When I interviewed Nick DiSalvo (guitars/vox) before Elder’s appearance at last year’s Uninvited Festival, he kept it no secret that the band had been deep into some 70s prog during the writing and recording of their (then unreleased) third album, Lore, which came out on February 24 via Stickman Records. And it only takes the first 3 seconds of this album to clarify just how truly this statement resounds. If the intro to “Compendium”, the album’s first track, isn’t a nod to the immortal Steve Howe, then I don’t know what is. Which is not to say that Elder have reduced themselves to mimicry, or attempted too forced a shift in their sound, because as soon as the song really kicks, it does so with a much more characteristic layering of colossal doom heaviness over the proggy nuances, showing just how successfully the band has been able to combine their favorite styles, and just how far they’ve come since their first album, only 6 short years ago. And now, when they do get back to the doomier roots, it’s not just so they can chug away at some distorted blues groove for 8 minutes. As heavy and earthy as these jams can get, they never bog themselves down. The music on Lore is always moving, always shifting, and the result is the sonic, psychedelic mind trip that this band has been threatening to unleash since day one. Over its 10-minute span, “Compendium” goes from nimble progginess, to “Immigrant Song”–esque chug, to thunderous doom, to atmospheric psychedelia, and back again, and as such it is microcosmic of the entire album, and of the band’s entire aesthetic.
For me at least, it’s impossible to not see as synchronous to the band’s overall development the maturation of DiSalvo as a guitarist, and the album’s second track, “Legend”, contains what I consider some of his most impressive work to date. Starting airily, with plenty of open chords and reverb, the guitar on this track drives a continual crescendo throughout an intro that takes a full three minutes to develop, before falling back off into a more intimate verse. But even when he’s playing quietly, he’s not simply playing rhythm, and a close ear reveals a treasury of nuance. The song moves seamlessly from this intimacy to vast riffery, and of course Elder’s rhythm section (Jack Donovan – bass, Matt Couto – drums) deserve just as much credit for navigating through such an abundance of temporal and tonal changes. And then we hit the 6:20 mark and the ghost of (still living) Steve Howe descends once more from the heavens, and next 40 seconds constitute what is arguably the most beautiful moment on the record. I mean, shit. It’s that good. And the song’s only half over!
Oddly enough, the 70’s prog obsession that clearly underlies this whole album in some instances actually makes the band sound more contemporary. Stoner rock in general seems perpetually cursed to sounding (intentionally, mayhaps) dated, but the bright and complex tonalities of the title track, for example, bring to mind current bands like Baroness and Torche much more than Fu Manchu. And this transition that so many doom/sludge/stoner bands seem to have undergone recently – that from relentlessly heavy to intricately textured – is certainly a divisive one. I, for one, think that Yellow & Green was a phenomenal record, and a great step forward for Baroness, but you’ll never get me to concede that The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun will ever hold a candle to the first few Mastodon albums. And we’ve all got our opinions, of course, but I think there should be little doubt that Elder’s decision to expand and complexify their sound has a paid off in spades, and resulted in an absolutely stunning album.
All in all, the great triumph of Lore is its remarkable palette. Elder will always be Elder, and that is in some ways to say that Elder will always be at heart a stoner band, but their stylistic flexibility truly puts them, considered alongside their peers, in the realm of the unsurpassed.