Seeing how Elephant Tree’s 2016 self-titled album was pre-occupied with mixing prog and alternative rock influences in stoner doom, it only makes sense for those elements to completely take over their third effort Habits. The band’s fuzz exertion still has some weight to it, though it’s paired with an even brighter tone and fluctuating post-rock dynamics. Comparisons could be made to the similar trajectories cast by groups like Elder and All Them Witches, but there’s also enough slowcore involved to parallel the transition from Warning to 40 Watt Sun.
This shift can feel somewhat dramatic at first, but the musicians really know how it feels natural. The vocals have stepped up in particular, delivering standoffish melodicism with layering that reminds me of Steven Wilson and OSI’s Kevin Moore. One can also hear keyboards and strings filling out the arrangements, but the guitars still provide the most power. The fuzz is put through a mix of stoner crunch and textured restraint with some gentle acoustic playing thrown in for good measure.
A move to more abstract territory does mean the songwriting isn’t quite as catchy this time around, but there is some incredible stuff on here. I must admit the first half can feel somewhat samey with “Sails” and “Faceless,” in particular putting in similar grungy builds, but the former track ultimately was a wise lead single choice. “Exit the Soul” pursues a similar stomp, but its melancholic atmosphere and midway tonal shift hint at something deeper.
That depth is paid off and then some with the album’s second half. “Bird” may be the most stirring song of the lot and makes the most of those post-rock influences as the building verses and explosive choruses are wrapped around soundscapes that evoke hauntingly open soundscapes. Elsewhere, “The Fall Chorus” and “Broken Nails” splendidly show off different aspects of Elephant Tree’s softer side; the former is a largely acoustic number with a sunny, wistful air while the latter has a more isolated attitude that is progressively compounded with its distraught drones and lingering ambiance.
I’m never one to tell bands how they should evolve with any semblance of authority, but Elephant Tree’s sound is right where I wanted it to be on Habits. The band’s alt-prog tinges were what made their self-titled album so engaging, and seeing them double down makes their songwriting even more confidently vibrant. One can also hope this blend successfully translates to greater exposure to the heavy rock world at large. Either way, this is an exciting listen that should not and hopefully will not be ignored.
“The Fall Chorus”