Elder is a band which borders on sludge, prog, hard rock, psychedelic. This makes it a bit difficult to review, but it has gotten quite a bit of positive attention. It is also a nice break from the types of things I’ve been listening to. So let’s try.
First, the tracks are long. Many are well over 10 minutes long. Take the first track. It is a long journey from the opening riff idea to where you find yourself 7 minutes in, but the composition structure is fairly consistent across the album so we’ll look at how the songs progress.
Elder takes a set of riffs or motifs for the song. They noodle and sequence (move the same note pattern to different parts of the scale) that idea for awhile. This often involves some interesting chromaticism. Then they’ll take a static jam area (maybe sing something that functions as a chorus). These tend to be long and boring, but it creates distance from the first idea so the next unrelated idea flows naturally in the song.
Then in a big climactic section a few of the riffs get layered on top of each other. The outro tends to be a restatement of the original motif by itself again. These songs are long enough, that it took a few listens to finally realize this structure.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean it is predictable. The structure is actually pretty well done. Idea, transition, idea, transition, development, layer original ideas, finish up. It gives you something to grab onto with the length of the songs.
Let’s think about the individual pieces and whether they work. The riffs/motifs are hit or miss. I almost didn’t want to listen to the album when the first song started. Their first idea lacks any substance. When it comes back later, it actually fits quite nicely in conjunction with other stuff. But since it is mostly a texture pattern, it doesn’t work on its own.
Other riffs are much better like the one in the middle of the second track. It is kind of cringe inducing with its blatant imitation of 70’s prog rock (think Kansas). But at least it has some melodic meat to it. This track also has a pretty neat hemiola during its climax.
Each song feels coherent, but a bit lengthy. They try too hard to be cautious about the coherence I think. This is the biggest negative for me: the sheer length and repetitiveness of some of the transitions. They are just transitions. Playing the same chord with almost no variation for minutes on end is a big turnoff.
The hit or miss aspect of the ideas makes it hard to fully love any track, but it also means I don’t really hate any either. The best parts of the album are when two good ideas get put together in an unexpected way. The worst parts are where two banal ideas that obviously go together get set up for 10 minutes as if we didn’t see it coming.
The album is a clear step up from say Periphery’s latest release where the ideas had no transitions and didn’t work together. Still, each listen has steadily decreased how much I’ve liked this. Once you understand what is going to happen, it gets a bit tedious to wait around for it to happen. My best suggestion to drastically improve this album would be to make those transitions shorter and more interesting.
Overall, I’ll give this a 7/10. Here’s a sample: