Of all of music’s diverse genres, heavy metal remains one of the most impenetrable to outsiders. Possibly the most unreconstructed in form, the hermetic seals of progress on it are supposedly unbroken, in part as the result of a clannish devotion kept by fans who it’s orthodoxly thought revel in other’s perceptions of their extremity and scorched-earth anticultural values.
Because of this thick boundary it feels even harder for the layperson to break into any of the movement’s anonymous, seemingly infinite micro scenes, cabals that have sprung up around differing belief systems, tempo, geography and in a few cases personal politics. The result is that often when you’re cruising around your streaming platform of choice and something new and interesting comes up (Rope Sect’s eldritch Personae Ingratae for instance) it can seem like trespassing or voyeurism just to listen without having first undertaken some arcane rite of initiation.
Elder are a trio from Boston, Ma. who like many of their contemporaries had little or no public profile before the release of Reflections Of A Floating World: metal in the 21st century has been subject to so much ridicule by the mainstream you suspect this is how they like it. This hate will almost certainly mean that the extraordinary record they’ve made won’t receive the attention it deserves – outside of the little knot of scribes who keep metal’s articles of faith – a failure which will be something of a minor travesty, because heads up, it isn’t what many people would have you believe it to be.
Or perhaps superficially it is. At over an hour long and with most of it’s songs lasting more than ten minutes, it could be cheaply bracketed with the rest of a sleepy fork in the oeuvre’s road known as stoner rock; here Black Sabbath are kings, fuzz pedals and spliffs are the weapons of choice and the pace is often funereal. Reflections Of A Floating World will doubtless please those who inhale that brand, singer Nicholas DiSalvo doing a more than passable Ozzy-in-robes impression when called upon. He and his bandmates are also incredibly proficient on a technical level – although this seems to be a minimum requirement in these circles – but I say again, whilst the tropes are rich, the results are very much not as expected.
The album’s title is well-chosen. Like how we see ourselves in the mirror, it’s songs sound different depending on how you address them, building and subsiding, switching mood and outlook – often mid stream – whilst never falling into the trap of over indulging their core audience. True, lyrically it’s more than a little on the gnostic side; “Residuum amongst the stars, Fortuned sons of fractal eyes”, but words here about puppies or favourite snapchats wouldn’t just be wrong, they’d be virtually heretical against the backdrop of such a richly undulating musical canopy. This passage-within-a-passage configuration is what gives Reflections Of A Floating World is immense playability, as each tune reveals new facets with every repeated play. More impressive still is the speed with which it passes, as twelve minutes plus slips by over and over without the listener ever much noticing the advancing clock.
Reverent to it’s Alma mater’s core principles, this is a record that represents something of a maze, a journey which becomes more binding the longer you let it go on. It’s also a port of entry to a fascinating, textural world, one that shrugs off perceptions and sounds truly epic without bluster or ego. The keys to the castle are yours.