After 2017’s Reflections Of A Floating World became that year’s adored prog album of choice, it’s somewhat surprising to see that Elder’s insistence on continually twisting and altering their sound hasn’t been met with more negativity. They’ve come a long way since the stoner / doom-influenced sound of their early material, but given how last year’s The Gold & Silver Sessions EP leaned so heavily on psychedelia and more flagrantly out-there experimentation, the boat seems to be getting pushed out even further, solidified by the band’s newfound status as a four-piece. And while, on the surface, Omens doesn’t appear out of the ordinary within Elder’s catalogue – particularly in the fact that this is five songs that all fall between the nine- and thirteen-minute mark – dropping new ideas doesn’t seem to be what Elder are planning. Compared to so many progressive rock bands in their lane, advances in their sonic range from release to release have proven rather key, and their fifth full-length doesn’t come across as the most opportune time to put that aside.
Even so, it’s not as though Omens is any sort of tremendous left turn either. Elder’s output still remains mountainous and all-swallowing as they go at decidedly their own pace for just shy of an hour, and as far as the base components go, there’s still enough about them that’s interesting even among the spiralling lengths. That’s not everything about Omens though, as Elder’s commitment to progressing their sound doesn’t always pan out and can cause a disproportionate amount of misses than should be the case. That’s definitely where this album trips up the hardest, and an already heavy and oppressive listen can miss striking at moments that are needed to keep it captivating.
It’s the strange amount of inconsistencies in the production that feel primarily to blame for this, typically only coming from overall small parts that conversely make it all the more noticeable. That’s especially true when, at its best, Omens so emphatically hits with real poignancy and scale. For a sprawling opener, the title track makes really strong use to the psychedelic filter it feeds itself through, staying suitably heavy and muscular in its low end that’s well-balanced by spaced-out synths, quiet but noticeable strings and trad-metal guitar soaring to inject in some classic flair. It’s easily the best track here, and the one where Elder’s vision feels surprisingly concise, burning through its eleven minutes with deliberate pace and tension but without dragging at all. It’s a similar case on Halcyon, where the slow-burn approach is even more noticeable in the glistening, open-ended guitars and accents of buzzing synths that only build and crescendo more and more. There’s an enormity to Elder at their best that toes the line between the boldness of classic prog and the weightier execution of the genre’s modern forms, and their compositional scope and increased pool of influences can have some notable benefits.
It’s not enough to hide the aforementioned inconsistencies though, and what could have made Omens a great, potent listen just doesn’t come together because of them. It’s some of the synth work that proves a significant hassle, especially on In Procession that puts their chiming tones right at the front of the mix in a really jarring fashion, but modulation on the whole seems to be Elder’s greatest sticking point here. From a musical perspective, it lends an almost alt-rock tempo to Embers that can’t be suitably maintained over a longer stretch of time, but in Nicholas DiSalvo’s vocals, they’re awkwardly wedged within the mix with no developed body that has so little impact. And as much as being a great singer isn’t necessary in genres like this (doubly so when the lyrics are more abstract and serve as general accompaniments as it is), there’s at least some sonorous presence that can be offered to complement the enormous scale that’s being aimed at. The comparatively sparing use of vocals does mean it’s less of an issue in this particular case, but it’s still noticeable, and for an album that, for the most part, sounds grand and imposing, there’s a fair bit sapped away in just that handful of elements.
Of course, on the likely chance that Omens is being used more for the massive sense of atmosphere it cultivates, that’s even less of a problem again, and it does hold up as far as embracing and cultivating that lucidity goes. But to focus solely on that would really only be half an analysis, and even though that’s something that holds and prevails across the board, there’s better stuff than this out there, even among Elder’s own catalogue. That’s not to say this is bad, and anyone with a deep fondness for imposing, psychedelic prog like this will find Omens to be a worthy investment, but Elder are capable of more than just being solid, and that’s not shown to its full capacity here.
For fans of: Opeth, Anathema, Katatonia
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Omens’ by Elder is released on 24th April on Stickman Records.