Craft Beer. Heavy Metal. Fuck Yeah.
The relationship between metal and psychedelia can be traced back to metal’s roots. It is fairly well known that Black Sabbath started out as a blues-rock group, playing originally under the name Polka Tulk, then becoming Earth before settling on the name that became famous. Even after taking their turn towards evil, there was still the obvious strain of fuzzed-out Cream blues running through their veins, and they would play up the psychedelic influences in places like the keyboard section of Sabbra Cadabra.
But while Sabbath would be defined by truly bringing evil to what was called the Devil’s music, the Dark Lord’s influence was not restricted to heavy metal. Black Widow flirted frequently with Satan, despite being closer musically to Van Der Graaf Generator than to any metal band. Birth Control and Arachnoid would also base their music in darker territory, and the Greek band Aphrodite’s Child (featuring Evangelos Papathanassiou, better known as the electronic artist Vangelis) would go so far as to name their final album 666.
Heavy metal and psychedlic rock seemed like obvious bedfellows, but the relationship between the two genres did not last. Metal began to favor faster rhythms and diatonic harmonies, while psychedelic rock simply fell out of favor. The bluesier side of Sabbath would survive in the doom scene, but even these bands emphasized the evil side of Iommi’s riffs, trading the lighter psychedelic atmosphere for a more intense sound.
Decades later, the sordid affair between the two styles has been revived. Spearheaded by groups like Graveyard, The Devil’s Blood, and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, dark psychedelia is creeping its way back into the metal scene. Detractors call it a hipster trend, but I find it foolish to throw the whole movement under the bus, particularly when it is producing some very high-quality music.
Somewhere in this scene, the Boston psych/doom trio Elder have carved out their own niche. Starting out as a harsh-vocal sludge/doom act and eventually turning into Sleep worship, they added a melodic hard rock touch on 2011′s Dead Roots Stirring, and expanded on this sound with this year’s two-song EP.
And those two songs – clocking in at 10 and 12 minutes respectively – are two of the best I’ve heard all year. Spires Burn is a faster-paced, very headbangable riff machine driven by a powerhouse bass line. Release, meanwhile, is a much more melodic atmospheric piece that builds into one of the most epic outros I’ve ever heard. (And yes, the term “epic” is wildly overused to describe metal, but the last three minutes of Release are absolutely worthy of the description.)
Release, in particular, showcases what makes Elder so unique: their ear for melody. They manage to write extremely catchy riffs and licks while being neither poppy nor cheesy. And while it’s easy to trace their influences (obvious nods to Black Sabbath and Sleep, and I detect tinges of Colour Haze and Alice in Chains as well), they’re far from ripping anyone off. They’re doomy, but it’s a less evil, more uplifting take on doom, done in a way that does not compromise the intensity of the genre.
There is no one band like Elder, and I see great things in their future.