Elder – Omens Review

It didn’t become apparent how little I like Omens until I revisited Elder’s back catalog. Running through the halls of their ethereal proghalla didn’t just make clear that, next to the sum of Elder’s previous achievements, Omens isn’t great; it cemented that Omens isn’t good. The Sword of Jamacles that began its arc early in Elder’s career and swings its lowest and nearly beheads Omens, a record that may just make Elder everything the haters claimed they were.

“Omens” is Elder on its face and in its core: divisive long-form stoner prog. Take your pick: a. heavy on atmosphere or b. light on riffs; a. exploratory or b. meandering; a. fascinating or b. pretentious; a. groundbreaking or b. boring as hell. Where once I was option a, now I am b-side. The toke is the same, but it hits differently. Were there a hipster fire escape available, this wvrm might set off a smoke detector while mumbling something about sell outs and early material. But alas, it’s not as if the Americans (recently transplanted to Germany) shifted their sound in some massive way; comparing elements of Omens to past efforts is remarkably apples to apples. The riffs crunch no less than Dead Roots Stirring’s but bite with far fewer teeth. The songs are no shorter than Lore’s but feel so much longer. The journey is no less ambitious than Reflections’ but lacks fulfillment in a way that seems difficult to imagine given the technique of the artists at work here. By the end of the record’s introductory eleven minutes, there’s one riff worth writing home about, and another that might remind you to pick up some stamps at the store.

For all the precise layers and lush production of “In Procession,” it can’t hold your attention half as long as required for the spin’s shortest song (at a thrifty ten minutes) to work. Hell, none of them can. Nick DiSalvo’s cedar voice entwining with his riffs and those of new axeman Michael Risberg, the wedding-cake layers, the attention to detail, the lush production, the marvelous instrumentality, the whole damn package is here. And that’s the roughest part: the abundance of should-be quality. “Embers” starts out with as solid an opening as Elder have ever played—and as strong a one as Omens can provide. It spits that perfect blend of rollicking stoner rock spirit and psychedelic development, but more importantly, it oozes immediacy. It grips in a way that Omens  as a whole doesn’t. And yet, that song, the only one with a central riff worthy of comparison to its forebears, still jams off into outer space on the back half of the record, my attention span with it.

The jam influence, while improved from Reflections’ “Sonntag,” is at best immaterial and at worst a hindrance, as on “Embers.” Elder don’t pitch a tent in the clearing they cut on The Gold & Silver Sessions EP, but they certainly have a nice little campfire going. Rather than leaning directly into out-and-out jam, they mesh their progressive layering and expert riffcraft with that expansive ethos, and the writing feels stuck in the middle, soft-pedaled and meandering. The worst track on the record is the jammiest (“Halcyon”), but even songs with stronger material squander their opportunities. There’s nothing that matches the explosiveness of “III,” the drive of “Compendium,” the balance of “Lore,” the statement of “Sanctuary,” or the awe of “Thousand Hands.” Every one of those songs felt like they had a purpose, a goal, that pushed through the edges of your periphery and grabbed your scrawny attention span by its jock. None of that propulsion exists on Omens, and the result is limp.

As incompatible as I am with Elder’s current approach, I’ll readily admit that anyone who enjoyed their recent material, especially the jam-centric Gold & Silver, stands a decent chance of enjoying this. Conversely, everyone who found previous Elder a bore will only have their apathy amplified. This was actually quite a difficult review to pen, both because I wanted to like Omens so much, and because its material in any given moment might be stronger than I’m giving it credit for. However, Omens sounds less than the sum of its parts. For those of you who have come a long way with Elder, the lack of high-end material and dearth of worthwhile innovation may condemn Omens to the “Why bother?” camp when compared to its predecessors. Let us hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Armageddon Label (US) | Stickman Records (EU)
Websites: beholdtheelder.bandcamp.com | beholdtheelder.com | facebook.com/elderofficial
Releases Worldwide: April 24th, 2020

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