When Boston-based Elder first arrived on the scene in 2008 they were working safely within the confines of Sleep-derived stoner metal. It was well-played but derivative and the doom/stoner scene was well saturated, so they simply got lost among the flood. They made their first creative leap with sophomore release Dead Roots Stirring. Their sound began to veer away from sludgy doom riffs and more toward a classic heavy power trio roar; influenced just as much by the formative weight of bands like Mountain and James Gang as Black Sabbath. While elements of the stoner metal approach remained, they were becoming less pronounced and Elder was beginning to get really interesting.
But nothing prepared me for Lore. What an absolutely glorious, hydra-headed beast that album is! While still retaining their core sound, everything became richer. The arrangements became longer and more structurally complex, guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo’s chordal approach expanded into beautiful new harmonic territory and the already solid rhythm section of Jack Donovan and Matt Couto became even more frightening. But what really impressed me was how effortlessly they could veer from heavy guitar rock to hypnotic psychedelic jams to progressive rock flourishes and have it sound cohesive, organic and not in the least contrived. It has been one of my most-played albums for the past few years.
Reflections Of A Floating World finds Elder continuing their forward progression; expanding on the creative success of Lore and further refining what is now their own identifiable sound.
Opening track Sanctuary is the oldest composition here, dating back to the Lore era. Because of that it effectively works as a bridge between the two albums. The opening section of the song has a heavy melancholy vibe that brings to mind Wheels Of Confusion from Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4. But unlike the majority of bands in this genre that stubbornly remain inside the Sabbath wheelhouse, Elder plumbs deeper for inspiration. They don’t generally employ a standard song structure; their compositions are more like extended suites that progress through a series of movements. They build layer by layer in a process of construction and deconstruction, slowly building tension then relaxing while never losing forward momentum. Vocals are used sparsely; Sanctuary begins with two short verses and then becomes instrumental for the next 5 minutes, the single-word chorus doesn’t appear until 7 minutes into the piece. The instrumental coda is breath-taking, a lovely wash of layered guitar parts creating warm waves of analog distortion.
The Falling Veil shows off the expanded lineup to good effect. After a brief space-rock introduction it sprints into action with a very bright tempo and a sunny guitar riff, lightening the mood considerably from the opening. The additional guitar of Michael Risberg allows for more layered chordal arrangements and harmonized lines; during the instrumental mid-section I found myself imagining a turbo-charged variation of Wishbone Ash. There is an album worth of good riffs in this track and it also demonstrates a continued maturation in the songwriting department.
The undeniably timely Staving Off Truth is one of Elder’s most impressive arrangements to date. It starts with a harmonized riff so beautifully thick it threatens to bend your spinal column. It then weaves in Clavinet, pedal steel, acoustic guitar and a splash of Mellotron along its 10-minute journey. Elder writes in long form, but their compositions actually merit the running time, they last as long as is required to tell the tale.
Blind is a distillation of all the points on Elder’s evolution thus far; an epic mix of traditional Sabbath-inspired doom, ’70s heavy rock and prog powered by Nick DiSalvo’s always heroic axe-work. It’s noteworthy because of the prominence of keyboards in the mix, alternating between electric piano and Hammond organ, a new element that expanding to a four-piece allows. It’s a good introductory track for those unfamiliar with Elder’s approach, because it ventures into areas wholly unexpected based on where it begins.
The instrumental Sonntag is a pleasant excursion into krautrock territory, an unexpected treat and it functions as a nice breather between the more intense pieces that surround it. The arrangement is essentially built off a single groove that progresses in linear fashion as new elements are methodically applied. It’s a slow burn but the payoff is glorious.
Thousand Hands is a fast-paced, muscular closer that also contains one of the albums most beautiful moments in the wistfully melodic mid-section.
Reflections Of A Floating World is an intense experience, but a truly enveloping one. It’s not background music and it refuses to be. I found it impossible to write this review while listening to the album, I’d get distracted mid-sentence and then realize that an hour had passed once the last song fades out. That doesn’t happen often. Obviously, I highly recommend it, but I also strongly suggest picking up Lore as well, they go together perfectly. Guitar rock is most definitely not dead, Elder is living proof.
01. Sanctuary (11:14)
02. The Falling Veil (11:13)
03. Staving Off Truth (10:18)
04. Blind (13:23)
05. Sonntag (8:40)
06. Thousand Hands (9:37)
Total Time – 64:21
Nicholas DiSalvo – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Jack Donovan – Bass
Matt Couto – Drums
~ Guest Musicians:
Michael Risberg – Guitar
Michael Samos – Pedal Steel