Music feature: Hard-hitting trio Elder continues to evolve on Lore

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

The three musicians in Elder are a patient lot.

It's a character trait reflected in everything from the long incubation period between albums - the inventive metal trio's most recent full-length, Lore, arrives nearly four years after the release of its predecessor, Dead Roots Stirring - to the songs themselves, which tend to unfurl slowly, passing through a series of distinct permutations as gradually as one season gives way to the next. As a result, four of the five tracks on Lore easily clock in over 10 minutes, with the last falling just 30 seconds short of the milestone.

"I guess I don't really know how to write a short song at this point," said singer/guitarist Nick DiSalvo, 25, in a late February phone interview. "I love developing an idea, and even five minutes isn't enough time to get the full thing out. I really like the freedom of having no time constraints. It gives you so many options."

Bandmates DiSalvo, Matt Couto (drums) and Jack Donovan (bass) take full advantage of this freedom throughout Lore, shifting between crushing guitar passages and lighter, more orchestral movements that exhibit bird-like grace. Witness the epic, 15-minute title track, which opens with Couto in a dank quarry hammering chunks from stone before an ambient section cuts the gray like rays from the sun.

"In that central passage I was almost picturing someone standing in the middle of a cathedral soaking up the sunlight coming through the stained glass," said DiSalvo, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, March 10.

Lyrically, however, Lore tends to walk a darker path. References to death abound, and throughout DiSalvo sings of returning to dust and strolling through Elysian Fields, the final resting place of heroic souls in Greek mythology.

"There is a definite concept to this album, and a lot of it has to do with death and the human ideas surrounding those big questions: How do you live knowing you're going to die? Is life a big, cruel trick?" DiSalvo said. "It's an interesting topic to me; life and death and the stories we create for ourselves to confront them and deal with them."

Though the bandmates started sketching out material for their latest album more than three years ago, DiSalvo actually completed a bulk of the work during the dozen months he lived abroad as an English language teacher in Germany beginning in August 2013.

"It was the relative isolation of putting yourself in a new place with no friends and no connections and having to realize, 'OK, you have a lot of time with yourself right now, and you're going to get to know yourself a lot better,'" he said. "It helped me clear my mind, at least, and it gave me the room to breathe creatively."

In comparison, DiSalvo described the months leading up to his overseas stay as stultifying, with the bandmates struggling to overcome the increased expectations that went hand-in-hand with developing a following.

"We've been playing music as friends for so long, and the band was always just a fun outlet; there was never any notion of success or even reaching the audience we've reached," said DiSalvo, who formed the band alongside Couto and Donovan in 2006. "When we started getting a little attention after [Dead Roots Stirring] it was sort of strange, and we were up against this thing, like, 'Oh shit, we have an audience? How do we deal with that?'

"I think for a while we tried to write what we thought people might want to hear. Then we were like, 'Fuck it. We have to play music that's interesting to us.'"

To further shake free of his comfort zone, DiSalvo began experimenting with a keyboard, randomly mashing his hands into the instrument in an attempt to uncover new tones ("Sometimes something would come out of it that was way outside my mental reference," he said). He also started to listen to music backwards on occasion, cherry picking ideas from "these sounds that wouldn't or shouldn't exist."

As a result, Elder's music has continued to shift and mutate, drifting ever-further from the stoner-rock label regularly affixed to the crew in the wake of the murky Dead Roots.

"I have my frustrations with the fact we're constantly referred to as stoner metal or doom or anything like that. There are elements of those things, yes, and that's the scene we very much play in, but it's almost a derogatory term. There's more to the music than smoking weed and riffing out for a while," DiSalvo said. "It's natural to want to test the waters and see what you can do, and I guess I find it curious a lot of bands don't progress and don't make more jumps. We're always trying to push those boundaries a little bit further."

Ace of Cups

8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 10

2619 N. High St., Old North

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