There are really two approaches one might take in considering Lore, the third full-length from Massachusetts trio Elder, released in the US by Armageddon Shop and in Europe on Stickman Records. The short way is to say they’ve turned from the deep-toned heavy psych style of their 2011 sophomore outing, Dead Roots Stirring (review here), and used that as a basis for a more clear-headed, progressive approach to riffing. The long way is to sit and map out every turn Lore‘s five included tracks make over the course of their combined 59 minutes, every change, every moment where sprawl meets crunch, every soundscape, melodic impression, rhythmic pivot, etc. Frankly, neither approach does the album justice. The former cheats the songs — “Compendium” (10:39), “Legend” (12:31), “Lore” (15:57), “Deadweight” (9:27) and “Spirit at Aphelion” (10:32) — of their due consideration on an individual level, and the latter wrongly discounts the impression of Lore as a whole, which is how, despite its 2LP length, it is best experienced. One hopes, then, to find some middle ground, as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo (also keys), bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto have done on the Justin Pizzoferrato-produced outing, which follows 2012’s two-song Spires Burn/Release EP (review here) and seems to be pushing further along those stylistic lines. That’s no surprise. Each Elder release has built on the last — Dead Roots Stirring was a leap from the band’s stoner-riffed 2008 self-titled debut (interview here), released on MeteorCity, and Lore is likewise a leap from that second album — and it seems that if they don’t have something to say, Elder aren’t interested in putting out a record every year just for the sake of doing so. Their musical progression is that much easier to trace for the stretches between outings, and Lore, as was Spires Burn/Release, as was Dead Roots Stirring, as was Elder, is their defining work to date. A landmark.
Those who worshiped at the altar of Dead Roots Stirring might be surprised on first listen at just how clean Lore sounds, the beginning guitar taps of “Compendium” a clarion both of the proggier feel that pervades and of the clarity of the production that follows suit. It’s not, however, as simple as the band jumping ship from one style to another — much of DiSalvo‘s style of riffing remains the same, and Donovan‘s basslines still circle around the guitar only to land back at the root just at the right moment, and Couto‘s swing and crash is as prevalent as ever — it’s just what they do with these signature elements that results in the impression of growth. In “Compendium”‘s airy midsection, in the snare work under the guitar solo in the second half of “Legend,” in “Lore”‘s post-break Mellotron-inclusive triumphant swell of crash cymbal, guitar and bass, and in the energetic, circular riffing to which it leads, in “Deadweight”‘s atmospheric opening and more straightforward, linear framework, and in the running acoustic lines that begin “Spirit at Aphelion,” one finds some standout factor or moment in each of Lore‘s individual pieces, but the evolution of the band is as evident in how well songs feed into each other as it is in the songs themselves. On a linear format (CD, digital), Lore is an encompassing front-to-back listen, and while the side-flips of a 2LP allow for more focus on each track — not to mention a fuller, frame-worthy view of Adrian Dexter‘s stunning artwork — being carried along the record’s sundry builds and cascades uninterrupted is a markedly satisfying way to experience it. The ground they cover across “Compendium,” the shiver-down-the-spine launch and turns of “Legend” and “Lore” — each longer than the last until the 16-minute title-track takes hold as the centerpiece and most expansive inclusion — would be enough for most full-lengths on its own, let alone the building riffs of “Deadweight” and some of the leftover Colour Haze influence they show in that track, or the stomping pre-fadeout finale “Spirit at Aphelion” provides, its deep-mixed keyboard line (that might be plucked guitar) the theme holding it all together.
Still, in taking Lore as a whole, it’s hard to discount the singular achievement of the title-track and the textures DiSalvo, Donovan and Couto craft across its span, from its immediately heavy opening, melodic verses, through the guitar-guided ambient break in the middle and the heights to which they build from the ground up in the second half, the song pulsing back to life at about 10 minutes in with a wash of mellotron, crash and guitar, before heading off at a full-run an on instrumental psych-prog exploration, topped here by a solo, shifting there into single hits before unfurling the massive-sounding, insistent riff that provides the apex before acoustic and electric guitar intertwine over the fadeout. Its transitions alone make for a remarkable accomplishment, but how well the song flows between its parts easily stands in for how well Lore, the album, shifts between its movements, “Deadweight” picking up from that fadeout quietly at first to hypnotize for two minutes before kicking into the lead-topped introduction of its meaty verse riff. After “Compendium,” “Legend” and “Lore,” it would be easy to think of “Deadweight” as a stylistic pullback before “Spirit at Aphelion”‘s early psych-folkish resonance — an impulse that one hopes Elder will continue to build on — and later adrenaline surge of a finish, but it’s not. It’s really just a kind of introductory track those who’ve made their way past “Lore” and onto side D know that Elder‘s story isn’t as simple as a phrase like “gone prog” could encapsulate. Their argument for a slot at Duna Jam? Maybe. If so, it’s a solid case. Either way, Lore brings new context to Elder within heavy rock, as they emerge not so much as a band taking influence from others, but one whose shifts, flow and songwriting are all the more dizzying for the sense of control behind them. Anyone still longing for a short version might take comfort in “Elder have matured,” but the truth of Lore is more than that, and the album distinguishes the trio from just about everybody in American heavy one might otherwise consider their peers, standing as their most individualized statement to date and one that seems poised to have a lasting influence of its own in years to come. For now, I’ve no doubt it will be counted among 2015’s best albums. Recommended.