Uniquely a product of the troubled times from which it has emerged
Elder have evolved quite a bit in just the past few years, undergoing changes in both sound and lineup that could almost add up to becoming a completely new band. Since the release of 2015's monumental Lore album, the Massachusetts-spawned power trio has added a second guitarist, changed drummers and now seems to have shifted its primary base of operations to Berlin, Germany, while the band's sound has evolved well beyond the relatively straightforward stoner doom of their self-titled 2008 debut album. At the same time, however, there is plenty on their new album, Omens, to connect it to their past.
Right from that first album, however, Elder--then consisting of vocalist/ guitarist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto--showed signs of musical ambition that went beyond the confines of stoner doom, gradually offering added complexity, dynamics and increasingly lengthy song formats, until the whole thing exploded into a truly unique and imposing musical phenomenon on the aforementioned Lore. Their last full-length album, 2017's Reflections Of A Floating World, found the band refining that sound- adding moody, ambient textures inspired by psychedelic music and specifically the broad range of experimental music from 1970's Germany that has come to be referred to as Krautrock. That album was also the first to feature contributions from second guitarist Michael Risberg. Last year--with Risberg now a full-fledged member of the band--Elder released The Gold And Silver Sessions- an all-instrumental EP that saw them diving headlong into the Krautrock-influenced sound hinted at on the Reflections... album. This was also Elder's last release before Couto left the band, with Omens marking the in-studio debut of new drummer Georg Edert.
From what I observed online, The Gold And Silver Sessions seemed to have worried a few fans who were under the impression that its pastoral sound meant Elder were abandoning the metal sounds of their past. As it turns out, that EP was more of a fun experimental detour than a wholesale shift in style. Omens actually finds the new incarnation of the band integrating the languid textures of that EP into the existing Elder sound, resulting in what could be described as a slightly less heavy version of their Lore/ Reflections Of A Floating World-era style with addition of colorful and melodic instrumental sections similar to the sound of the EP. Right from the start of the opening title track, listeners will also notice prominent use of keyboards- something both DiSalvo and Risberg now officially play in the band, although Italian keyboardist Fabio Cuomo is credited as an additional musician on this album.
In some ways, this album actually doesn't feel that different from the band's previous work, in my opinion- not to the degree that I've seen suggested online, at least. The most noticeable difference I can detect may actually be in the mix- which is noticeably less boomy than the last couple of full-lengths, particularly with regard to the drums and guitars. However, there are plenty of thunderous riffs here that would have fit in easily on those albums. The only song on Omens that goes without one for an extended period of time is "Halcyon"- which initially comes across as a continuation of what the band started on The Gold And Silver Sessions, until that familiar riffing style shows up and breaks us out of our pleasant head-nodding semi-slumber. Another thing that might have initially thrown listeners off is the fact that "Embers"- the first track released online- kicks off at a significantly faster tempo and with a more light-footed feel than the band has previously been known for, though even that song quickly morphs into something that sounds very much at home in the Elder canon. (This, however, brings up one minor complaint of mine: I personally feel that vocally, Nick tries an approach on this song that doesn't work particularly well for his voice.) What's actually different on this album is the amount of mellower, textural stuff thrown in between those riffs- with more frequent respites from the riffage and an even more diverse range of sounds than before, even in the course of a single song. An Elder song has long been a lengthy and multifaceted thing, but this album takes it to another level in that regard, with the band's sound continuing its gradual drift from metal to something more akin to '70's progressive rock (but again, with that signature Elder riff style still very much a part of the package).
A new Elder album- particularly one from Lore onward--has always been something that requires extensive listening and attention to detail and nuace to fully appreciate. Even over the course of a few weeks listening to this album in the leadup to its release, my opinion on it has shifted more than once, as I noticed things about it that I previously hadn't. This, in my view, is a hallmark of great art. And like much other great art, the album is also uniquely a product of the troubled times from which it has emerged. Omens- like Reflections Of A Floating World, but perhaps even more so- takes inspiration from a world falling apart, while simultaneously inviting us to be pulled into another world of its creation. And the level of care that clearly goes into creating works with the complexity and scope of the band's last three full-lengths assures that listeners will be coming back to that world for regular visits for quite some time, with previously unnoticed nuances revealing themselves every time.
Recommended for fans of: 70's prog rock, stoner doom and sounds in between