Elder was never meant to stick with stoner metal, though their early material nailed that style. The quartet’s 16-year career has led them to a nether-realm of progressive psychedelia, where their musicality continues to bloom. Albums like Lore in 2015 and Reflections of a Floating World in 2017 expanded Elder’s smokey riffs and ominous melodies with hefty dynamics and surprising technicality, while 2020’s Omens incorporated the spacious soundscapes, intuitive minimalism and emotive atmosphere introduced by 2019’s Gold & Silver Sessions. Even after a collaborative album with Swedish riff merchants Kadavar, Elder has yet to reach the ceiling of their creativity. To that effect, Innate Passage freely soars the stratosphere and mines the mantle of their artistry.
Much of Elder’s magic crystallizes on opener “Catastasis,” as a polyrhythmic three-over-four structure geysers out of an oceanic drone. Beyond the deceptively complicated rhythmic interplay and dazzling synth solo, Elder’s brand of technicality never comes at the expense of a transportive quality. The vocal interplay between frontman Nicholas DiSalvo and guest vocalist Behrang Alavi remains as memorable as it does sophisticated, yet the gnarly riffs he locks into with bassist Jack Donovan and guitarist Michael Risberg take things to a whole different level. Still, much of the song glides by like a lucid dream. It takes a special drummer like Georg Edert to juggle 13-count phrases so gracefully, guiding the song from hushed motifs and dancing arpeggios to a deliciously melodious guitar solo. Close examination reveals some impressive depth, but the scope and impact of Elder can still wash over the senses like a wave.
With a discography traversing stark minimalism and lush orchestration, Elder is the perfect band to cross into the untethered weirdness of krautrock to lull listeners into a trance before divulging into their larger-than-life riff mongering. It’s easy to lose track of time as “Endless Return” struts along its mid-tempo groove, allowing layers of protracted guitar strains and sparse vocal melodies to sneak in undetected. These arrival points of prog/doom grit pack plenty of catharsis without killing the established mood. Even the guitar solo, as impressive as it is, can blend into the sonic tapestry as easily as it can rise to become its centerpiece. Though unafraid to flex their chops, Elder retains a healthy respect for immersive vibes and powerful riffs.
This sentiment carries over onto “Coalescence,” which carries a penchant for looping a phrase to extract every drop of its worth. Elder’s musical cohesion allows every player to take a vital role, but never fight for attention in the aura. The repetition doesn’t get boring, because the riffs can fit into multiple contexts without having to switch up. This allows Elder to dedicate five minutes of the song to marinating on the same central idea in various flavors of space rock jams, post-rockfish immensity and interlocked riff changes, until Edert streamlines his syncopated groove for a cavalcade of fuzzed out glory. DiSalvo’s voice becomes a rallying point after these extended periods of exploration, whether its shimmering synth layers and delicate chords or muscular distortion.
Considering the band’s stoner metal roots, it’s telling that Elder waits until the midpoint of this album to get low and slow for the 15-minute excursion “Merged In Dreams – Ne Plus Ultra.” But even then, the massive riff drop accompanies an avalanche of agile fretwork, followed by an energetic punk-ish vamp. These guys clearly want nothing to do with extending the length of their songs the way some stoner acts like Sleep or Electric Wizard would. This song has just as much to do with Yes or King Crimson as it does the Sabbath-y doom tradition. Mournful sustained guitar harmonies counterbalance swimmingly with uplifting leads and shred-tastic precision, topped off with drum fills as exciting as they are tasteful.
Even cooler, the song’s final passage shirks the unnecessary interlude pitfall, setting up the closer with drizzling synth pads, bombastic drum rolls and euphoric chord progressions. The climax might actually be the closest Elder get’s to pure doom on the whole album—a raw, intense contrast to the galaxy-trotting arrangements that came before it. It’s an apt setup to the familiar forlorn mournings of closing cut “The Purpose.” But the band still can’t help but add a gorgeous bass feature and some of DiSalvo’s most passionate vocal performances to accompany the glacial riffs. Letting the riffs ride out would be plenty enjoyable, but why not add the retro synths over the top? Certainly not just to have the retro-prog-rock appeal. These guys know exactly how and when to take their songs to the next level, and they capitalize every time.
Innate Passage finds Elder refusing to be boxed in or compartmentalize aspects of their sound. Their music is distinct to a band who has spent the past 16 years expanding the boundaries of stoner rock, fleshing it out with psychedelia, flipping it upside down with progressive chops, and beautifying it with serene melodies. However anyone one tries to categorize them, no one does it quite like Elder. They’ll always have the riffs where it counts, but it’s clear they always saw stoner music as the springboard into uncharted sonic solar systems.