Elder – Omens Review

[Artwork by Adrian Dexter]

Beyond the certainty of death and taxes, one thing that unites most all willing participants of humankind is a humble craving to feel good. The pursuit of this unifying goal naturally explores a near-endless volume of choices, but during difficult times—pandemic times that force levels of extraordinary and unwelcome detachment, for example—we humans have a tendency to seek a form of goodness that maximizes comfort: feel-good stories, feel-good food, comfort shows, routine movies and familiar music we’ve read, eaten, seen and heard countless times with the ability to act as a warm, consolatory blanket. Nostalgia of course plays a significant role in this equation, because a great deal of pure comfort’s vital core is centered around golden memories of easier, breezier, better times, which is precisely what so many of us need when the walls feel like they’re closing in.

This realm of comfort, my fellow solitary confiners, is where Elder operates in full force, and they’ve done so for the better part of the last twelve years. It is true that as a whole they’ve been presented as some sort of amalgamation of stoner / doom / psychedelic / prog / rock, and anyone who would deny these tags upon hearing a single song would quickly become labeled as “unenlightened to our ways,” but make no mistake: transcending all familiar and timeworn genre denotations, Elder is a comfort band.

Not really what you’re looking for when you turn to heavy metal? Hey, no sweat—they’re not really a metal band. Sure, you basically cannot separate Elder from HUGE RIFFS, many of which sported tusks in them-thar early years, but have you heard Chris Squire’s bass tone on early Yes records? Have you listened to Buffalo’s Volcanic Rock? Elder’s brand of heavy is more closely aligned with days gone by heavy rockers who were certainly heavy, but also kinda heavy in a similar way that the Vietnam War was heavy. However, Elder accomplishes this feat while remaining mostly free of the enveloping gloominess that often imbued hard rock fifty years ago, opting instead for… Yeah, warmth and comfort. In a nutshell, if you’re interested in introducing your brain to a band whose music has the power to conjure bygone golden summers where a Schwinn guaranteed freedom and afternoons were spent in open fields contemplating crushes and The Dragonbone Chair or episodes of The X-Files or whatever the hell else was part of your free time when the burdens of life were lighter, these dudes are ready to take the wheel for a spell. And what’s particularly unique regarding Elder’s overall method is the fact that they manage to invoke perceptions of Yes and Camel without ever sounding dusty or throwback or exactly like any of those bands of yore. Choose any album by the band and there will be no question that it was produced in the 21st century.

Release date: April 24, 2020. Label: Armageddon (US) / Stickman (EU).
To someone who’s not particularly versed in Elder’s ways, the stylistic shift between albums might seem fairly subtle: a few refined modifications to production from one release to the next, but still a comprehensive reliance on fuzzy, drawn out struts custom-built for couch-planted bonghuffers. Not altogether inaccurate, but with full-length number five, Omens, a marked transformation that was already lurking with 2017’s excellent Reflections of a Floating World and certainly with 2019’s The Gold & Silver Sessions EP has become fully realized. Call it a “softening” or an increased focus on drifting psychedelics, the current face of Elder has opened its wings further to incorporate an even greater emphasis on keyboards / synthesizers  and atmospherics, which has lead to the band straight-up assimilating one-time guest guitarist / keyboardist Michael Risberg into the ranks. So, yes, Elder is now operating as a four-piece (including new drummer Georg Edert), and you can hear that added layer almost immediately upon hitting play on the opening title track. “Omens” is just as winsome and packed with those golden, reflective moments we’ve come to expect, but most every twist and turn from mellowness back to heft is now painted with some measure of keys—sometimes in the foreground, other times nestled in the back. It’s an extremely natural fit, really, because everything this band decides to incorporate into the pattern continues to prioritize the noble purpose of warmth.

“In Procession” follows the opener, and after a strange choice to kick off sounding as if it’s drifting from a neighbor’s place through a shared wall, the song flexes a near preposterous amount of sunniness before quickly morphing into the album’s mellowest trip that puts keyboards completely front and center. You like the idea of catching a ride into the spiral galaxy by jumping on the back of a giant solar millipede that hoovers cosmic debris just as Charlie Sheen does schneef at a Vegas orgy, no? This is your jam.

Okay, now hold on just a dagburn minute, you fussbudgets. If you’re starting to worry that Omens is some sort of flagrant bend down Tangerine Dream Lane, understand that this is, without question, still a very ELDER album. So, even though a song like “Halcyon” starts off sounding like something David Attenborough might enjoy hearing as the night sky widens and he kicks back in the garden waiting on a curious hedgehog to arrive, that steadfast devotion to sentimental comfort in the fuzzy riffing (and guitar work in general) makes it clear that chief architect Nick DiSalvo has lost precisely zero of his song and riff-writing edge. Every song that reveals new tricks eventually swaddles the listener in Eldered familiarity, perhaps no song more clearly than “Embers.”

Find yourself suddenly awash with sensations of fellowship, wistfulness and warmth? Do you ever yearn? Not crave, but yearn—there’s a big difference. Omens is for the yearners, baby. The people who aspire to grow in mind and spirit, and who count love and kindness as key motivators in life. Hippy fuckin’ dippy? You better believe it, Skippy. Get your big ass on board.

So, what will people grouse over concerning Omens

I’m guessing DiSalvo has maybe had it up to here with complaints about his vocals? That remains the most divisive factor for the band, which has always puzzled me, because at this point his voice is as much a part of the Warmth Equation as any other element. Attach a delivery along the lines of Ronnie James Dio or David Byron to the blueprint and the overall charm would end up diminished to some extent. From my point of view, DiSalvo’s delivery summons a scenario where a vintage post-hardcore Revelation Records / Touch & Go artist (Quicksand, for example) eventually decides to go the psych-stoner route, and the gamble ends up nailing the target. In other words, please don’t change a thing.

Okay, where does that leave us…

If you’ve been a fan of the band since the get-go, you likely have zero need for a review that prattles on like this. Alongside that knack for warmth and familiarity travels a well-earned trust that Elder knows precisely where to steer the ship next. And buddies, Omens is a perfectly logical and splendid next step, so those preorder dollars were absolutely well spent. It should be noted that listening to the record in a great pair of headphones opens up an entirely new dimension, particularly with regard to Jack Donovan’s bass work (love that flange that pops up here and there), so go right ahead and pull the trigger on those new GRADOS and prepare to appreciate the hell out of Omens‘ perfectly balanced production. And hey, if you’re new to the band and suddenly find your interest piqued, there is literally no better time and place to dive right in.

Thanks for the much needed comfort, fellers.

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Handsome & Interesting Man; Just get evil all the time.

  1. Listening to Alda’s Tahoma on my Grado SR225e’s and I am very stoked for new Elder. Lore and Reflection of a Floating World were phenomenal headphone records. Happy to heart his new one continues that trend.

    Reply

    1. Layers and layers and layers for days, no? Looking forward to the upgrade from digital to LP / Grado combo for this new one myself very soon.

      Reply

      1. Speaking of layers, that Sweven album is an absolute dream (rimshot.wav) through a quality pair of cans. Death metal headphone records are scarcer than deodorant at a crust punk show. Robert Andersson has already made two and he’s only 28!

        Reply

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