Boston's psychedelic prog/doom/stoner act Elder have shown steady growth and maturity on their releases since their debut on the scene back in 2006, and their latest album Omens might be their most fully realized effort yet, though it's likely to divide part of their fanbase due to the lower 'heavy' factor found on these five new tracks. I'll say it right now, less 'heavy' does not mean less 'good' in this instance, as Elder have amped up the complexity, the melody, and the experimentation, relying less on gargantuan stoner rock/doom riffing and instead weaving fascinating explorations that are memorable and thought provoking. Blending characteristics from '70s stalwarts Hawkwind, Camel, Gong, Gentle Giant, Eloy, and other giants of the prog-rock scene, with a jam band sensibility not unlike vintage Allman Brothers, tossed with some crunchy riffs in spots, and you have a very different album from Elder, but it's a direction that is highly intoxicating.
Vocals feature prominently on opening tracks "Omens" and "In Procession", guitarist Nicholas DiSalvo proving to be a fine singer over their last few albums, but it's his interplay with fellow guitar player Michael Risberg that as always is the standout, here relying more on prog dexterity than metallic stomp, and there are a nice use of synths throughout the album, especially on these two tracks. "Halcyon" is the longest track at 12+ minutes in length, and starts off with clean, lilting guitar arpeggios and nimble drum patters, slowly building in intensity before the keyboards and vocals come into play, reminding of a cross between Pink Floyd and Anathema. Mellotron and jangly guitar explorations battle it out during the dramatic middle section, before crushing riffs and organ take the listener through the powerful climax. The groove laden "Embers" is more upbeat, melodic vocals and shimmering guitar patterns matching up with intricate rhythms for one of Omens biggest surprises, the band even tossing in some bubbling Tangerine Dream styled synth patterns and bluesy guitar solos for good measure. The album concludes with "One Light Retreating", which again, I'm reminded of Anathema in spots, complete with killer vocal & guitar hooks, creating a dreamy, mesmerizing effect that takes the listener on a wild ride through its 11+ minute run time. After some sizzling guitar solos the keyboards come in for a soothing, atmospheric section that leads to a repeat pattern of the opening. Excellent.
Certainly not a heavy album when compared to some of their previous releases, but Omens is easily the bands most 'prog' release by far, and it's also quite accessible in spots to help draw in some mainstream listeners who perhaps even aren't into metal or prog music. It's quite an achievement in my book, and a triumphant progression for the band. Highly recommended!
1) Omens 10:53
2) In Procession 9:21
3) Halcyon 12:48
4) Embers 10:47
5) One Light Retreating 11:13