Tuesday 28 April 2020

Elder - Omens (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
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Elder's roots are heavy enough that they have a page on Metal Archives, but their sound has been evolving with every release, this fifth studio release being no exception. Sure, it features the usual handful of long tracks with long instrumental passages, only one wrapping up within ten minutes and that only by seven seconds. However, there's very little metal to be found at all this time out, just the occasional power chords and crunchy guitar.

And while I've labeled it psychedelic rock, fairly I think, this ventures so far into prog rock and even krautrock that it's highly genre fluid. It will appeal as much to seventies prog rock fans who have never heard Elder before as stoner metal fans who have followed them throughout. The most obvious nod to that old fanbase is the vocals, but they're frankly starting to seem out of place in the soundscapes that the band are now conjuring up.

Maybe I'm spoiled after last year's generous EP, The Gold & Silver Sessions. It was entirely instrumental and much quieter than Elder usually play, as a sort of challenge to do something different. It seems to have taken, because this gets as close to that EP in style as it does to the band's earlier and more traditional stoner/doom albums. And, while I didn't dislike the vocals of Nicholas DiSalvo at all, they're easily my least favourite aspect here, even though they show up a lot less often than they could.

What tended to happen here, especially as the album ran on, was that I'd get lost in the music, only for his voice to bring me back to a firm realisation that I was listening to a song again. For instance, on Halcyon, we're almost six fabulous minutes in before we get any words and they're a little jarring at that point. Of course, this is a concept album that looks at the lifespan of an entire civilisation so there have be lyrics somewhere or we won't get any of that.

One part of this change towards krautrock soundscapes is surely partly due to the addition of a lot more keyboards. On the previous full length album, 2017's Reflections of a Floating World, Elder were a trio, but, since then, they've added Michael Risberg to the band on guitar and keyboards. Also, on this album, they've brought in multi-instrumentalist Fabio Cuomo as a guest and his work is known for its experimentation with prog and jazz. These new musicians are all over this album from moment one, which is synths only for over half a minute and rarely without them ongoing.

I like this album a lot and, frankly, while I enjoy earlier Elder, I enjoy this more. I think this is a good and natural musical evolution for them and they're ably equipped to move into this sort of territory. I've always liked the overlap between psych and prog and krautrock is a fabulous place to work in that territory, especially when it doesn't get over-experimental.

What's more, I'd suggest that the quieter and more introspective material on offer here works better than the louder, more overt songs. The first couple of tracks, Omens and In Procession, have a heavier mindset, even if they're reticent to remain there throughout. Halcyon lessens that and becomes neatly immersive, while Embers and One Light Retreating continue in that vein all the way home, making the last thirty-five minutes even better than the first twenty.

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