Elliott’s Keep: Fearless Fate in the Darkest Corners

There are two things that anyone who heard Dallas doom trio Elliott’s Keep’s first record are going to notice immediately about the follow-up. Primarily, Sine Qua Non is a lot heavier than In Medias Res, especially in the vocals of bassist Ken, and second, that there’s a lot more of it. In Medias Res — which, like the sophomore outing, was released on Brainticket Records – was 40 minutes long, and Sine Qua Non adds nearly half that time again to clock in at 58:49. It’s a lot of doom, and though it’s not without its lulls, Elliott’s Keep have clearly grown as players and as a band in the two years since In Medias Res.

And yet, a lot of the mission seems to have stayed the same. The look of the two albums is similar down to the fonts used and the layout of the back covers. Both have medieval-themed artwork (though I prefer the deep reds of the new album), Latin titles, production credited to J.T. Longoria at Nomad Studios in Dallas with mastering by Gary Long. Hell, if you stand In Medias Res and Sine Qua Non next to each other, even the logos and titles on the spines line up. Obviously, the trio of Ken, guitarist Jonathan and drummer Joel (who seem to prefer first names only) weren’t looking to revolutionize their approach, and that holds true for the music as well, though right from the start with the pummeling alliterative back-to-back heaviness of “Fearless” and “Fate,” Elliott’s Keep show their songwriting has matured. Both tracks top eight minutes both hold attention well, and with a guest solo from Solitude Aeturnus guitarist/Brainticket head honcho John Perez on the emotionally tortured 7:50 “Shades of Disgrace,” you’re 25 minutes through Sine Qua Non before you even know it.

If there’s a better example of Elliott’s Keep’s maturation as a band, though, it’s a track like “Witchburning,” and that’s because it’s mostly without flash, without flourish, just straightforward traditional doom musically, topped with Ken’s varied vocals. Yet, Elliott’s Keep prove so much more intense in the six minutes of this one song, Joel moving from ping grooves to sub-blastbeats with each while Jonathan glides from sinister riff to sinister riff. Ken’s growls and screams are expertly arranged on top of the music, and while it’s the balance of this approach with a more traditionally doomed melodic side that keep the listener guessing through the first couple tracks, an all-out blistering song like “Witchburning” has Elliott’s Keep genuinely straddling black and death metal while still retaining their doom edge, which comes out even more on the immediately-following “Damned,” where Ken switches back to the melodic singing for a harrowing tale of loss.

It’s the little things. Smart sequencing, smoother transitions, a livelier all around feel (now that I say that, maybe these aren’t little things at all) that make Sine Qua Non stand out. Elliott’s Keep have paid attention to In Medias Res, and it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point the three members sat down — perhaps even with Longoria — and discussed what they wanted to do differently this time around. You’d be amazed at what a difference that kind of thing can make. Even a song like “Maleficar Validus,” which doesn’t necessarily add anything new to Sine Qua Non in terms of style, is less a lull than a confirmation of the band’s prowess because it’s so well done. Ken’s vocal confidence leading the way, Jonathan and Joel have less pressure to hold up the band on their own, and are freer to set the utterly blear atmosphere of the album.

The closing duo of “Beloved” and “Darkest Corner,” totaling a little under 14 minutes between them, begin to show more of the formula Elliott’s Keep are exploiting for Sine Qua Non, but there’s no real dip in the quality of the material. It’s an album that’s going to take some digging into — a grower — but I think with time doom heads can appreciate the fresh approach these Texans are brining to the well-established characteristics of the genre. Elliott’s Keep weren’t revolutionizing doom on In Medias Res, and they’re not revolutionizing doom here (I’d argue that’s not the intent), but what Sine Qua Non proves is they’re a band able to offer an individualized interpretation of doom without getting caught up in pretense or sacrificing memorable songwriting. I liked In Medias Res. I like Sine Qua Non better. It’s a more realized album all around, and as the title suggests that “without this, there is nothing,” I can only respond that Elliott’s Keep’s time is well spent.

Elliott’s Keep, “Fearless” from Sine Qua Non

Elliott’s Keep on MySpace

Brainticket Records

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