It feels like a long time since Elephant Tree’s last self-titled album; four years exactly having checked. In the interim, the band have undergone some line-up changes (most notably the introduction of Trippy Wicked’s guitarist and singer Pete Holland on bass) and signed to Holy Roar. But despite all that, a quick spin of Habits shows that the band’s fundamental sound hasn’t changed dramatically.
To rewind slightly for those who aren’t familiar with Elephant Tree: they peddle a brand of heavy, melodic rock that’s surprisingly hard to categorise, but seems to sit comfortably alongside doom and stoner rock. You’ll struggle to find a doom band that puts out more low-end dirt than Elephant Tree and they share a similar taste for slow tempos, but Elephant Tree don’t really indulge in the minor-key menace that is key to doom. Equally, while they generate plenty of fuzz and the melodic shoegaze vocals would fit in with most stoner rock bands, they don’t really use the simple riff-based grooves that the genre relies on.
In any event, Habits is their third album and the band now (according to their Facebook page) boasts no fewer than six members. In keeping with that, Habits is their most ambitious album to date. The songs are generally longer with more twists and turns and, for the most part, it’s a really good record.
When everything clicks, Elephant Tree deliver some genuinely awesome music. Opener (if you ignore the short ambient intro) and lead single Sails is excellent. The fuzzy guitars all but demand that you nod along and when the bass kicks in, it feels like an unusually rhythmic seismic event. The vocals on this track really work, bringing a dreamy, psych feel to counterbalance the churning heaviness. Bird is another cracking tune, starting off with menacing folk overtones before launching into one of those quiet-loud affairs which manages to be catchy, crushingly heavy, and also weirdly uplifting.
The fuzzy guitars all but demand that you nod along and when the bass kicks in, it feels like an unusually rhythmic seismic event…
Elsewhere there are other really cool moments. The electronic flourishes in Exit The Soul add layers of atmosphere to an already good track and the closing section is teeth-rattlingly heavy. Album closer Broken Nails uses similar methods and sounds truly epic and cinematic; a fitting way to finish the album.
Despite its many excellent qualities, I do have certain reservations about Habits. There are sections which I find just don’t hold my attention where I’ve not found the music particularly engaging. The weird, off-kilter breakdown in the middle of Faceless is really effective, but I find the rest of the song just a bit dull. Acoustic interlude The Fall Chorus is competently played and pleasant enough, but every time I’ve listened to the album I’ve been (figuratively at least) drumming my fingers waiting for it to end. Wasted is heavy and by no means a bad track, but is another one where I find I’ve generally tuned out by the time it’s finished.
Despite these minor criticisms (which I suspect have as much to do with me going slowly stir crazy thanks to the lockdown as they do with any actual shortcomings) Habits is well-worth a listen. As I mentioned above, it’s an ambitious album and, if it doesn’t completely succeed at all points, when it does work it provides some truly arresting music.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc