Every so often, an album comes out of nowhere and truck sticks you into next Tuesday. Elder’s 2015 opus Lore did that for me. Their complex brand of New England stoner metal featured the right amount of proggy psych stylings to land in my personal Top Ten.1 Lore has been a constant friend these last two years, and I expected that topping it would be tough, given its lofty heights and incredible riffcraft. Leave it to Reflections of a Floating World to prove me so incredibly wrong.
Relative stagnation held Lore back, resulting in an album a tad too long for its own good. If Reflections were to top Lore, I thought naively, it would require tamping down the material into a tighter package. Good thing Elder didn’t ask my opinion, because Reflections improves on Lore in every way and clocks in five minutes longer. Whereas its predecessor crunched and bit and grooved, Reflections just… flows. Songs often feature several distinct movements, their progressive trappings defying structure without feeling aimless. Opener “Sanctuary” eases the listener in via these familiar waters. Its crunchy Pallbearer doom is as close as we will come to a consistent connection with the past. Elder’s amorphous riff evolutions return, but, like an old pro, now require less space and time to succeed. Nick DiSalvo’s vocals drop out for long stretches, heightening the impact of the fluid instrumentation. Nothing feels recycled, no moment wasted as “Sanctuary” unfurls. The quintet guides you through soulful solos and anxious shreds and a permanent brightness as the track shifts and shifts and shifts again.
Following an elongated warm-up, “The Falling Veil” sees Elder’s incandescent riffing tilt toward Baroness. While Reflections succeeds in part because of these long-winded spindles, I cannot shake the feeling that occasions like the aforementioned warm-up could be shortened or excised without the album losing too much. The Kyuss-inspired “Staving Off Truth” suffers no such problem. The success of its introductory breeziness, ephemeral and brief, is matched only by the album-highlight build on its back half. However, Reflections’ main draw lies in its progressive exploration, with “Blind” glittering as Elder’s crown jewel. The track bounces between moments of forced recall as diverse as The Smiths and Nirvana, but always engendered with the weight of Sleep and an ethereal keyboard undercurrent. Its constant exploration and progression tickle my music sensibilities in places I didn’t even know I had.
Follow-up “Sonntag” spends most of its time in the underground, accompanied by a buzzing bass and staccato electronic beats, puzzled by the ever-ascending nature of its own existence. Over the course of eight minutes, the track slowly builds upon the quiet space that Elder usually deploys to manage potential pacing issues. Conversely, “Thousand Hands” closes the album with a track that is, dare I say, straightforward. Evoking Kvelertak, it amps Reflections’ brightness up to 11 and meshes stoner metal and poppy chord nuggets into utter replayability. The direction plays off the forever-build of “Sonntag” so well that one of my only gripes with the record is a desire to see “Sonntag” launch right into “Thousand Hands,” rather than fade to black.
Recognizing the difficulties in orchestrating their multi-faceted masterpiece, Elder welcomed new member Mike Risberg and session musician Mike Samos on to flesh the record out with additional layers of guitars, keys, and pedal steel. The individual performances are a tour-de-force, often perfectly balanced with no noticeable sore spots. DiSanto knows just where to toe the line to let his voice do its work without infringing on his expanding galaxy of riffs. However, his timbre occasionally finds itself at odds with the course of the music and could use more punch in some areas. Likewise, the production on the quiet end is excellent – essential given how much time is spent down there – but Reflections’ peaks could use some of that same spacious touch.
Typically, my album notes quickly hit aspects of each song – style, placement, moments worth mention – twenty-five words tops, just enough to ease the writing process. The word count for Reflections’ entry checks in at 165… for the first track. That alone should demonstrate both how smitten I am with this act and how much Elder brings to the table. This is the rare album where every single listen has something new in store, something bold and worthy of admiration. As far as I’m concerned, Reflections of a Floating World is 2017’s pace-setter. Everyone else better get in line.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: EU: Stickman Records | NA: Armageddon Label
Websites: beholdtheelder.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/elderofficial
Releases Worldwide: June 2nd, 2017