I acknowledge that this review is quite late, but I must also say that I feel like I have a good reason this time. The whole idea of putting out a review the day something comes out, especially for someone like me who never gets to hear things early, can be a shaky prospect when it comes to the quality of analysis. Sometimes I have a pretty solid opinion on first listen, but sometimes it can take quite a while for me to really absorb what I’m listening to. Reflections of a Floating World by Elder came out nearly a month ago, and I’ve been listening to it pretty consistently since then. However, I can only say that I’ve come to a definite stance on this within the last few days.
There is a lot to take in on Relections; the album clocks in at over an hour long while spanning just six tracks, only two of which are under ten minutes long. From the start, I knew there was something special about this record but it’s taken me weeks to figure out exactly what it is that is so brilliant about it, but I think I have it pinned. Since I’ve started writing on this blog, I’ve noticed a repeated motif in many of my reviews where I say something along the lines of “this album is like going on a journey”. Thinking about it, a large portion of my favorite records have this aspect in common, and this new Elder album is one of the best demonstrations of that approach I’ve heard in a long time.
There’s a lot to be said about the mental images music creates as you’re listening to it. As a point of comparison, take Pallbearer’s album Heartless, which came out earlier this year. There are definite parallels between that album and Reflections; both, at their core, are expansive explorations of doomy prog rock. But where Heartless conjured images of scaling mountains, this album has you floating through the cosmos.
Elder are a unique combination of stylings. I guess the broadest genre label you could stick on this record is progressive rock, but other elements such as some swirly psychedelia and sludgy doom metal creep in at a lot of points. Combine those with little bits of languid Floyd-isms and mile high soaring guitar leads and you have a pretty versatile sound that still stays focused even through the massive track lengths. This band have a real nuanced way of adding little bits of sound outside of their core heavy riffage. The dual guitar attack is the album’s main focus, but every so often you get these extremely tasty bits of keyboard, organ, mellotron, acoustic guitar, and even a bit of steel pedal guitar.
In addition, Elder are experts at weaving in and out of the more ambient, spacey sections of their compositions. When you play progressive metal, so much of your compositional strength relies on the strength of your transitions. The nature of the prog songwriting style means that you will generally have lots of disparate musical passage that make up your songs, and making them flow together naturally is of utmost importance in this style of music. Elder do this so well on Reflections that these songs, as long as they are, seem to fly by without you ever checking how much is time is left until the next track.
If I had to level a complaint against this album, it’s that the vocals almost seem incidental. There aren’t many words on this album in general, and I can’t think of an exact moment where they are the focus, with the one exception of the “SANCTUARAAAYYY” chant near the end of the first song. They’re not bad, and I have the feeling the band just have the vocals in there as a formality, but it’s still something that took me a couple listens to get used to, sort of like with Baroness’s Red Album, another fantastic progressive record with rather sparse usage of vocals. The high flying guitar melodies are what really do the singing for most of this record. And these guitars really do soar. Some of the lead bits on this record are goddamn mythological.
To put it in more relatable terms, I think one could describe the guitar approach to this album as a halfway house between the styles of Tony Iommi and Steve Howe. There’s a really fine balance here of the type of lumbering riffing style you’d find in many modern doom metal releases and the sort of higher timbered spidery lines the latter guitarist is famous for. In fact, there are quite a few instances on this album that seem right out of the classic Yes playbook, especially on “The Falling Veil”. But it’s their overlap with the super heavy sludge parts that make this album one of the most unique rock albums I’ve heard this year.
The records that really stick out most to me are the ones that I can listen to all the way through and it feels like barely a second has passed. I get so engrossed in albums like this that I end up shutting just about everything else out. It’s stuff like this that makes me take the long way home when I’m driving.
Yeah. It’s pretty good.