Heavy metal is a mythical creature. Its tropes and boundaries seem clearly defined. Almost all metal acts share the same fiery guitar tones, aggressive vocals, and powerful drums. Despite that, there is almost as much diversity under the umbrella of heavy metal as there is outside of it.
You have the brutal, punishing djent of Meshuggah, the breakneck thrash of Megadeth, the gloomy, industrial atmospheres of Ministry, and every shade in between. French blackgazers Alcest don’t even sound like they share a planet with Cannibal Corpse, let alone a genre. And yet both wear the “metal” tag comfortably.
And then there’s Elder. This Massachusetts metal trio isn’t content with just one corner of metal’s kingdom. It masterfully blends elements of doom, post-metal, and psychedelic rock to create an album that is far more than the sum of its parts. Reflections of a Floating World shifts from Isis-esque sludge to headbang-worthy, arena-ready guitar solos reminiscent of Rainbow—often within the same song. Pink Floyd-ish psychedelia rears its head. “Sanctuary” even has a few moments that bring Jimi Hendrix to mind. Its thick sonic palate is augmented with electric pianos and acoustic guitars.
But for all of its chameleonic transmutation, the record never sounds unfocused. None of its disparate elements are at odds with one another. Instead, the record feels like exploring the distinct regions of an alien planet. The desert might look nothing like the forest, but they undeniably exist within the same world.
Despite an hour runtime, the album only has six tracks, one of which is a nine-minute instrumental krautrock jam. Such a patient album is a bold move in a culture that loves the instant gratification of two-minute pop tunes, SMS marketing, and Amazon Prime. But it pays off big time. Reflections of a Floating World is one of the most rewarding metal albums to come out this year, and perhaps my favorite album of the year, period.