Elder is a constantly evolving organism, as all great bands should be. While every album is easily recognizable to me as Elder, and their 2009 debut (which is still great fun) can safely be categorized as stoner doom, their subsequent explorations have cause some confusion. Are they no longer metal? Are they prog? Psychedelic? They are and are not most of those things. While their fourth full-length (but don’t overlook their stellar 22 and a half minute EP Spires Burn from 2012) adds pedal steel (courtesy of guest Michael Samos) and adds Kosmische to their influences, everything is still a frame for guitar. Elder are mainly about guitar worship — the amazing tones that Nicholas DiSalvo can coax from his instrument, and the intricate layers that weave a web that can envelope you in a guitarcentric cocoon should you choose to allow yourself to be fully immersed. And now there’s a second guitar added to the palate via possibly permanent new member Michael Risberg, who also plays with DiSalvo in the Gold & Silver side project.
When I first saw them in 2011, the experience was defined mainly by power and volume, with of course some fine solos from DiSalvo’s dexterous fingers. I stood in front of the speakers and just bathed in the vibration, which I felt from my hair follicles, eyeballs down to the other balls. There’s plenty of bands that can do that, but DiSalvo’s attention to composition has served Elder well and the word is spreading. As usual, the average song length is just over ten minutes, and while only one (“Sonntag”) track of the six is truly an instrumental, many of the songs feel like it, as vocals seem to be no more than a secondary concern, getting a few verses in, then getting out of the way for the musical twists and turns. “Sonntag” (German for Sunday) is unsurprisingly the most influenced by the motorik beats of Neu and Can. Elsewhere I swear I hear a mellotron, but the notes are vague in that they only vaguely say that DiSalvo plays some “keys.” I’ll have to confirm, but I think I know a mellotron when I hear it. Either way, they effectively evoke a vast cosmic perspective that perfectly complements the psychedelic properties of the music, rich in imagery.
I hear other influences that are well outside the typical metal experience, such after the ethereal bridge in “Sanctuary” when the overdriven guitars come back in, they hit a keening note that reminds me vividly of Bitch Magnet, an underrated indie noise rock band that also dealt in glorious, powerful crescendos, which were also an influence on Slint and eventually the post-rock of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai. The beginning of “Staving Off Truth” also evokes them. Some of the guitar tones even remind me of early Dinosaur Jr. Those not familiar with those bands might just confuse some of it with prog. That’s certainly a small element in their sound, but not too significantly. It’s just truly transcendent guitar rock.
Over the years I sometimes daydreamed about the kind of arrangements and sounds I would make if I had more instrumental talent, or someone with those skills to work with. Since 2012, Elder have become quite a bit like the band I daydreamed about. It’s hard to ask for anything more than a band that has literally realized one’s dreams into real world, and otherworldly sounds.