There are parts of this first tape from Fern Floor that make you think that The Spook Of The 13th Lock’s The Brutal Here And Now has a definite rival for best folk-rock album of the year. Opener, ‘Anchors‘, reels and rollicks with the same jaunty but powerful verve that animates the Spook at their best. Strong rhythms and gang vocals assert the joyous sense of togetherness while the interlocking guitar patterns and traditional instrumentation mixes old world sounds with mathy, angular playing to uplifting effect, despite the downward-looking nature of the lyrics.
The following track though, ‘Anneleis‘, undoes some of the good work of its predecessor by moving into an even more stylized, affected way of performing that heightens melodrama rather than intensity. The slow-moving churn of the picked guitar and mellifluous pipes is presided over by a portentous vocal that essentially shouts “prog rock!” at the top of its voice. It always feels about two lines away from starting into a tale about elfin creatures battling in front of golden gates. It might have been doing that all along, I’m not even really sure. It’s not at all bad as such – the vocals are note perfect – but it does take a bit of getting used to, this particular type of grand style.
The rest of the tape oscillates between these two forms, channeling powerful classic rock, folk and early metal variously. The introduction of Emer Brady’s strangely soulful voice is a welcome surprise, changing the tone in a totally unexpected way on both the jazzier ‘Let Lie‘ and epic closer ‘Head Of Gas, Heart Of Oil‘. It’s not the easiest voice to process on first go but repeat listens soften the impact in a really nice way. The depth and bite of her tone is really something quite unusual and interesting; strong, emotive and versatile in a way that really suits the all-over-the-map playing of the band as a whole.
Elder is a really interesting first release for a band with a great heritage in the heavier side of Irish music. Whether the proggier side turns you off or not will probably sell you on the tape but it’s well worth sticking with as there is great musicianship going on with complex but rarely showy song-writing and some really memorable moments to be found throughout.