Lately I haven’t been reviewing that much music, and this lends each review a strange sense of weight. If I’m only going to review one album a month then there must be a reason why I choose THE ONE over the thousand other albums coming out every Tuesday and Friday.
So why the hell do I keep reviewing metal albums?
I don’t even like metal. I am a metal outsider. I am not a viking warrior or a slab of granite. I am wood or a soap bubble or something. I am just the shyest li’l sprig. And here I am again with 500 words about a metal album while entire regiments of new dream pop albums march across my news feed. Why does this keep happening?
More disturbingly, why do I usually like these things so much?
Who am I?
Obviously if I were reviewing all the metal albums this would be a very different scenario. I’d be throwing 2s and 3s around like a madman. “This is just dudes doing hammer-ons on guitars while other dudes squeal like piggies” I’d write, and then on to the next adventure! It would be a miserable existence, but a purposeful one. At the end of my life, I could look back and sigh a sigh of infinite relief; “the world knows I don’t like metal”. I’d ask for a viking’s funeral even though I didn’t really want one.
But instead hey, here’s a 9. Because Reflections of a Floating World by Elder is not just dudes doing hammer-ons and squealing. This album is the beautiful vertex where post-rock, metal, and shoegaze meet. If metal albums are given to stormy imagery, all lightning bolts and rolling thunder, this one focuses instead on the rain. It is a vast valley being pelted with a billion tiny drops.
What this means is that this is an album full of and about spaces. It is not focused on…things. It is focused on expanses. It doesn’t care about the lightning bolt, it cares about the scenery that the lightning bolt illuminates. It doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with the power of a guitar solo or blow you over with the shotgun blast of a double bass pedal. There are moments where the band sound even pensive. Pensive! Like the start of “Sonntag,” where morse code guitar blips zap across a placid sea. The wind swirls around itself without ever turning into a full-fledged waterspout. When drums arrive, they enter fully formed but softly. There is no stop-start chug, just a gradual increase in tension and intensity. Halfway through, the song still feels like it could explode at any moment. It’s the kind of post-rock shimmer showcase that a band like Mogwai would be proud of.
Or, say, the bright counter riff that buttresses the beginning of “Sanctuary”. Classic rock shredding suddenly retreats from an entirely perpendicular riff before the two become one. This happens a couple times during the course of the song and again and again during the album, but the power here is not a simple case of juxtaposition. These embattled riffs are interesting not because they are jarring or jagged but because they are so cohesively arranged. They support each other, filling in gaps that didn’t seem noticeable until the song shifts and suddenly you’re staring through a riff from an entirely new angle.
Plus there’s absolutely zero piggie squealin’.
I vaguely remember hearing of Elder before Reflections of a Floating World. Lore had floated around the Hearing Double-verse for a few days – one of our writers had thought about reviewing it, and I had signed on before other commitments shot down any chance I had actually writing that review. What this means, I suppose, is that Lore has been sitting on my computer for almost two years. I likely played it as background music once, but was too lost in whatever was happening to really listen to what I can now appreciate as a railroad of guitar riffs that would have left a younger me drooling.
Two years later, Reflections of a Floating World was released and, for the sake of this review, I’m finally actually listening to the Boston stoners. I can finally appreciate everything that happens at Elder’s fingertips – the moshing guitar riffs, the melodic calls and coos, the shuffling cadences that propel these 10-or-so minute epics forward. I can finally acknowledge that Reflections and its forefather Lore are the albums of my high school dreams; heirs to classic metal albums like Ride the Lightning and Paranoid that seemed lost in a post-Black Album age of hard rock radio.
Reflections is sharper than Lore, though its opening salvos may say otherwise. “Sanctuary,” the leading track on Elder’s latest album, gurgles its first riffs with sludge and distances vocalist Nick DiSalvo, his voice left echoing over busier stoner muscle. But while “Sanctuary” may start in the mire, stop-go riff rocking and dynamics dredge the swamp and churn “Sanctuary” into a far more dramatic affair. Maybe this is because Elder’s effectively a five-piece band now, giving more room for these kinds of dynamics; maybe it’s just natural progression pushing Elder into the embrace of more theatrical songwriting.
Either way, Elder levies a more complete sound on Reflections; DiSalvo can take some liberties with where he leads the rest of the band mid-song, not having to sling the sludge and the strings at the same time. It even gives room for flourishes, like the synthetic strings and slide guitar that gives “The Falling Veil” its mesmerizing denouement.
And then there’s the guitar play. I don’t mean to hover on guitar riffs, but they feel like the primary driver through much of Reflections, and DiSalvo, who doubles as a guitar player, seems to take this fact to heart. It’s often the guitar at the front, leading the arpeggios, the fadeouts and the sloughed guitar riffs. The rest of the music follows these leads, sometimes being buried by them but usually pressing them forward with their own bass-drum gusto.
The end result is an album that feels wholly organic, to the point of singularity. Dividing Reflections into songs seems entirely arbitrary, as there’s no real distinction between each song beyond the fade-outs and fade-ins every ten minutes or so. Sometimes DiSalvo sings and you remember these are actual songs, rather than movements in a full piece of Black Sabbath bong worship jams. Usually you’re too focused on everything else around him to notice.
That singularity is maybe the biggest fault in Reflections, if that could even be called a fault. Taken as a whole, Reflections is a kingdom afloat in Guitar World Magazine wet dreams and leftover bongwater whose endless stream of guitar heroics and marshland rhythms are more hypnotic than harsh. It’s an album that sinks rather than lifts, the kind of album to get lost in.