Turn your laurel backwards for the failed emperor’s appeal, he is cast not only back down to Earth but awakens today to Pluto’s damned warmth beneath. The statue of Jupiter at Olympia has had its last laugh, its scaffolding shaken free of this god-in-the-making and so resumes an eternity of upturned necks, craning to gaze the friezes to founding goddess at the forum. A dream of death, a bolt of lightning, the cries of circling vultures all seize the imagination of augur as exemplum impietatis direct from the ‘Gods’ yet, the tyrant could not listen. If we must share civility under weight of diamonian possession then any true omen itself is a duality, a benefit to some and a vacuous harbinger of death and misfortune to another. Light and dark, cruelty and solidarity, any number of seeming opposing forces create unpleasant grayness for the madness of zealots but where do the reasonable find respite? When faced with branching out, splitting hairs, drawing hard lines within their collaborative fifth work Berlin, Germany based and New Bedford, Massachusetts born progressive heavy psychedelic rock band Elder chose to maximize from every angle, amplifying what’d made the band so unique since their breakthrough third album (‘Lore‘, 2015) in creation of this masterful foray ‘Omens’. Let it be solace in your own personal underworld or, paean to the crumbling illusion of the greater good.
A change of heart, a development of personal creative style, or a substantive self-redirection towards earnest expression makes for the most compelling sort of discography to approach if you’re prone to history and provenance as I. So, a look at Elder‘s ‘then and now’ is both remarkable for its realization of ‘self’ and taste in increasingly capable, complex works and for the lack of self-conscious driver at the wheel. No doubt ‘Omens’ highlights the musical experience more often than their sub-genre driven beginnings, such as their typified-but-blissful stoner/doom metal debut (‘Elder‘, 2008) and the major shift towards psychedelic doom metal on the follow-up (‘Dead Roots Stirring‘, 2011) but Elder had already started expressing traits that’d carry through. 8-10 minute songs became vehicles for progressive rock and metal exploration, always with an edge and some taste for technique that expressed with purpose. The roots of the ‘Omens’ experience were planted with ‘Lore’, the aforementioned breakthrough moment into what I’d consider a rare bout of originality within the adjacent spheres shared by psychedelic rock and doom metal. The shift towards progressive heavy psychedelic rock from that point still fits into my own realm of interest but no doubt the psych-doom metal crowd began to flake away as ‘Reflections of a Floating World‘ (2017) [#40 Best of 2017] had seemingly completed a transformation that incorporated elements of post-rock breathiness, math rock tightened rhythms, classic 70’s progressive rock modus, and even some hints of the kosmische rhythmic trance to come. ‘Omens’ is the deeper realization of Elder‘s vision and range since 2015 with some certain “We can do all of it, more and better.” attitude applied.
There is yet some years of development missing, some key transformative work in side-project Gold & Silver that would help to explain and reinforce the increasingly complex-yet-breathy modernist psychedelic post-rock evolution of the band. ‘The Gold & Silver Sessions‘ (2019) all but plugs in a giant neon glowing sign in suggesting where Elder would go next and they’ve gone there but not just there with ‘Omens’. If you’re still in love with ‘Reflections of a Floating World’ then you’re primed for this next step as you could reduce the experience to that album’s traits with even more memorable songwriting kicks, far deeper layered production, and very complex rhythmic mapping to the point that I’d pulled out a few math rock and technical post-rock instrumentals just to confirm the vibe I’d been getting. The proper comparisons to make are yet modern psych bands like King Buffalo, Weedpecker, and perhaps Bask depending on which album. I’d say one could glean some mid-70’s Uriah Heep, the easier feel of pre-’77 Yes from the experience but it’ll be a stretch as the dramatic rhythmic movements and modern rock vocal cadence don’t match up with the bluesy swing of 70’s rock, instead manifesting as a hybrid of indie rock, jazz infused math rock, and the temporal ooze of progressive post-rock. That’ll sound vague and messy on paper, probably frightening to the curious psychedelic doom metal folks out there looking for heaviness but Elder have not lost themselves, if anything they are -more- themselves than ever despite some line-up changes and freshened sound.
‘Omens’ is intended as a concept album of sorts that examines the span of a civilization from questionable birth to fiery death, entering the world implied with some clairvoyance of the end. You could wholeheartedly embrace the album’s lyrical conflagration of callous and dryly suicidal ‘for profit’ society today but those (perhaps slightly less inflammatory) themes are woven deep into the art, not so blatantly presented. I always go back to a record like ‘Relayer‘ to express my appreciation for higher-brained music that says something timely in a timeless fashion and that feeling most definitely applies here on ‘Omens’. The album itself is contemplative and even more expressive in performance than ‘Reflections of a Floating World’ was, holding onto some empathetic existential dread yet one could just as easily numb out and escape into the buzzing and swaying hard psychedelia of the experience. Second guitarist Michael Risberg had actually guested on that previous album and his work with the other members in Gold & Silver feels completely vital for the evolution of Elder‘s sound as it manifests today. Guest keyboard/synth work from Fabio Cuomo is likewise an essential point of distinction and growth that becomes more prominent as the album progresses, easing beyond adornment of atmospheric motions (“Omens”) and featuring in the main hooks and leads of certain songs (“Halcyon”).
I’d normally dig into the merits of certain songs, herald standout moments and such but it’d feel somewhat futile to pick out just two or three gears from an apparatus that features so many working parts within the five 10-12 minute songs that make up ‘Omens’. Each song has its big hook, its glorious atmospheric waft, a brilliant reprisal or contemplative plateau. Each song has its own complex rhythmic interest, a catchy-yet-cathartic psychedelic set of movements that’ve grown in value across countless spins of ‘Omens’. The full listen becomes captivating, long-winded but blissfully immersive to the point that I’d sit in place longer (or take a longer walk) for the sake of not cutting off Elder‘s impressive sense of flow and momentum. There are hooks, catchy moments that are built up to for minutes on end, that serve to amplify a greater sense of build-and-collapse befitting of the theme of ‘Omens’. This makes for a listening experience that is yearning, nostalgic in spirit but also wide-eyed in hindsight and surrounded by the apocalyptic debris of time and the nature of all men. It’ll be too ‘indie rock’ for some, too psychedelic for others, probably a bit too lucid for folks demanding a more progressive angle, but for my own tastes in the old and new orders of psychedelic and progressive rock ‘Omens’ is the third in a line of engaging psych masterpieces from Elder. A very high recommendation.
Very high recommendation. 4.5/5.0
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