After four years away, it’s safe to say that anticipation was running high for stoner rockers Elephant Tree’s return with new album Habits. The time away has seen the band swell their ranks, sign to independent darlings Holy Roar Records and hone their sound to a fine art. The band take elements from extreme metal - tar-thick riffs and grooves straight out of New Orleans - and channel it through a psychedelic haze, leading to a fuzzed-out, chilled sense of peace contrasted by lyrics dealing with loss, regret, mental health and the inevitability of death. The end result is something that while identifiably metal also plays the tropes of the genre off against each other, utilising them in new ways and upending the rulebook to create a record with soaring, relaxing soundscapes underpinned by mountainous grooves.
After the instrumental intro ‘Wake.Repeat’, first single ‘Sails’ opens with fuzzy, swirling guitars before the vocals soar into the mix, setting the scene for what’s to come, while midpoint ‘The Fall Chorus’ brings acoustic guitars and folkier leanings to proceedings that provides a blissful interlude before ‘Bird’ brings the riffs back in bone-crushing fashion. Closer ‘Broken Nails’ begins with a more minimalist guitar and vocal line, more melancholic before its gut-wrenching, emotional conclusion. Their fuzzy tone is reminiscent of Electric Wizard in its heft but with an ethereal, meditative quality that instead of utilising repetition to bludgeon into submission, uses it to craft a trance-like atmosphere simultaneously heavy and uplifting.
In contrast to the more usual doom mix of louder guitars and vocals sometimes being mixed a little further back it’s the other way around here; the guitars are less bludgeoning but lose none of their percussive force, while the vocal harmonies are layered and ethereal, shimmering over top, all underpinned by a rumbling bass and understated but masterful drumming. The band also occasionally mess with tempo such as partway into ‘Faceless’, as guitars drop out at the halfway mark before reappearing with a faux-blastbeat but without interrupting the dreamy mire of psych.
The drone and instrumental sections hit more often than they miss but there is an occasional loss of the already slow momentum; despite this and the generally glacial pace of doom, tracks never outstay their welcome. The bone-rattling riffs, as ponderous as the movement of tectonic plates melded with the swirling layers of vocal harmonies results in a record full of deftly-balanced contradictions that puts the band miles ahead of their peers with a refreshing take on psychedelic doom and its tropes. It’s one that happily upends the pomp, bombast and seriousness of metal to wallow in the warm, dreamy atmosphere of psychedelia, crafting microcosms of fuzzy, trance-like and blissful doom that transports listeners to a world all its own. Habits sees an already-promising band take that next step forward and likely onto many year-end lists for any rock or metal aficionado.
Habits is released April 24th via Holy Roar Records. Pre-order the album here.