I remember the first time I saw Elder, I was a drunk teenager who just wanted to party with his doom metal friends. I listened to Dead Roots Stirring and their eponymous debut, Elder before the show and I remember being surprised that a band who were at times borderline instrumental and so ‘out there’ could have reached as much success as they had at the time, especially being the fiercely independent artists that they are. They were breaking boundaries and still crushingly heavy, where the hell did this even come from? What had I found in this band? There was a clear sense of aesthetic here but it was the kind of thing that only became apparent when I saw them live at 2014’s Doomed Gatherings Festival, a quasi legendary French get together that’s the closest the country gets to their own Roadburn.
Of course that night, by the time I figured out who Elder were I was drunk and I tried to convince their guitarist, the self deprecating and down to earth frontman Nick DiSalvo to sign to my label. Meanwhile, I was charmed by Jack Donovan, who was doing shots and playing foosball. Always at the heart of the party he remains, in my eyes, the friendly exterior of Elder. One quote of his that stuck out to me on that evening was “We’re just Americans who are here to fucking party!” That particular night I didn’t get as much of a chance to talk to Matt Couto, but he seemed like good people, and fit in nicely to the bands chemistry which is such a huge part of why the group works.
When they got up to play I was stunned with their ability to harness incredible soundscapes. One of my main memories from that first set at Paris’s beloved Glazart venue was Jack crying out “Oui! Oui!” over top of a legion of headbanging fans. People freaked out over the bands organic might and the way that they simply captured the imagination of the crowd. These guys understand what it means to be truly heavy, something we’ve talked about in depth in interviews. Beyond that, they’ve figured out how to bring the jam oriented vibe to the stage and keep things organic and exciting despite the hyper-orchestrated madness of touring.
What even is heaviness though? DaSilvo once told me “ It’s almost a quality that sucks you in and you feel the weight of it because it’s emotionally powerful. There could be like a caveman like power to the riff. Conan are an example who are so incredibly heavy you can’t deny how heavy it is. Other things though can be heavy, like psychedelia for example” You get a sense that Elder value heaviness on their own terms. Sure their older material has crushing riffs, like in songs like Hexe off of Elder but the debut track from 2014’s spectacular Lore, the now classic Compendium starts off with a riff that carries a deep emotional weight without being heavy in the traditional sense, at least until Jack comes in with his blaring bass lines to bring us all back to a triumphant square one.
I think what always got me about Elder though was the aesthetic. That is to say, yes there is a marked progression in the nine years they’ve been making music together, but there are certain fundamental threads that keep the whole thing together and keep it endlessly interesting to a music nerd like me. The fact of the matter is – and remains – Elder, as much as they might say otherwise, have an almost entirely unique sound in a world where far too many of their peers end up sounding exactly the same. In other words – Elder might have found the key to moving forward in rock and roll.
Here’s the thing – the dirty little secret if you will, the thing that the band admits, but that internet metal nerds fear. Elder are no longer really a metal band, in fact they never really were, instead they’re starting to embrace hard rock more and more. Sure, the industry can’t handle a band as crushing as Elder under the ‘hard rock’ tag, but when you pick apart their songs you realize that these guys are turned on to something much deeper. There is a rather clear connection all the way back to 70s hard rock with what these guys do. It’s flowing and natural, you feel yourself falling into the rhythms and letting DiSalvo’s guitar heroics dazzle you. It’s the sort of music anyone can get in to, not just doom freaks. There is a sense of sonic destiny in Elders unique structures and it rapidly turns into music that you find yourself lost in.
That being said – Elder are by no means atavistic, even though they may have no problem hailing their musical ancestors (I once talked to Nick and a fan for half an hour about the glory of Thin Lizzy) the stuff they’re doing is… fairly unprecedented. Even if the specific elements can all be clearly traced back to somewhere or another this particular combination blows me away every time, but beyond that, it actually makes sense. You don’t get the impression that Elder are simply trying to be unique, instead they are creating music that is a reflection of the soul, and that is one of the things that really gets me about this band
Yet, we’ve still only barely touched on one of the most important elements of Elder, and that’s their fierce independence. Free of any sort of real label and really only relying on exterior companies for distribution Elder had a lot to say on this topic when I interviewed them back in February. They seemed to want their artistic license above all else, and, from what I understand, they feel that most people could get along following their model. After all, as DiSalvo said “the internet is the only distribution tool you really need nowadays in my opinion”
In a world full of labels acting as curators of taste Elder were so God damned dedicated to their craft that they managed to rise up and become internationally renown anyway. Sure it’s a lot of extra work but they say “ It’s extra work that we take on our shoulders readily. It’s what I would want if I were to talk to someone. Being personal is very important.” In other words the band is highly aware of their integrity, as well as how unique they are on the scene, and despite that they manage to maintain a humble and easygoing outlook on what they do
At the end of the day Elder is a bunch of dudes who started a band when they were teenagers and who are now just happy that they can tour profitably and have albums pay for themselves. In a tumultuous industry it seems kind of shocking that a band could do this sort of thing on their own. Yet when you dig into their music and start to grasp how earth shatteringly unique Elder are and how endlessly engaging their music is, it’s actually pretty hard to deny that these guys don’t deserve it. They play heavy music of the most vibrant sort and as I fall deeper in love, I can only reach out and try to drag you guys down with me.
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