Elliott’s Keep at the Middle of all Things

Storming the castle. Get it?Elliott’s Keep may not play the most innovative kind of doom, but you have to at very least acknowledge why they’re doing it. The Dallas trio of Ken Aubrey (bass/vocals), Jonathan Briar (guitar) and Joel Oloren (drums) were once part of doom stompers Marauder with Glenn Riley Elliott. When Elliott died in 2004, the three surviving members of Marauder — long since broken up by then — formed Elliott’s Keep in his honor and released their debut, In Medias Res, on John Perez of Solitude AeturnusBrainticket Records late last year.

Stylistically, they offer bloodied-axe medieval themes and ’90s-esque dark sounds?, throwing the occasional heavier element (like a Sepultura breakdown six minutes into “Iter!”) or growled, snarling vocal into a mostly traditional doom context. They’re not hip and they know it, but they’re not trying to be either, so it works for the duration of the six tracks on In Medias Res. It’s roots doom, but with some more metallic tendencies.

The first half of the album represents the “Crusader” trilogy and each of the three tracks, “Votus,” “Iter” and “Sedicare” give a solid foundation in the darkened American tradition of Pentagram, Penance, and even Solitude Aeturnus, though Aubrey‘s vocals hardly approach the power of Robert Lowe. In Medias Res having been recorded at Nomad Studios (Absu, Mercyful Fate), the production is immaculate, and that can be heard most readily in Oloren‘s drumming, which sounds as though the kit was heavily mic’ed and crisply recorded. Briar‘s guitar could stand to be a little higher in the mix on “Sedicare,” and though the transition into the double-bass/guitar interplay at 4:12 is awkward, the band pulls through it ably. They’re not trying to take over the world here.

The remaining three cuts of the album’s back end run through likewise darkened moods, “Nameless” in particular shows just how much these songs have been built around the guitar work. Each riff change brings the other instruments with it and the parts feel divided and plotted out — “Okay, verse here, then break, then chorus,” and so forth. It would make sense for “Black Wings” to be the heaviest cut on In Medias Res, and in many ways it is, offering a slower pace and black metal-style vocals (seriously, kind of sounds like Satyricon) exclusively before picking up with some death metal riffing and almost-blastbeats. This is Elliott’s Keep at their most miserable, and it’s the peak of the record.

Closer “Kindred” is an unpretentious 1:15 acoustic comedown that, like what’s come before it, revolutionizes nothing but manages to be effective nonetheless. To be kind, parts of In Medias Res appear generic, but honestly, given that no one here is making any claims to originality, I’m willing to let it go. It’s hard not to appreciate the earnestness in what Elliott’s Keep are doing; riffing out and remembering a fallen buddy who was taken before his time. Respect the mission, dig the riffs. Fair enough.

This picture has been in no way altered from when I downloaded it.Elliott’s Keep on MySpace

Brainticket Records

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