It’s hard to know where to start this, because there’s so much that I want to say about this album. It’s a towering achievement for one of the most consistent modern groups I’m aware of.
Elder is a curious band. Originally, a rather by-the-books stoner trio hailing from Boston, they’ve branched out considerably with their most recent EP, “The Gold & Silver Sessions”, and this newest full length. A band who seems to value growth, they now full-on embracing prog, math-y time signatures, early 70s jazz-fusion, and even early-2000s post-hardcore.
The jazz-fusion influence is probably the most interesting, as it crops up in metal from time to time, but it’s almost weirdly taboo, at least amongst the hardcore metal snobs? Listening to most metal guitar players riffs and solos, it’s usually fairly obvious that they love Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and Frank Zappa, just as much as they love Tony Iommi. And as well they should— while those gentlemen were ostensibly playing some sort of jazz (I guess) they all they came with the volume, pyrotechnics, and sonic fury of their hard rock and metal brethren, allowing them to fill large venues (and sometimes, stadiums) back in the day.
In any case, Elder is not afraid to signal that they too, enjoy those tracks on Weather Report’s, “Sweetnighter”, where things just kind of pleasantly simmer, as opposed to fully cooking. Unlike Weather Report however, they never ride that tension or build for the entirety of a song, though they experimented with that on last year’s EP.
The songs are on this album are better for that too— they know when to transition. Elder seems interested in forward momentum above all else, and at the end of the day, they’re also a metal band. They’ve no desire to betray that, and their little excursions into jazzland often end with a brutal thump, muscling their way back into a land of cavernous distortion.
This change in their operation is a little jarring at first. The album’s title track, “Omens”, was something that I loved upon my first listen, though I was a little skeptical of the Rick Wakeman-esque synthesizer that crops up throughout the song.
Don’t get my wrong, I love Yes, and Rick is about his business, I just feel like certain synthesizer tones in a metal context can sound cheesy if the execution isn’t on the money.
I’ve since come around on the synth bit, and I’m fully appreciative of the song as a fairly concise statement of intent for the rest of the album. Most all of the textures or ideas that will be encountered throughout the rest of the album poke their head up here in some way, making this both a great overture, and stand-alone tune.
“In Procession” follows, and aside from being a stomp, it’s also one of the best mixed songs on the album. All the instrument have room to breathe when they need it, and form up on some Voltron shit when a particularly brutal pummeling is in order.
The song is also notable as it’s the first song on the album that features a back-mixed guitar solo. Usually, I’m not for that, as I want to hear the shredding, but it’s a sonically adventurous choice, and I actually kind of appreciate that I have to pay a little bit more attention if I really want to hear what the leads sound like. It almost forces upon the listener into a more active listening experience, and that’s a bold decision.
The middle of the album sees us arrive at “Halycon”, most notable as its intro wouldn’t be out of place on Pink Floyd’s, “Animals”. This is a compliment, as, “Animals,” is probably my favorite Floyd album.
It’s a slowly mutating little jam that alternating expands and contracts, with a throbbing sequencer bit bubbling below the surface, threatening to gobble up all the other instruments in some sort of purple goo.
We’re treated to this for damn near 4 and a half minutes until the band shifts gears, and rains down upon us with blessed hellfire. It’s some of the meatiest riffage found on the album, and it gives way to some equally impressive fuzz bass, and the second appearance of ye old Mellotron (I think?) on the album.
The album’s penultimate number, “Embers”, is perhaps the most interesting as both its riffage and vocals that sound like the love child of early 2000s post-hardcore stalwarts, Thursday, and At The Drive-in.
For all my late 80s/early 90s babies, you all know EXACTLY what motherfucking time it is when, “Understanding in a car crash”, or, “One-armed Scissor”, comes on.
More so than perhaps any piece of music released during that time-period (save for perhaps, Deftones, “Digital Bath”) these two songs encapsulate that peculiar place in time where the 90s ended, and the 2000s began.
Alternately, anxious and excited, and relentless in their assault, they bring to mind every wipe-out I had at the skatepark, and crushing on whichever girl I was interested in that week, during the 7th and 8th grade. Elder is somehow able to tap into that here, all whilst blasting away with their own signature brand of metal, and you can’t help but be impressed.
This is to say nothing of what sounds like a knotty little homage to the verse riff of “Frame by Frame” that starts at 6:20– something that’s pretty damn cool.
The album closes with “One Light Retreating” which is perhaps, the album’s most outright pretty song?
Pretty is always a strange descriptor to use in the context of metal, but the riffs in here that aren’t of the sledgehammer variety are gorgeous— almost hypnotic and trance-like.
There’s a heaviness and finality about the song that’s appropriate as its closing out them album. It makes me wonder about the band’s future, and what their next effort will sound like. 2015’s, “Lore”, was for a long-time, one of my favorite modern metal albums, but it was very straightforward in it’s approach. Their next full-length, “Reflections of a Floating World,” pushed the envelope a bit, and while an incredible album, it didn’t strike me as especially adventurous.
“Omens”, sees the band a full galaxy away from where they were 5 years ago, and I don’t think it could be any more exciting to see where they go from here. It’ll be tough to top this effort, but this album sounds like a group of individuals excited by the fact that they’ve figured out they can do whatever the hell they want. There are so many flavors in the mix here, and they’re all served hot, for our enjoyment.
This is easily a contender for one of 2020’s best albums, and I hope the band finds some crossover appeal with this new set of tunes, even if they weren’t explicitly hoping for that.
Whatever the case may be, hunker down, play it loud, and dig it. This is a masterful piece of work.