With the 2010s now behind us, I’ve spent some time wondering which bands will be seen as the most influential of the decade. Such contemplation is a fool’s errand, not only due to the close proximity in time but also because most musicians would seemingly rather boast about their old school influences than acknowledge the contemporary zeitgeist.
Groups like Uncle Acid, Windhand, and Pallbearer are quick namedrops as far as stoner doom goes, but I would also nominate Elder as a contender. The band has encompassed a variety of textures and picked up a sizable following since their 2006 formation. I haven’t heard too many Elder clones yet, but there are a bunch of bands out there that likely took notes when listening to Lore and Dead Roots Stirring. Their fifth album, Omens, is due for release this April and now seems like a good time to look at how they’ve developed in that time.
Like most bands just starting out, Elder’s 2009 debut is an admittedly derivative affair. The album is very indebted to the likes of Kyuss and Sleep, channeling the former in the swaggering desert riffs and the latter in the Al Cisneros-style bellowing. That said, the band also establishes the spacy touches and jamming tendencies that would only get more drawn out with time. The ambitions of the two-part “Riddle of Steel” are enough to put the album above pedestrian stoner doom fare, and the serpentine riff set on “Ghost Head” is pretty great.
Final Grade: B+
2) Dead Roots Stirring
Right off the bat, “Gemini” is a stellar demonstration of Elder’s great leap forward following their debut. The guitar/bass tones are crisper, the vocals are higher-pitched, and the instrumental meandering suits the loose structure while staying memorable. From there, the worldly air on “III” gives an exotic touch to the proceedings while “Knot” dives headlong into climactic stoner prog. Musical parallels to groups like Om and Mastodon can be found, but the muddy production gives the album a spacy yet swampy atmosphere that I find difficult to compare to anybody else. If the self-titled was Elder’s Kill ‘Em All, then Dead Roots Stirring is their Ride the Lightning.
Final Grade: A
After languishing in the swamps of its predecessor, Lore takes on a decidedly more aquatic character. Comparisons to Yob and Crack the Skye-era Mastodon are pushed to the forefront as the guitar work is intricate yet pummeling, and the vocals are more noticeably melodic. Fortunately, the band keeps their signature jams firmly intact. Tracks like “Legend” and “Spirit of Aphelion” expand the album’s dreamlike atmosphere, and the title track’s almost sixteen-minute splendor still stands as one of their most definitive statements to date, even if it may be a little too long. I prefer Dead Roots Stirring by a hair, but this album strikes a strong balance between their doomy past and proggy present.
Final Grade: A
4) Reflections of a Floating World
Reflections of a Floating World seems poised to pick up right where Lore left off at first, but it ends up offering a slanted take on that style. The structures are as busy and meandering as ever, but the prog ends up having a more 70s flavor. “The Falling Veil” and “Staving off Truth” seem inspired by Pink Floyd and King Crimson, “Blind” really pushes those keyboards, and “Sonntag” is a full-on krautrock jam. ‘Floating’ is certainly a fitting word to describe this album: The heavier rhythms may keep it tethered to the earth, but it gets a lot of mileage from those airy textures.
Final Grade: A-
5) The Gold & Silver Sessions
Even if The Gold & Silver Sessions is just an EP of instrumentals recorded during the last album’s sessions, I’d be amiss to not acknowledge it in an article like this. It presents a completely different side of Elder, leaving behind the heavy undercurrents in favor of completely immersing themselves in psychedelic jams. The mood is light, and the abstract structures allow for even looser grooves. There’s even room for variety with “Illusory Motion” cruising with a desert vibe, “Im Morgengrauren” drifting along on atmospheric keyboards, and “WeiBensee” encompassing both moods in an eighteen-minute timespan. It may not be the most essential Elder release, but it’s great for when you just want to zone out.
Final Grade: A-