Stoner kings-in-waiting decide to go for broke on an impressively densely packed series of 10+ minute long prog-tinged epics.
I always scribble down some early impressions on my first listen to a record and from my notes on opening track Compendium one comment stands out – “Christ guys – slow down!”
My brain wasn’t ready y’see. Whilst Elder put together a few longer numbers on 2011’s outstanding Dead Roots Stirring they arranged them at a more leisurely pace. On tracks like Gemini each section of its monolithic chugging dirge was given room to breathe, each passage allowed to play out in its own time. Lore, by comparison, starts out like it’s in a bit of a hurry. There are parts during Compendium where I felt like I saw being swept up in a hurricane of riffs. There’s been a hefty an injection of prog into proceedings since Dead Roots – the guitar lines are now more intricate, necessitating a cleaner production than the grimey fuzz of their older work so that all the details come through clearly. Which is sensible: there are a lot of them.
Too many, perhaps. It was too much I thought. This is a band clearly set on knocking this one out of the park and making a name for themselves – and perhaps they’ve tried a little too hard.
It was about 5 minutes into second track Legend that I caught up with them and realised they were onto something.
After a few more listens I’m still of the opinion that Elder have set out on their third long-player with their worst foot forward. Compendium is the record’s weakest track – it’s too busy, too showy. And it doesn’t need to last 10 minutes. All the tracks here are long – you get 5 songs over 4 sides of vinyl – but this is the only one that doesn’t feel it’s earned it. It’s not without its charms – it comes at you with so many neat guitar riffs and variations on a theme that it’s inevitable some stick – but it isn’t until Legend transitions from slow-paced epic to groove-powered stoner-rock monster beautifully and in its own time that Elder really show themselves at their best. Compendium suffers from an urge to show the records’ hand straight away – it’s when they hold a few cards back they truly soar.
Elsewhere the running time is never an issue. Perhaps the title track may have a bit too much of a lull in the middle to keep it interesting for it’s entire quarter hour length but there are more than enough ideas to sustain it and a couple of truly magisterial crescendos. Deadweight feels like a more traditional desert rock groove stretched out over nearly ten minutes, shifting and twisting throughout. Closer Spirit at Aphelion seeks drop the curtain on a suitably epic finale but doesn’t quite stick the landing – as enjoyable as it’s acoustic opening and classic rock noodling is it feels like they could have done with shuffling the deck at let Legend or Lore act as showstopper.
Whilst I miss the dirt and grime that came with the likes of Gemini from their last offering the cleaner approach suits them; the labyrinthine passages of the latter half of Legend wouldn’t sound quite so stunning if they were mired in fuzz. The vocals too are pushed a bit further forward in the mix but Elder are smart enough to know that they’re not the bands strongest suit – they’re used sparingly with minutes and minutes passing without a word being uttered. The rhythm section does well to keep things interesting throughout – given the heft and the clatter of their earlier work it’s impressive how easy they make the transition to tightly wound prog sound.
They may be at different ends of the stoner rock axis but it reminds me of Hark’s Crystalline in that it feels like a work of as much graft as it is craft; the work of a band throwing everything it’s got at creating a defining statement. When they relax and shed the everything-at-once bluster that kicks off the record they’re undeniable, frequently having you scooping your jaw from the floor as they bombard you with riff after the riff after god damn riff. Lore is blessed with the kind of towering peaks that should have their names on the lips of every fan of lengthy rock epics – stoner, prog or otherwise.