Elder are among the pantheon of stoner/doom bands such as Khemmis, Pallbearer, YOB, and Spirit Adrift who’ve achieved critical acclaim and risen above and beyond the ranks of their subgenre ilk. Where Elder separate themselves further, however, is the loosening of their stoner/doom ties on their latest album Omens. Elder have always been the proggiest of the bunch by far, and this album sees the band doubling down on both prog and psychedelia.
That’s not to say Elder have entirely ditched their roots in the way say Opeth or The Sword have. The album contains 5 songs, none shorter than 9 minutes, which is consistent with past practice. For the most part, the band also holds strong in their ability to keep these long-winded compositions engaging. Songs like “Halcyon” and “Embers” show that Elder are still masters of the massive-payoff outro. Good things come to those who wait, like the ridiculous riff at the 7:57 mark of the title track. Once it hits you, it’s hard to wipe that shit-eating grin off your face.
Overall, the album has a strong wintery vibe to it, which is brought about largely thanks to guest musician Fabio Cuomo. He plays Rhodes piano and synth on the album, and his contributions shine best on the album highlight “In Procession”. The song features a synth lead that sounds like a replica from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Normally I’m not a fan of nostalgia-baiting in modern prog, but it just works so well here. The song is incredibly dynamic, with a range that extends from soothing psychedelics to absolutely roaring riffs.
The song “Halcyon” starts as if it’s the token instrumental track, but it develops into something so much better. A 4-minute, hypnotic intro (with a synth bassline akin to “Blood and Thunder”) breezes by before the band totally lays into their guitars. It’s the longest song on the album, but that’s never stopped Elder before from keeping the momentum flowing. The song features a sizable chorus and sick bridge that sees mellotrons, toms, and guitar harmonics working in tandem. As alluded to before, that awesome outro riff serves as a friendly reminder of Elder’s stoner and doom roots.
And now we get to the less fun part of this review – the vocals. As I mentioned in my Espresso Review of the track “Embers”, vocals have never been Elder’s strong suit, but on Omens they sound weaker than before. Basically, the singer sounds like Torche’s Steve Brooks on a sick day. There are a few reasons the vocals are a bigger issue than before. First, the vocals are more prominent in the mix. This is due to a combination of the band’s cleaner guitar tones and clearer vocal production, which unfortunately exposes more of the flaws. Second, there’s the issue of vocal range. On average, guitartist Nicholas DiSalvo sings in a lower register than on previous releases. One would think this would make vocal duties easier, but somehow the lower range is the problem on Omens. Finally, the vocal delivery is caught somewhere between clean and gruff. This approach may have been taken to match the change in guitar tone, but it doesn’t entirely work. The singing is more of an issue on some songs than others – the style works well for “In Procession” while it almost ruins “Embers”.
A lesser gripe is the closing song “One Light Retreating”. This song starts incredibly strong, indicating an emotional ending to the album. I’ve mentioned a ton about the riffs on this album, but Elder are no strangers to expansive guitar parts either. They’re integral to the band’s sound, both on this album and prior releases, and the first half of this song contains some of the album’s most lush, layered guitar lines. This would probably be one of the album’s highlights, were it not for the song’s extensive second half. This section weighs the song down by dragging on too long and killing the momentum.
To say this isn’t Elder’s strongest work would be stating the obvious, but Omens isn’t a bad album either. I’m not one to bemoan bands for going “softer,” and if anyone can pull it off, it’s Elder. With vocals being the only glaring issue, I can certainly see Elder coming back with another landmark album, but for now this just feels like they’re testing the waters.
Elder’s new album Omens is out on April 24th via Armageddon (US) and Stickman Records (EU).
Best Tracks: In Procession, Halcyon
Weakest Tracks: One Light Retreating
FFO: Pink Floyd, Pallbearer, OM
Overall Score: B-