Monday, October 17, 2011
Release date: October 25, 2011 (Meteor City Records)
Every once in a great while, an album comes along that almost leaves you lost for words. I say "almost," of course, because here I am, sitting down to write a review of one such album, and sure enough, I've managed to produce a few dozen words already, but I'm still trying to figure out how to effectively communicate how much I fucking love the new Elder record.
It'd be easy to write this Boston-based trio off as just another in a long line of Sabbath worshipping stoner metal bands, and admittedly, that alone is usually enough to impress me. Indeed, Elder's 2008 self-titled debut landed them squarely in that category, earning the band comparisons to stoner rock luminaries Sleep and Kyuss. But on Dead Roots Stirring, Elder not only avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump" that befalls so many bands that put out such a promising debut, they make stoner rock seem as fresh and viable a genre as it's been in decades.
It's been 20 years since bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and the Smashing Pumpkins brought smart, heavy rock to the mainstream. If the world is ready for another wave of intelligent hard rock, I can't think of a better band to lead the charge than Elder. That's not to say that Elder is a particularly radio-friendly band. The shortest of the five tracks on Dead Roots Stirring clocks in at just under nine minutes, which probably wouldn't fly in today's ADD society. But the strange thing is, none of the songs feel that long. Even at a total running time of 51 minutes, the album seems to fly by. Chalk it up to the band's incredible musicianship and ability to write great riffs, catchy hooks and mesmerizing, psychedelic guitar solos. If nothing else, this release should push Elder firmly into that small cadre of metal bands that hipsters and indie kids are allowed to like (Mastodon, Baroness, Isis, Torche, et al.).
The opening track, "Gemini," is stoner rock in its most basic form: fuzzy, blues-based riffs and gritty-yet-melodic vocals, highlighted by guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo ridiculous guitar work. The title track follows, with riffs that are at once epic, thunderous and beautifully melodic. The instrumental "III" and the fourth track "The End" keep the momentum going, but Elder saves the best for last. The closing track, "Knot," is probably the band's most accessible song, with gorgeously textured guitars that build to a climactic finish.
It's extremely rare to find a band that weaves heaviness and beauty so flawlessly. The Smashing Pumpkins and Jesu come to mind, but Elder is more than worthy of a spot on that short list. As a lifelong music fan whose preferences have only rarely aligned with mainstream tastes, I'm hardly qualified to declare any band "the next big thing," but if there's any justice in this world, Elder will earn themselves some admirers outside the narrow scope of stoner rock and metal fans. Dead Roots Stirring is not only the best album to come out this year, but might be the best hard rock/metal album I've reviewed in my five-plus years as a music journalist. Highly recommended.