Elder have gone through a lot of changes over the years. Nowadays, they've moved steadily away from the heavy fuzzladen stoner metal of their early years to a much lighter, far more progressive version of the same thing. The fundamentals aren't wildly different but, if you compare the debut from 2006 with this album, sixteen years later, you might wonder if they're the same band. Also, at the time I reviewed Omens, their fifth album, two years ago, they were an American band based in Providence, Rhode Island, not too far from their origin in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. However, this time out, while they're still an American band, they've apparently moved to Berlin.
And why not? Moving to Berlin has historically sparked highpoints in discographies, not just David Bowie's famous Berlin trilogy, but others like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave too. I wouldn't say that this is up to those levels, but it's a good album and it's one I've been happily playing for most of the day. Much of it is akin to a psychedelic take on Yes, including the vocal parts, which I do still enjoy, even though I prefer the instrumental sections. I feel that Elder are always at their best on songs where they find an instrumental groove and just roll with it.
Some of those instrumental grooves took me by surprise this time out. There's one late in Endless Return that feels dancy in a Stone Roses style. There's another late in Merged in Dreams - Ne Plus Ultra that's almost ambient krautrock. And yes, most of the best sections come late on in songs, a trend that comes from Elder patiently building those grooves over the substantial length of their tracks. There are five this time out, with The Purpose, which closes out the album, the shortest at over eight and a half minutes. Merged in Dreams is the epic at almost fifteen.
For all that variety, there's a lot of consistency here, both in style and quality. I would be very hard pressed to pick out a favourite track, partly because they all play well but also because they all play well together, meaning that I've come to think of this as a fifty some minute piece of music instead of a set of tracks that happen to add up to that much time. Maybe I could highlight Endless Return as perhaps the best of a good bunch, but it doesn't seem right. I couldn't honestly say my favourite tracks here are tracks at all but parts of them, individual grooves or sections, even down to certain changes.
What's perhaps more important is that every time I try to write anything further, I realise that I'm four tracks on and haven't added any more notes because I'm just lost in the music. This definitely felt a notch up on Omens anyway, as well as The Gold and Silver Sessions from a year earlier, which may have started this softer approach for Elder, as a deliberate experiment. However, this level of immersion kind of cements the thought. It isn't vanishing into the background. I'm vanishing into the album. What's odd is that, usually when that happens, I feel like I'm on a journey somewhere, but I don't feel that here. I'm not drifting between galaxies, I'm just floating in the music.
I wonder what old school Elder fans feel of this new mellower version of the band. Are they pissed off because the bass sounds like a rich syrupy liquid instead of a fuzzy wall of sound? Do they miss the crunch of the guitars and find the power up in sound here weak in comparison? Or are they all on board because Elder are still doing what they've always done, just in a more nuanced way, with more depth and progression? I hope it's the latter because they seem to be getting better to me, even if I might be coming to their new work as an old school psychedelic Pink Floyd fan rather than a stoner metal devotee.