzied mixture of sludgey riffs, flashes of blackened blast beats and old-school death metal stylings, before stripping it right back to a minimalist yet immense open-chord repeated chug through to the end. The title track is next up, beginning with solemn spoken word about mankind’s insignificance in the universe and our inherent flaws as a species, and followed by slow, crushing chugs and riffs. It’s the bleakest, most apocalyptic track yet at over 8 minutes in length (compared with the snappy tracks preceding it), and especially during the chorus, you feel like the oppressive power of the music is going to swallow you whole. Some more melodic lead melodies are offered halfway through to inject some brief light in the darkness, but this is soon taken over again by wall-of-sound heaviness that is the sonic equivalent of a cavern in Hades.
Pareidolia unfolds like an eerie, unsettling waltz, an uneasy dance between dissonant lead guitar melodies and terrifying harsh vocals. The thick atmosphere in this track as it builds to the return of utter carnage in Kleptoparasite gives distinct Enslaved vibes. The furious tremolo picking and blazing blast beats courtesy of Adrian Griffin in the chorus of Kleptoparasite is a force to behold, and again the ebbs and flows in this track are masterfully executed through an odyssey of riffs of varying speed and intensity. Cannibal Culture absolutely destroys us with one of the most cathartically sludge metal choruses I think I’ve ever heard with fantastic melodic and rhythmic unison between guitars, bass and drums. Gojira fans will love this one. And Mammons Horn is one hell of a closing track where we’re treated to Dillon’s silky clean vocals serenading us as we fall further into the pit of darkness. The album ends on something of an ethereal note as ambient synths and ghostly choirs dissolve into nothingness – a surprisingly peaceful way to round out such a brutally heavy record.
‘The Gleaners’ is an album that conveys a sense of intense claustrophobia, while simultaneously creating such a breadth of sound where singular elements resonate and linger, like shadows filling negative space. It’s at once a frightening and cathartic experience to listen to and immerse yourself in, and with it, Lo! have crafted a unique musical identity that is impossible to define, replicate or compare to. It’s a terrifying and wondrous work that will stay with you long after the final track has trailed off, and yes, it really does make you stop and think.
‘The Gleaners’ is available now through Pelagic Records.