Deep in the cesspits and gutters of The Golden State lies something shapeless, something constantly expanding. The grey amorphous mass phases in and out of existence, mostly taking sensible form through audible annihilation. One of the entities engulfed by this abomination, is the Fresno grindcore act Elder Devil. Their signature chaos has been captured to a repeatable format in the past few years, building a potent foundation upon somewhat familiar soil. Sculpting a particularly misanthropic view from concrete blocks and then grinding them to dust, Elder Devil is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rotten stench.
They really have distanced themselves from a lot of modern acts who cling in their branch of noise. I came across them for the first time this year, when they released their debut album The Light Dimmed Eternal. The eerie and malicious hand-drawn artwork by Blial Cabal captivated me enough to pique my interest. It pictures a black prince sitting amidst aching and disturbed people sacrificing themselves, so it had to be good. However, while the artwork is very organic and palpable, I was in for a surprise when I hit play on the album.
The production is in its entirety the handprint of Jacob Lee, the primus motor behind the band. The instrumentation cuts quickly, sharply, and deeply throughout. While the mix is surprisingly clean, it doesn’t compromise the message, but rather enforces it. Being a band that started as a studio project between two friends, the mountain moving terror is surprisingly ambitious. This was already apparent on their first EP, Graves Among The Roots. Jacob offered us some insight on their DIY ethic how and why the band sounds as it does:
‘Growing up in the MySpace era, most of my youth was spent learning how to record and release music digitally rather than traditionally forming bands. After my first high school band disbanded I never really attempted to start another and just stayed in the ‘studio‘, writing and producing as much as I could. I am much more comfortable in the creative process with just me and my computer from writing to mixing and mastering. I don’t think there was any talk of going beyond just recording and releasing at first.’
Elder Devil just recently took the big step of taking the band to live stages. It might be a drag for a studio band to venture into a live setting, and vice versa. One of the challenges for an act of this musical degree is to transform it seamlessly to present format. The way I see it, is that backing tracks aren’t quite meant to these grinding realms. Grindcore as a genre is built on honesty and anger, and neither of these can be fluently achieved by playing pre-recorded tracks over otherwise very immanent moment. Some decide to stay in the comfort of a studio, some find the sparkle to perform along the way.
’I just didn’t think there would be anyone who had the ability, free time, and even desire to be involved in this project besides us. As we started writing our full length, Stephen was really pushing to go for making a live band. We were getting a fair amount of attention just off our EP with very little press or (obviously) live exposure. I was still pessimistic that anyone would be interested. However, Stephen’s other half and guitarist in Cabin Fire, Ryan, had at some point already volunteered to play bass if we ever needed, so the search was really just down to a drummer. I had made ’seeking drummer’ post on Facebook and Pete from Graven Maul and Amenthes responded within minutes, and he was very interested in being involved.’
It was also tempting to ask if they stumbled upon any problems when taking this live. Apparently (a bit sadly on behalf of the storytelling aspect) everything went smoothly:
’I would say it is very advantageous to develop from ’studio’ to ’live’ band. Instead of casting a net out onto craigslist or message boards saying ’seeking members, maybe for this kind of genre, let’s just start from scratch’, with a somewhat-established band and an existing catalog of songs, you could say ’this is what we are playing, If you are into it, learn it and we’ll see how it goes’. Since I write and produce at my desk, I already had the music for all our songs written out. All I had to do was to send MP3s and tabs, and our first jam felt like a tenth rehearsal. They had already been studying at home and it just clicked.’
Both of the Elder Devil releases are made in a way where each song flows into each other without pauses, hence creating the feel of one long gestalt. Still, each track is just as individual as the other. They draw a box of a certain size for each release and then fill it with whatever feels right. It is also the feeling itself which mostly determines the definite places of each track. Still, the more practical, planning side is always present. Before performing the parts in the exact order to create the flow, descriptions of what will happen were written down. Regardless, everything always ends up sounding natural and somewhat spontaneous, because Elder Devil has found their own formula that simply works.
One of the great things in having total control of your music, is that you have all the tools to improve yourself and learn from your mistakes. In Elder Devil’s case, such potholes have been a mix that’s too loud for vinyl for example. To get it perfectly engraved on vinyl, James Plotkin (Voivod, Isis, Merzbow) came to aid in that occasion. While artists’ tastes experience natural growth, it’s also key to accept your past doings without regretting things too much. This in mind, Elder Devil made big leaps musically when starting to work on The Light Dimmed Eternal. It’s very exiting to hear a young band’s progression from so early on.
It’s apparent by now that the music itself is very heavy, dark and grim. However, the lyrics stuff all that in a bag, beat it up, and strew the remaining bits around in even more twisted and vicious manner. Elder Devil lyrically sticks to the nihilistic, anti-god/Christianity themes. These subjects aren’t included just for the sake of them, nor are they taken lightly; the writings show knowledge and attention to detail, being more distinguishable than most. Picking up some standouts, the altered Nietzsche quote repeated in “Speechless”. The Shakespearean one-liner in “Empty”. The historical echoes of “Celebration of the Black Prince”. All of these underline the aforementioned motives even further. You’ll find these references planted throughout the tracks, being available for those who look. Stephen, the groups vocalist and lyricist enlightened his views on these themes:
’Elder Devil, at least lyrically, is a complete rejection of the so-called ‘virtues‘ of American Christianity. For Graves, I wanted to tell a story about religious corruption. I chose to set the narrative during the 1600s; a time when the fear of God and his wrath shaped colonists’ lives in the “New World”. The lyrics are much more detached and narrative-driven than on Light. It switches perspectives from the various colonists from song to song but deals ultimately with corruption due to false idols and religious obsession.
For Light, I originally wanted each individual song to grapple with various interpretations of Hell and suffering throughout literature, popular culture, and religious works. There are songs on the album that do that, but as I continued working on the lyrics, I realized that I wanted to explore the fear of death and our mortality, which is inherently tied to religion and Christianity. This was very much tied to my mom being diagnosed with ALS during the writing process.’
While the themes are approached from a historical standpoint, they can also be interpreted as statements against today’s society. The layered narrative is also very tangible, which is something that a lot of lyrics today seem to lack. Tales of dragons and Medieval witchery pale in comparison to the fact that basic human rights still simply aren’t granted to everyone. Bringing that subject up is extremely important, however unpleasant that may sound to some.
’I wanted to explore these themes because I think they matter. People should question why they choose to put their faith in a book that began being culled together upwards of 3,500 years ago by second-, third-, fourth-hand, etc. testimony. People should question why they continue to use that book to justify denying basic human rights to women, the LGBT community, immigrants, refugees, and anyone else under the thumb of American Christianity. And people should question why American Christians are by default treated as morally superior to people practicing other religions or those who don’t believe in anything at all.’