Album of the Week: Lanterns on the Lake – Spook The Herd

In hindsight it seems extremely obvious that Lanterns on The Lake are the band to soundtrack the end times. Their catastrophic soundscapes rooted in post-rock emulate raging bushfires, the flooding of cities, fits of lawless lightning, the last desperate acts of humanity. Yet I failed to credit the North East group with this predestination until ‘Spook The Herd’ landed in my inbox, the realisation hitting home as I processed their fourth outing whilst trudging through the wet mud of my local park.  

They aren’t here to cast gloom though, rather ‘Spook The Herd’ is a call to arms, “let’s gatecrash the palace and reclaim what’s ours” they demand. “Look at me now / all fire in the belly” Hazel Wilde sings on ‘Baddies’, the line with which she announces her rebirth. Now indignant and positively furious, Wilde is unwilling to accept anything but drastic change. It’s a persona that wreaks havoc through ‘Spook The Herd’, Wilde, the activist is emboldened and a distant relative of the songwriter we met in Lanterns’ more folky beginnings. 

The band’s tribal drums, arpeggiating guitar, booming bass and frantic viola amplify Wilde’s polemics, causing sparks to fly from her already firey vitriol. Climate change, ‘unhinged leaders’, fake news and trolls all come under Wilde’s wrath, her python sting. The dreamer within won’t be restrained though, on stand-out ‘Blue Screen Beams’ she sings, “He said ‘do you have hope?’ / And I said ‘I don’t’ / But I do”, the guitars swarming and drums mounting with every repetition of the words ‘I do’, an inextinguishable fire of hope stoked in the listener.  

Lanterns on The Lake are high drama, their music would feel at home in a cathedral. The withering candle flame in the darkness, the gory images of life and death, the carrying echo, the high ceilings. On ‘Spook The Herd’ they encapsulate their flair for drama better than ever before, they relentlessly build 80s high-rises of tension, just to send a bulldozer crashing through, the audience left to reassemble the wreckage. On ‘Before They Excavate’, a song about climate change, they follow up the line “Someday they’ll liberate our bones from the soil and say ‘here was life’” by stripping out all surrounding instrumentation leaving a lone piano to navigate the scales alone, it’s requiem-like, a mourning of humanity ahead of time.  On the more restrained ‘Swimming Lessons’ they gee you up for an earth-shaking ascendo, before throwing you off a cliff, the music stopping, a woman’s primal, repetitive howl causing you to writhe in your seat. 

‘Spook The Herd’ is concrete evidence that nobody combines passion and craftsmanship quite like Lanterns on The Lake. Now though they possess an added bite, they tattoo an indelible mark. In the record’s most glacial moment, Wilde sings “I never thought I’d be the one to be saving you”. It was something that I didn’t predict either, that Lanterns on The Lake would come to our aid in these torrid times and throw light on a pathway to somewhere better. Now that they have though, nothing has ever made more sense. 

‘Spook The Herd’ is out 21 February on Bella Union

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