For nearly a decade now, Elliott’s Keep has been making solid doom with a side of death metal and carrying the torch for fallen bandmate Glenn Riley Elliott, from whom the band is named. With Solitude Aeturnus all but kaput, Elliott’s Keep has been carrying the torch for Texas doom as well. With album number four, Lacrimae Mundi, the trio continues to do both Elliott and doom metal in general proud.
One of the things I most appreciate about Elliott’s Keep is that the band understands that doom is supposed to be heavy metal, not an exercise in down-tuned tedium. The band plays its share of slow material, but it’s never a lifeless trudge because there’s always a sense of aggressive propulsion to the music. The songs might be long—all but one of Lacrimae Mundi’s tracks are over five minutes—but they are seldom dull; the music always proceeds with a sense of purpose. The band has its flaws, but lack of passion is not one of them.
About the flaws: When I reviewed the band’s first album, In Medias Res, I thought vocalist/bassist, Ken Greene did a respectable job for his first turn at the mic, but his clean vocals lacked a little oomph. I had hoped for improvement, but, four albums in, improvement doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Ken hits the notes, and crafts some memorable melodies, but he’s no Robert Lowe. It’s admittedly a high standard, but when you play this sort of doom, that’s how you will be measured. Furthermore, the choruses, while generally catchy, tend to be a bit too predictable and repetitive. Ken’s harsh vocals, however, are, as usual, more confidently delivered and more expressive.
Instrumentally, Elliott’s Keep is as solid as ever. Guitarist Jonathan Bates is not flashy, but he has a great ear for mournful melody, and he packs the tunes with solid, heavy-handed riffs. The band’s blend of traditional doom and extreme metal leans more heavily toward doom on Lacrime Mundi. Where previous records usually featured a track that verged on full-on death metal, here the more aggressive elements are blended more seamlessly into the compositions, and each track has portions of both mournful melody and iron-fisted battering. Much of that battering comes at the hands and feet of drummer Joel Bates, who’s straightforward yet relentlessly aggressive playing jumps effortlessly from doom-hammer to jackhammer.
“Remembrance”, another standout, closes Lacrimae Mundi in a most fitting fashion. The track is a tribute to Glenn Riley Elliot, the lyrics of which reveal that the pain of Elliott’s passing is still a raw wound, and his spirit still inspires the band’s music. The line “How I wish I believed I would see you again” cuts particularly deep. The track is certainly mournful, particularly the closing minute, with its funeral march cadence and haunting melody. This section hits with titanic weight, but, almost incongruously, Joel rides out the tune’s final measures with some relentless double bass that seems to signify the band’s determination to keep Elliott’s memory alive.
In many ways, Elliott’s Keep is a three legged dog. Glenn Riley Elliott is both the band’s inspiration, and a palpable void that will never be filled. If you’ve ever seen a three legged dog, though, you’ll notice that they get around pretty damn well. And so, while the trio that is Elliott’s Keep is undoubtedly diminished by the absence of their fallen friend, they are quite the capable band in their own right, and its inspiring to see them continue to soldier on, all these years later, true to their friend’s memory and true to the spirit of doom metal.