At this point, Massachusetts doom metallers Elder have pretty much established themselves as a creative force skilled enough and unique enough within the genre to be respected internationally--something devoted supporters of local music in New England (my home turf) can be proud of. They began as one of those strong but not particularly unique acts operating near the sludge-filled sonic intersection of doom and stoner metal. But the trio (newly expanded to a quartet live and apparently on at least part of this record by second guitarist Michael Risberg) has been steadily growing as a creative unit, gradually making their sound ever more diverse and adventurous. In fact, I would argue that their last album--2015's Lore--found the band writing material ambitious enough in scope that it now wouldn't be entirely inappropriate to call them the Led Zeppelin of 21st century doom. With ever-shifting mazes of massive riffs, unexpected tempo changes and almost hypnotic atmospheric breaks--and only one song under the ten minute mark, mind you--Lore was actually almost too much crushing brilliance to absorb.
With its rich production, huge guitar sound and complex interplay between multiple guitar parts (including some tasty harmonized lines), perhaps Lore signaled to the band members that they had taken the power trio incarnation of Elder as far as it could go. This, it seems, is where Risberg comes in. Though he's listed as a guest musician in the Reflections Of A Floating World CD booklet (along with pedal steel guitarist Michael Samos), Risberg has apparently been added to the band's live lineup for recent shows. Considering guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo's increasingly sophisticated and multi-layered guitar work in the studio, this addition was probably becoming a necessity.
The new album's opening cut, "Sanctuary," picks up right where the last album left off (not surprisingly, since it was actually introduced to audiences during the tour for the Lore album), with the mix of heft, complexity and psychedelic sonic textures that become expected from the band. And for the rest of the album's first half (and portions of the rest), things are much the same. But there is something slightly different this time, a subtle but noticeable shift further towards the increased sonic diversity hinted at on Lore. But whereas that album felt dominated by massive, thundering Gibson SG tones rather than the more subtle bits, Reflections feels like a somewhat more even split between the two. It's not enough of a difference to have diehard fans from the band's early days grumbling "sellout" (as Mastodon have begun to experience), but enough to make this album feel slightly less overwhelming than its monumental predecessor. There's also a bit of a surprise, and accompanying lightening of the mood, in the form of the vaguely Krautrock-flavored instrumental "Sonntag." It's one of those jammy, fairly minimalist compositions that can feel a tad monotonous and aimless, but at the same time enjoyable in a chill, somewhat hypnotic way.
Again, Lore was an album so powerful and ambitious that it was almost too much of a good thing, simultaneously heralding what now seems like the end of an era for Elder. Reflections, then, finds the band taking its first steps toward figuring out what happens next, giving us a few more generous helpings of their tasty prog-doom recipe even as they continually tweak it. In the process, they've managed to produce an album that feels a tad more accessible than the last--just slightly less ambitious and overpowering, but clearly not an abandoning of what made that one such a stunning piece of work. And while they've established a certain sonic identity, no one can really guess where Elder's sound will go next. They have been evolving at a healthy pace since their early days, and what they've done recently, particularly on these last two albums, leaves the possibilities wide open.
About this Writer: Vinaya Saksena // Vinaya is either a writer who dabbles in guitar playing, or a guitar player who dabbles in writing. A Maximum Metal staffer since 2004, he has also served as a reporter for several newspapers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although his obsession with music is such that it does not allow time for much else by way of hobbies, he also enjoys traveling, trivia, photography, British comedy and the occasional A-Team re-run.
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