Solitude Aeturnus will always be the first name in Texas doom metal, but in Elliott’s Keep, I believe I have found the second. The story of Elliott’s Keep begins with another Texas doom metal band by the name of Marauder (No, not that Marauder.) which was active in the Dallas area during the mid-nineties. In the wake of Marauder singer/guitarist, Glenn Riley Elliott’s untimely death in 2004, the remaining members of Marauder reformed as a trio, with bassist, Ken (last name unavailable a press time) assuming vocal duties. This new incarnation took the name Elliott’s Keep in memory of their departed friend. While it is a shame that it took a tragedy to get the former members of Marauder to make music together again, this reformation can only be seen as a boon to the doom metal community. The band’s debut, In Medias Res, is an interesting blend of traditional doom in the vein of Candlemass and (not too surprisingly) Solitude Aeturnus combined with elements of death metal.
“Votus,” the first track on In Medias Res, begins with a middle-eastern sounding intro and quickly segues into a heavy groove that sounds strikingly like Solitude Aeturnus, so much so, that I expect to hear vocalist, Robert Lowe start singing. In fact, Ken’s phrasing is quite similar to Lowe’s at times, but he lacks Lowe’s range and power. Ken seems to know where the vocals need to go, but he cannot quite get them there. Fortunately, while there are a few awkward sounding moments, Ken generally stays within his comfort zone, rather than strain for the high notes. In Ken’s defense, the likes of Lowe, Messiah Marcolin and Johan Langquist have set the bar for traditional doom vocals extraordinarily high. Considering this is, presumably, Ken’s first stint as a vocalist, he acquits himself admirably. However, in addition to clean vocals, Ken has another trick up his sleeve in the form of a mid-ranged death metal styled growl. Ken frequently alternates between the two styles creating an effective tension between the angelic and the demonic.
As befits a doom metal band, Elliott’s Keep’s songs are predominantly long, slow ominous affairs, but they never become tedious. This is due to the band’s frequent riff and tempo changes, ranging from slow trudging passages to “At the Gallows End” styled gallops and even a few instances of outright thrashing. The band’s riffs feature a lot of lively rhythmic interplay (especially for a doom band), and are supported by drumming that mixes finesse and power masterfully.
The first four songs on the album tread familiar traditional doom territory, dealing with weighty matters like religion, and war and twisted tales of love, featuring some titles and occasional lyrics in what I believe is Latin. Both vocal styles are used on these tracks, but the clean vocals do the lions share of the work. However, on the fifth track, “Black Wings,” the band kicks out the jams death metal style. Clean vocals are jettisoned entirely, in favor of the death growl, as Ken cuts loose with his most confident and vicious vocal performance of the album. The band follows suit with some ferociously threatening music, reminiscent of something from Centurion’s Ghost’s first album. Despite being atypical of the band’s usual style, “Black Wings” is the strongest song on the album. In another abrupt change of gears, the album closes with the acoustic piece, “Kindred,” which is a nice vehicle for Ken’s voice, but all too short at just over a minute in length.
Elliott’s Keep has crafted quite an impressive debut with In Medias Res. Some fans of traditional doom may be put off by the growling and other death metal elements, but for the more open minded, In Medias Res is sure to be a rewarding listen.