Album Review: Elder, “Omens”

Elder is a band that we’ve had our eyes on for a few years now. I can distinctly remember when my brother Arthur (co-founder of Proglodytes) sent me a link to listen to their album Lore. From the first few seconds of listening to the complex guitar intro and the crushing riffs of “Compendium”, I knew we had discovered something truly special. So special, in fact, that we reached out to Nick DiSalvo for what would become a really great Proglodytes podcast interview. All of this is to say, we all knew Elder kicked ass, and since then, their asskicking has increased exponentially.

Elder were rising stars in the stoner/doom rock worlds, releasing albums that were full of crushing riffs and psychedelic, doom-y jams. Melody has always been present in their music, but they’ve developed a sound over the years that has embraced a variety of influences that have given them an incredible, unique voice, transcending labels like “doom” and “psych” and bursting out of categorization to create something that is inspiringly fresh and unique.

Omens is the culmination of these developments over the last few years. The album features 5 songs that hover around the ten minute mark. The new album has a lot of the trappings of what might be considered a “prog” album- long songs, complex passages, heavy keyboard usage, and perhaps most glaringly obvious, an interesting and unique conceptual thread that binds the album. In interviews, Nick DiSalvo has mentioned that, in this album, they let the music breathe and grow organically, and tried to ignore whether or not they fit into a specific aesthetic or scene, and it shows, as they jump from Sabbath-like riffage to shoegaze to alternative rock passages, all within a 10 minute period. This eschewing of labels is well demonstrated by the fourth track, “Embers”, which is an upbeat, guitar-driven song, but also an evocative and harrowing reflection on societal downfall.

Omens is an important artistic statement for a lot of reasons, but this album is a thoughtful and harrowing reflection on the death of great civilizations like Rome. The album ruminates on the predictable arcs that civilizations tend to follow, as a Vonnegut-esque critique that simultaneously reminds us of our infallibility and predictability as humans, and inspires us to try and correct our course. The concept isn’t so glaringly obvious from song to song that it comes across as hamfisted, but each song uses powerful imagery and symbolism as a reminder and a warning against destroying our environment and devaluing human life. As I write this review, many societies are experiencing challenges relating to a global pandemic, and are using this time to reflect on course corrections, so this album’s theme feels very timely and even prescient.

On this album, keyboards are very much a part of the sound, and they function as a bold extension of their already adventurous sonic palette. I would even go as far as to say there are some classic prog rock moments. The mellotron-sounding strings at the 9 minute mark of “Halycon”, for example, make me imagine Power to Believe-era King Crimson jamming with Court of the Crimson King-era King Crimson. Frontman Nick DiSalvo is listed as a keyboardist, as well as guitarist Michael Risberg, but they’ve also listed Fabio Cuomo as a guest keyboardist, so it’s no wonder the keyboard would become so prominent. The band has not abandoned the stoner/doom/psych aesthetic, and the vocals and guitars still have a heavy edge, but the progressive elements are very pronounced on this album. Each song is its own philosophical journey, carrying us across a wide variety of beautiful and harsh soundscapes.

Omens has been receiving high praise from music journalists, and I want to add my voice to the ever growing chorus of praise- this album is really, really good. With Omens, Elder has managed to create a powerful, bold, cinematic album that demands your attention from start to finish, with crushing riffage, brilliant hooks, thoughtful lyrics, and lush atmosphere.

Omens was released on April 24, 2020 through Stickman Records. Buy it here.

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